Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the sequel to the Earth-shatteringly successful Black Panther, which starred Chadwick Boseman who died in 2020. The second Black Panther film gives a moving tribute to the late Boseman, and the film sorely misses his stabilizing presence.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever stars Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett as well as newcomer Tenoch Huerta, who joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the mutant Namor, the leader of an underwater civilization that has escaped generations of western oppression. But when American miners drill the seabed for the valuable mineral vibranium, Namor threatens to attack the surface world.
Without Boseman’s character, T’Challa, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spends most of the first act oscillating between Wright’s Shuri and Bassett’s Queen Ramonda; for the first hour, it is a film in search of a protagonist. Wright plays a muted version of Shuri, and a lot of that has to do with the film exploring grief; the dialogue hangs a lantern on how the death of her brother changed Shuri, but nevertheless, Wright’s performance is one note. Even when the plot demands greater emotional investment, Wright doesn’t deliver – not with enough energy to carry the film and drive the plot.
Bassett, on the other hand, is amazing as always. She’s able to bring nuances as well as an explosive power to her work. Ramonda grieves T’Challa just as much as Shuri, but Bassett’s performance makes that grief real and varied and multileveled.
The plot meanders from Wakanda to Namor’s home to a ham-handed conflict between multiple competing super-powered nations to the obligatory third act spectacle. Individually, each of the elements works, but as a whole, the film is less than the sum of its parts. At two hours and forty-one minutes, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is somehow too long and rushing through important character development and exploration.
As is the case with most Marvel films, the technical elements are well-done, but the highlight goes to the Academy Award-winner, costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, who once again gives a colorful pop to the costumes.
Overall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a transitional film in the franchise, rather than the cultural moment that invigorated Black Panther. It mourns Boseman in the most classy and appropriate ways and introduces an important MCU character in Namor. The film is like a caesura, a necessary pause or a deep breath, before going forward.