Let’s kick this off with the King-sized elephant in the room. Marvel Studios’ latest entry into their Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever,” had a nearly impossible challenge from the beginning. Lead star Chadwick Boseman passed away in 2020 from cancer. When the powers that be decided not to recast the role, they had to determine how to carry on without the titular character and an actor who had emerged as an cultural icon. The result, while imperfect, is another impressive entry into the MCU. It also has the additional benefit of holding up as a stand-alone entry in a franchise which often relies on intermixing storylines and the audience’s familiarity with the other myriad films and series.
With Boseman’s loss hanging over the film, it loses no time in getting right to it, quickly getting into Wakanda and the central characters mourning the loss of King T’Challa. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has assumed the throne, and the world’s leaders are saber rattling at Wakanda, angry that another country would have dominion over the Earth’s supply of the supermetal, Vibranium. With Ramonda holding the world at bay, scientists have found what appears to be another source of the rare metal deep beneath the ocean’s surface. As that option gets explored, it brings the attention of a hidden kindgom, Talokan, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta) which is a lost Meso-American tribe who fled the Spanish colonizers.
Having the surface nations stumbling on Talokan’s door, spurs Namor to look to Wakanda as the world’s other source of Vibranium in an alliance in standing against the rest of the world. While it’s a simple enough story, the emotional through-lines allow there to be a lot of depth (no pun intended) into the film’s two and a half hours of running time. Where Marvel’s films have often held up beyond just a straight up superhero film is that the characters and their motivations and interactions tend to be more complicated than just a “good guy vs bad guy” smackdown.
In Wakanda, it’s the loss and grief that is coloring the character’s world and how they try to protect themselves such as Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) burying herself in her technology and lab, or Queen Ramonda in her duty as protector and leader of Wakanda, and how they can shift that grief into rage. In the case of Wakanda, both Shuri/Ramonda as well as Namor have good reason to feel rage against the interloping outside world with it’s sense of entitlement and pride.
The arcs that play out wind up having both Shuri and Namor following their own paths into dark grief and lashing out. It’s a very human story, albeit carried along by superhumans, and the first blatant mention of someone being a “mutant” in an MCU feature film (X-Men fans will get why that’s a big step). The battles are satisfying and have a suitable level of danger to help it from being a pre-determined outcome. The film is also an unabashed Woman-centric film, however it doesn’t call any huge attention to it. It simply is how it is, and with the women leads in the film, they bring an amazing unified front in standing against their enemies.
There are some pacing challenges in the bridge between the second and third act, and once the new Black Panther finally dons their mask, it doesn’t fit as well as it might have by another of the eligible characters. It comes as little surprise when it finally happens. What it does open up is how the new powers help them understand their underlying motivations.
Beyond Bassett’s performance as the Queen, it’s Huerta as the anti-hero that steals the film. As with all good antagonists, he does not see himself as any kind of a villain. He has some legitimate beefs with how his people have been treated. His strength and abilities are dialed in to be a suitable foe that isn’t overpowered but still plenty to be able to make it a life-or-death situation for all of Wakanda.
There is one mid-credits scene which must not be missed.
Rating: 7.5 stars out of 10
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” opens in theaters nation-wide November 11th, 2022.