Friday, November 18

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Dir: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, and Tenoch Huerta
2h 41m

It's been four years since the cinematic cultural phenomenon of writer/director Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther," a film that broke box office records but, more importantly, celebrated black culture, diversity, and inclusion. So much has changed in four years, both within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the vastly changed landscape worldwide. 

"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" reflects the many changes felt throughout the world, the political power struggle, the desperation for advancement, and the grief for loved ones lost through the changing times. For fans of "Black Panther," the tragic death of actor Chadwick Boseman is an emotion immediately felt. All of these topics are examined within Ryan Coogler's nearly three-hour-long runtime. This sequel honors the memory of Chadwick Boseman and continues the celebration of cultural diversity but struggles to find its stride amidst a mix of new characters and diverging storylines. 

The film begins with Shuri (Letitia Wright) delivering a prayer to help her brother, King T'Challa, who is dying from an unknown illness. Shuri is unable to heal him. The kingdom of Wakanda mourns the death of their king while Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), T'Challa's mother, takes over leadership. At the same time, the rest of the world looks to take advantage of a resource-loaded country without its protector, the Black Panther.

As Wakanda stands strong, maintaining control of the valuable resource vibranium, a research team starts looking deep within the ocean for additional reserves. Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the ruler of an underwater kingdom known as Talokan, protects his people by aggressively retaliating against the researchers. Wakanda is blamed for the assault. Namor, an indigenous descendant of a group of people enslaved by colonizers, understands the danger of vibranium in the wrong hands. Namor hopes to enlist the support of Wakanda in conquering those who threaten their kingdoms, but Queen Ramonda refuses, leading to an ultimatum for Wakanda. 
Ryan Coogler does an exceptional job of weaving the narratives associated with the ever-changing Marvel Cinematic Universe, along with the emotion of paying tribute to Chadwick Boseman. It's an intricate balancing act that Coogler deftly accomplishes without depending on extravagant action set pieces. "Wakanda Forever" deliberately examines the emotional, political, and environmental changes in the absence of the Black Panther. And, refreshingly, allowing the weight of the story to be carried by the strong female cast. 

Letitia Wright does a fine job filling big shoes as the film's lead, Shuri, and Danai Gurira is still intimidating as General Okoye but also allows more emotional resonance in this film, offering their characters more depth and complication. Angela Bassett, who has displayed countless exceptional characters throughout her career, leads the cast with another powerful performance.

As "Wakanda Forever" moves away from examining grief for Shuri and Ramonda and the historical trauma for Namor and his people, the film begins to function like the recent batch of Marvel films. The conflict between Namor and Wakanda inevitably leads to a forgettable fight. While Namor is offered ample time for character development at the start, the final act provides a hasty one-note resolution. Shuri's plight is more complicated as the stakes grow more significant for Wakanda, but her journey also feels underdeveloped. 

"Wakanda Forever" soars when it provides the time to explore the characters and their connection to the powerful emotions that motivate their journey. While the pacing can weigh heavy at times, and the action sequences operate as a necessity for the genre, Ryan Coogler is still an exceptional filmmaker. The director composes more than a few great scenes, imbues characters with interesting emotions, and structures a unique vision of culture into comic book filmmaking. "Wakanda Forever" always had high expectations to meet, and in moments it exceeds and excels beyond them. 

Monte's Rating
3.50 out of 5.00

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