Marvel’s Latest Pays Tribute to Chadwick Boseman, Searches for a New Hero
DIRECTOR: RYAN COOGLER/2022
Any Black Panther movie without a Black Panther is facing an uphill battle.
We re-enter Wakanda in the thick of T’Challa’s family and country grieving his loss. His mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has assumed the throne, and his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is burying herself in her work. A year after the king’s passing, foreign powers and mercenaries are testing Wakanda’s strength, looking for opportunities to obtain their precious vibranium. But when the resource is discovered outside the African nation, a mysterious new threat (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) gives the royal family an ultimatum: join his cause or lose Wakanda forever.
Before Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), M’Baku (Winston Duke), and everyone’s “favorite colonizer” (Martin Freeman) face off with him in battle, they must fill the gap left by the previous Black Panther. As a tribute to Chadwick Boseman, this film is pitch perfect, blurring the fact and fiction of how T’Challa and the actor left us unexpectedly and how the storytellers of this franchise have been processing it. Wakanda Forever begins at a funeral celebratory of the life of T’Challa (and by proxy, Boseman), and that sets the tone for the nearly three hours ahead of us. Drama takes priority over action, and that drama is centered on our characters’ grief.
A version of “No Woman No Cry” scored the the trailer for this movie, and the song may as well be its thesis. With no Boseman as the center of gravity, Ryan Coogler reworks this universe into a female-led ensemble. Bassett, Gurira, N’yongo, and Wright all play characters with personalities and backstories rich enough to become the next Black Panther—I won’t be the one spoiling who dons the suit—and their talents bring authenticity to this fantastic world. All the women all cry, and that includes the one writing this review.
The hunt for Wakanda’s next protector, however, meanders at times. This is another chapter in MCU, after all, which means squeezing in cameos, discussions of past events, and hints at future franchises, not to mention all the plotting and globetrotting (globeplotting?) essential to a conflict that may or may not be contained only to this film. With seven main and supporting character arcs, a villain sporting bonkers powers, and a new player acting as a McGuffin and maybe as a future Iron Man-esque heroine (Dominique Thorne), this movie has a lot to juggle. Wakanda Forever already feels like an extended director’s cut, dragging under the weight of at least 20 too many minutes.
On the plus side, Coogler has made another one of the best-looking MCU entries, so that does mean we’re spending 20 extra minutes with an embarrassment of riches, including Ruth E. Carter’s lush costumes (Oscar-worthy again!) and the production design of the Heaven on Earth that is Wakanda. When the action sequences start, they turn into some of the best you’ll see this year (you’ll never look at whales the same way!), but you have to sit through a lot of talking and globeplotting to get there. (Of note: Stay for a juicy mid-credits scene, but there’s no teaser waiting for you at the very end.) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has all the ingredients for a successful sequel—it just gets the measurements wrong.