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‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review – Building a Legacy

Helmet of Black Panther while a ceremony is happening
Credit: Marvel Studios. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Staff writer Taha Khambaty reviews “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”. It’s a worthy successor to the much-loved original, let down in parts by its reliance on Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) tropes. This review contains minor spoilers. 

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” continues the legacy of its predecessor and its lead, T’Challa, building on the themes of neocolonialism, revenge, and overcoming loss.

The film very wisely decides to tackle the tragic passing of actor Chadwick Boseman upfront through the death of his character, T’Challa or the Black Panther. This allows plenty of room for the film to explore its repercussions and weave them throughout its themes and narrative. This lends the film an aura of sorrow which is at its most powerful in the first thirty minutes.

This first half-hour feels especially impactful due to its staunch denial of conventional MCU tropes. The absence of quips or jokes makes sure that nothing undercuts the emotional strength of a scene. Director Ryan Coogler, along with cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw and VFX supervisor Geoffrey Baumann, vividly bring to life the Afrofuturist setting of Wakanda and the culture of its people without ever letting it become your standard CGI landscape.

Despite this strong focus on T’Challa’s passing, “Wakanda Forever” also makes sure to highlight its characters’ reactions to the event, with the film very much being a study of its central characters, T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Here, the film also stands apart from other MCU offerings. The narrative and characters’ actions do not feel orchestrated to meet a specific ending but, instead, the film builds on the consequences of its predecessor and lets its characters feel like they are truly driving the plot forward. Realising that her technology and beliefs failed to save her brother, Shuri, played brilliantly by Wright, struggles to overcome a genuine contempt for the past and present, with Wright embodying a simultaneous feeling of sorrow and vengeance. An even stronger performance comes from Angela Bassett, commanding a regal aura as Queen Ramonda who, despite struggling with grief, puts forward an image of a Queen ready to protect her nation as outside forces try to capitalise on the death of their King.

Outside Wakanda, a new threat emerges to both their nation and the larger world: Namor (José Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and the underwater nation of Talokan. Huerta gives a stellar performance as Namor, a ruler who has seen the atrocities of the “surface world” and is not afraid to retaliate. Huerta plays the character with real empathy, showing this ruler’s great care for his people. Yet, there is also always a sense of menace about him, as you know that he will do anything at all to make Talokan prosper. While he is clearly the antagonist, Huerta’s performance ensures that Namor never feels like a “villain”. Aside from Namor, his nation of Talokan is also brought to life in a style that feels unique, carrying the unique aesthetic of a civilization raised in the depths of the sea and still transitioning from human to aquatic.

It also feels important to acknowledge the soundtrack, scored by Ludwig Göransson, which aids considerably in the world-building of Wakanda and Talokan. Using African and Mexican instruments helps separate these nations’ cultures from their western counterparts. Alongside its phenomenal costume design, this helps the film feel less “westernised” and more diverse. Yet, some of the film’s strongest emotional moments come from scenes with a distinct lack of music, helping the sound and dialogue grab the audience more firmly.

Another key aspect of this film is its runtime, clocking in at about 2 hours and 41 mins (let’s face it, you’re sitting through the whole credit sequence). While this runtime is definitely used well to flesh out Talokan, Namor, and the struggles of Okoye (Danai Gurira), Shuri, and Queen Ramonda, it still feels unnecessarily elongated due to the conventional MCU story structures. This includes an entire subplot with Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross that could have been entirely cut out with very little changing, only existing to set up future projects. Additionally, Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams, while a good performance, doesn’t get the same development as the other cast, making her feel as though she was forced into the film.

Another point where the film feels very much in line with a traditional MCU film is in its third act, where we again have a drawn-out final battle. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem if the majority of it didn’t feel like the generic two-CGI army battle that has become a constantly critiqued staple of the MCU. Instead, it would have greatly benefited the film to focus on a more emotionally resonant one-on-one final confrontation. This MCU-ness is also visible in some of the other action sequences which are filled with so many quick cuts that you barely understand what is happening.

Despite indulging in some of MCU’s bad impulses, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has proven to be one of Phase 4’s best offerings. It manages to carve a unique identity for itself that, instead of repeating the message of its predecessor, builds on them with genuine pathos.

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