Just a year ago, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was hanging in a painful limbo. Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death from cancer left a gaping hole in the MCU. As one of the most important members of the Avengers, Black Panther (and the 2016 feature film of the same name) was groundbreaking for representation showing that everyone could be a superhero. With the film’s much-anticipated follow-up finally reaching theaters, how does the sequel step up to move the franchise in a new direction?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in the wake of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) death. The young king and superhero dies off-screen from a mysterious illness. In his wake, he leaves his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) struggling with grief and an overwhelming desire for vengeance.
However, his death also leaves a much larger void. The world needs the Black Panther. So, as a mysterious underwater nation led by the mysterious Namor (Tenoch Huerta) begins to make waves (pun intended) Wakanda realizes a new Black Panther is needed.
First and foremost, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever bursts through the haze of Disney brand feminism hanging over the movie studio for the better part of two decades. The plot largely revolves around Shuri, Nakia (Nyong’o), Okoye (Gurira) and new-addition Riki Williams (newcomer Thorn).
The pairing of these women does something that no other superhero movie has truly done to date. They are smart, powerful and in no way overtly sexualized. And better still, they are brilliant and completely comfortable in their own skin. The relationship between these characters is a breath of fresh air.
This movie doesn’t slather on the obnoxious and often forced “girl power” motifs we’re so used to seeing in movies like this. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn’t need to hit us in the face with commercialized ideas of what feminism “should” look like. In their empowered confidence, these women personify what feminism is. If nothing else, this critic is thrilled to think of the young girls watching these beautifully self-assured women exist on their own terms. We need more of this.
Meanwhile, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever makes some interesting choices in crafting its performances. This is particularly the case around Wright and, to a lesser extent, Huerta.
Watching as a critic, my initial questions swirled around why these performances felt so stiff. In the early acts, there are moments that feel almost flat. In such a dynamic and vibrant superhero movie, it is noticed.
However, with time to simmer on these questions, it becomes clear that this is intended. In fact, this is yet another solid storytelling choice because this film functions as a meditation on grief. Shuri lost her brother. Letitia Wright lost a co-worker and friend. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever comes from a very raw place. Ultimately, grief doesn’t take the same shape for everyone, and in having Shuri react the way she does to T’Challa’s death, the movie explores this idea. Emotions aren’t cut and dry. Grief is complex and takes different forms for different people.
Ultimately, few movies are perfect. Where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever struggles the most is in its stylistic choices.
There are moments where the CGI in this movie is oh-so-apparent. In some particularly jarring scenes, the action feels like it’s occurring in a video game rather than by real-life performers. This results in stilted and awkward action, and in a genre reliant on these sequences, these issues are liable to pull an audience back from the fun.
This is perhaps due to the film’s utilization of Namor as a villain. His kingdom is underwater. In crafting this environment, Coogler is creating a fully digital world. However, the struggle shows. At one point, while watching Namor speak from his throne, the lack of integration between the performance and the effects results in an almost automated appearance. His humanity disappears in the haze of computer graphics.
However, when the action comes to the surface, these issues melt away. While there are some headache-inducing, fast-cut action sequences early on, the film builds to a spectacular battle scene in the third act. Performance, filmmaking and effects meld resulting in a fun, exciting and tense finale. Everyone has their moment, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was a movie forced to overcome a lot of hardship. In losing Chadwick Boseman, the MCU lost a vital piece of their future, and the world lost a role model. In this much-anticipated sequel, Ryan Coogler and his team show that heroes are all around us. They don’t always look like a superhero, and in that, this is certainly a special film.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever debuts in theaters around the country on November 10, 2022.