INTO THE SEA OF CHANGE….
In 2018, Marvel Studios released Black Panther, their 18th superhero film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Directed by Ryan Coogler, the film, which starred Chadwick Boseman, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, and Michael B. Jordan, follows the tale of T’Challa, the newly appointed Black Panther and new King of the kingdom of Wakanda, when he is challenged by Killmonger, who plans to abandon the country’s isolationist policies and begin a global revolution. Despite the film relying a bit heavy on its CGI visual effects a bit much, Black Panther was considered to be universally praise by both critics and moviegoers everywhere, including the film’s direction, culture representation, writing, costume designs, production quality, soundtrack, and acting (most important that of Boseman, Wright, and Jordan). Many fans have even considered the film to be the best in the MCU (up to that point), with the superhero project being hailed for its cultural aspects of African American in the mainstream line of superheroes. Black Panther went on gross over $1.3 billion at the box office worldwide (the second highest grossing film of 2018) and broke a variety of box office records, becoming the highest-grossing film by a Black filmmaker. In addition, the film was nominated for several awards at the 91st Academy Awards and received numerous other praise and accolades. Given the amount of success that the movie had received as well as the inclusion of several characters (T’Challa, Shuri, Okoye) from the film to be featured in 2019’s Avengers: Infinity War, it was soon announced that a follow-up sequel to Black Panther would be on the horizon and planned to be a part of the Phase IV saga of the MCU. Unfortunately, fans and moviegoers were shaken when it was announced that Boseman had passed away at the age of 43 on August 28th, 2020, leaving many to wonder what will happen to the scheduled plan release of Black Panther 2. Would Marvel Studios shelve the project? Would they recast the character of T’Challa? How would they do the movie without Boseman? Now, four years after the release of the first Black Panther film and two years following the passing of Boseman, Marvel Studios and director Ryan Coogler return to the fictional nation of Wakanda to continue the adventures of the Black Panther mantle with the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. With so much hype and anticipation building towards the long-awaited sequel, does this latest Black Panther saga find superhero merit (and emotion) within this second outing or does it fail to bring excitement and visual flair for this much talked about next chapter in the MCU tale?
Wakanda’s ruler, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), known by many as the nation’s Black Panther, is dead, leaving the people of his nation to mourn the loss of their beloved ruler and protector. T’Challa’s family picks up the pieces to help Wakanda through this turbulent time, with his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), deals with the rest of the world, as various leaders begin to accuse a country of hoarding its supply of vibranium, demanding to share more of their natural resources with them. Meanwhile, T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is devastated by the passing of her brother, trying to understand a new future without him. In the wake of this tragedy, a new threat emerges with the arrival of Namor (Tenoch Hureta), the mutant leader of the underwater kingdom known as Talokan, which is also rich with vibranium. When Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a young and aspiring MIT student, creates a device that is capable of locating metallic Wakanda ore, Namor is alarmed, readying a plan to attack the rest of the world with the full might of his oceanic army at his beckon call. Shuri, along with undercover spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of the Dora Milaje, seeks for a more diplomatic resolution to dealing with Namor and his forces, only to be confronted by his anger towards Wakanda, the people that once tried to enslave and destroy his people. As forces collide and revelations revealed, a new Black Panther must come forth to help protect the nation of Wakanda from its invaders.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we are, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should tread each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of divisions threaten our very existence. We all know the truth; more connect us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe. “God, I love that line! Definitely a great little monologue dialogue moment. To be sure, I’ve being more of a fanboy of Marvel than DC, so seeing the many MCU installments out there is kind of my passion to watch. Thus, it goes without saying that I really did enjoy 2018’s Black Panther. It was definitely something different and quite unique, especially after seeing Boseman’s introduction of his character of T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War. Thus, to see that particular character gain his own movie was very good and definitely exceeded my expectations. I personally thought director Ryan Coogler did an amazing job in helming this superhero project that carried both the spirit of blockbuster superhero nuances that spoke to the cinematic universe of which it was presented as well as the nature of the comic book character. Naturally, the movie benefited by already introducing the character of T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, with Coogler going full throttle by exploring the film’s world of Wakanda and its character without the necessary “zero to hero” narrative path and not wasting too much time on introducing the main hero, who was already established previous. Thus, the setup was already built in and definitely works. Personally, I think that Coogler did a great job in bringing this particular movie to life in a very vivid and cinematic way. Rather than just a doing a traditional superhero tale, Coogler definitely imbued the cultural aspect of the feature through imagery, set layouts, and costume attires, while blending blockbuster action nuances throughout. Plus, I really did like the film’s cast. From Boseman, to Wright, to Nyong’o, to Jordan, to Bassett, the entire film’s cast was fantastic and solid across the board. I did feel a few key parts of the feature relied too heavy of CGI visual effects, which were a bit “messy” and took away from the emotional impact, but the end result still made Black Panther one of the standout entries in the MCU.
This brings me back to talking about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a 2022 superhero film, the 30th film in the MCU, and the sequel film to the 2018 feature. As mentioned above, the success that followed after the release of Black Panther was quite overwhelmingly positive, which made the decision for a sequel film to be almost a forgone conclusion. Thus, when it was announced that Black Panther 2, which it was called then, was going to be part of the Phase IV saga of the MCU, I was quite happy, especially since Coogler was returning to direct as well as the many of primary cast members reprising their roles. The internet began to speculate as to what the second chapter in the Black Panther saga was going to be about, with many rumors and statement pointing to the antagonist being the character of Namor, an old fan-favorite from the comic books. Of course, like many out there, I was deeply shocked when I went online on August 28th, 2022 and read that Boseman had passed away. Naturally, the death of an actor, who was in the prime of his life and was ready to work with Marvel (and the MCU) for years to come, weighed heavy on the production of this sequel, with many wondering how Marvel would handle this vacancy in the movie.
Thankfully, Marvel overseer Kevin Feige stated that Boseman’s T’Challa would not be recasted nor digitally integrated into the feature, with the character being killed off before the events of the sequel and preserving the legacy of Boseman effort. Black Panther 2, which was now going to be called Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, had to be reworked and reframed to accommodate the passing of Boseman, which put some lingering thoughts of doubt upon this particular MCU installment. However, most of those doubts were up to rest when the film’s marketing campaign began to appear online and in theaters, including the film’s movie trailer, which presented a very emotional journey that many of the film’s characters would be facing…. both in the passing of T’Challa, but also in the moving forward from that moment in the form adversary and a new foe. Thus, the anticipation for this upcoming superhero sequel picture was building more and more, with many hyping this feature up to the next big thing in the MCU. Of course, I still had a few minor doubts about the film (mostly the reworking of the film’s story), but I was totally psyched to see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever when it was scheduled to be released on November 11th, 2022. Unfortunately, due to the events of Hurricane Nicole, I had to delay seeing the movie a day or two after original seeing it, which pushed back getting my review done for the movie. Now, I finally am ready and willing to share my personal thoughts on this latest MCU movie? And what did I think of it? Well, I loved it! Despite a few problematic areas, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a powerful and moving tale of grief and loss that pays respect to Boseman / T’Challa’s legacy as well as paving the way for something new within the MCU’s grand cinematic universe of heroes, gods, and monsters. This sequel can’t outmatch the first one, but it comes very close with plenty of dramatic moments, heartfelt scenes of sincerity, and blockbuster heroics.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is directed by Ryan Coogler, who returns once again to the director chair after the success of the first Black Panther film as well as directing other features like Creed and Fruitvale Station. Given his familiarity of working within the MCU, within the returning cast, and giving a very unique and cinematic voice to the culture juggernaut that became Black Panther, Coogler seems like the perfect choice to helm a second chapter in this franchise. From that standpoint alone, Coogler excels and definitely brings a lot of familiar faces, places, and overall nuances to Wakanda Forever, which clearly is in need of a strong guiding hand of which this director certainly knows how to handle. Coogler’s return to the helm for this second Black Panther brings familiar tones, but mostly challenging aspects of which the movie had to change due to Boseman’s sudden passing and Marvel’s decision not to recast the character of T’Challa. Thus, from the ashes of the original plan of the movie, Coogler repurposes a lot in the film’s framing, which resulted in certain characters being elevated and a main common theme of regret and loss being positioned at the forefront. This makes Wakanda Forever have a very mournful feeling, especially after the film’s opening sequences, where T’Challa is laid to rest. From that point onward, Coogler keeps that particular momentum going as he makes this sequel have a more mature feeling than the last one. Yes, the movie is still having that feeling of being in the MCU, yet not as pronounced as the previous entry though (more on that below). Still, for better or worse, Coogler’s steady hand at the directing helm keeps from Wakanda Forever from buckling under the weight of changes made and to chart a course for a proper sequel to the 2018 film.
The end result is still quite good, with Coogler navigating the film with the same type of appreciation for talent involved and placing a lot of emphasis on the feature’s various characters (heroes, villains, and supporting players) as well as cultural aspect and being a blockbuster endeavor. While the changes are definitely felt within Wakanda Forever, Coogler still manages to flex his superhero muscles for some fun and exciting action set-pieces The action felt in the movie is still fun, energetic, and exciting by keeping the superhero aesthetics that we’ve all come to love from the MCU installments, especially from the first Black Panther feature. Yet, where Coogler still excels in the movie is in the quieter moments where various characters talk and interact through some meaningful / intense dialogue lines that are beautiful to see unfold. In the end, while Wakanda Forever could’ve faltered if in lesser and unexperienced hands, Coogler’s vision and ambition for a proper sequel to the 2018 movie is indeed memorable and creates a very touching, moving, and powerful second chapter motion picture that will be long remember for years to come.
With the passing of Boseman, Wakanda Forever’s story had to be changed and altered to omit the absence of T’Challa as the primary character of the feature of which the film’s script had to be rewritten. Coogler once again takes the reigns and pulls “double duty” on the feature, with both directing the movie as well as handling the script, along with Joe Robert Cole. Because of that familiarity, Coogler can delve into the feature’s narrative and begins to unfold certain aspects that he (along with Cole) probably were never going to shed light due to the reworking of the picture. The end result is mostly good and delivers a powerful narrative to be told. Yes, there are a few bit and pieces of Wakanda Forever’s story that feels clunky and rushed as if those aesthetics plot points had to be altered, changed, or added / removed from the original plan, but one can easily tell that Coogler (and Cole) did a pretty good job in shaping and fashion the movie with a repurposed narrative. Perhaps the most notable one that comes to mind (and is felt throughout the entire endeavor) is pain of loss and grieving through those moments and can be extrapolated to the feature’s main theme. Anger, hatred, revenge, sorrow, grief, and frustration are all unmistakable powerful emotion that everyone can feel and can relate to…. throughout a person’s life in some way, shape, or form. Thus, those raw and unsurmountable emotions are weave into Wakanda Forever’s story as seeing through not just characters such as Shuri and Ramonda, but many characters who were touched by T’Challa presence, for they grieve in their own way and deal with those emotions in their own personal way. While not technically in the movie, Boseman’s T’Challa presence is felt throughout and creates a sobering feeling of the legacy that he left behind in both actor and character in the film. This idea is indeed a palpable one is a really good way to be present now just in this particular movie, but in big tentpole blockbuster features and makes for a poignant meaning of what superhero movies can be rather than just stale endeavors. Additionally, the script utilizing Namor by having more of a purpose in his opposition against the nation of Wakanda has some justification in a meaningful way, which translates for a fun and engaging antagonist character rather than just a generic and one-note villain that is looking for global domination. There are a few other nuances in the script that have some bumps in, with Coogler’s vision for this sequel being quite ambitious and ends up bitten slightly more than what the movie can chew, but there’s no doubt about it that Wakanda Forever’s narrative and thematic beats are well-met for some terrific and poignant meaning in the feature’s story as well as translating that out of something sad and mournful can blossom into something resounding with hope and celebration.
Another interesting point I would make for Wakanda Forever is the possibility of “what if?”. Given the story that is presented had to be reworked and changed due to Boseman’s passing, one cannot help to wonder and ponder the idea of what was the original idea for Black Panther 2 was going to be. Coogler has shared some insight into that notion, with the original film talking about the fallout of Thanos’s snap during the ending events of Avengers: Infinity War and dealing with grief and loss with the events of Avengers: Endgame. So, the question is how the original idea for Wakanda Forever would play out against what was actually presented in the new movie. Would Namor be changed (and his motives)? Would Shuri and Ramonda be written differently because of T’Challa being alive (or still disappeared from “The Blip)? Was the character Riri Williams going to be introduced or added in the new script? How much would Boseman’s T’Challa play a part in the sequel? This is not a positive nor a negative point of criticism towards the movie, just merely a question of a “what if?”.
For its presentation, Wakanda Forever, much like its 2018 predecessor, is incredible with a lot of time and effort to make this film’s visually both vivid and vibrant within its cultural aspects as well as the superhero blend of larger-than-life world of the MCU. Much like before, the film’s visual style and flair are heightened and well-represented through the background scenery and costume attire for many of the characters throughout the feature. Of course, the cultural depiction of Wakanda, with its heavy tones of the African culture, returns with gusto and looks terrific against the more modern / futuristic nuances that make up this fictional African nation, but Coogler makes an interesting turn in Wakanda Forever by depicting Namor and his people of Talokan as them of Mesoamerican history that seems rich with culture that featured in the those who portray them in the movie, but also in clothing attire, wall décor, and flashback story that shows their origin. Combined with the usual fanfare of Marvel’s large-scale action set pieces and visual blockbuster style, Wakanda Forever has all the makings of a prime MCU installment that speaks to both the causal moviegoer as well as those looking for cultural representation in modern cinematic tales. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Hannah Beachler (production design), Lisa K. Sessions (set decorations), Ruth E. Carter (costume designs), and the entire hair / make-up team as well as the art direction team for their efforts in bringing this movie’s world come to life with such vibrant depiction and colorful ways, with most of main contributors in this category who had previously worked on the first 2018 film. Thus, their involvement in the sequel speaks volumes and in their continuation work on the Black Panther cinematic representation.
Additionally, the film’s visual style and uniqueness continues to be one of paramount importance, with cinematographer Autumn David Arkpaw capturing some beautiful and wonderous moments throughout the feature that adds to the dramatic flair that the movie calls for as well as heightening the prose of pronounced dramatics. Thus, the cinematography work in Wakanda Forever is top-notch. The visual effects for the film are a bit of mixed bag. Yes, some effect shots are pretty good and standout greatly to help depict moments of action and adventure, yet there are a few shots that I noticed that were a bit “meh”, which seems to be on-going notion from Marvel’s releases nowadays. So, it goes “hand-in-hand” for me. Also, the film’s score, which was once again composed by Black Panther’s Ludwig Göransson, delivers another solid music composition for this superhero sequel endeavor. While the first film had more heroic themes, Göransson gives a more somber and thematically charged dramatic effect for Wakanda Forever, which is beautifully harmonizes for the feature’s main themes. Lastly, the closing end credits song “Lift Me Up”, which is sung by music artist Rhianna, is magnificently done, which is a fitting tribute to both Boseman and T’Challa as well as the feature itself.
While there is a lot to enjoy about the movie and to praise the feature for emotion and fantastic presentation, Wakanda Forever does a few minor points of criticism that is kind of hard to overlook and becomes slightly problematic throughout the entire endeavor. Perhaps the prevalent one that many see in the film is overall tone of movie and how the so-called “magic” of the first Black Panther has been diminished. Don’t get me wrong…..this sequel delivers a solid follow-up, one that (again) is rooted in character growth and emotions, yet still feels like something that is missing from the pizzaz and wonderment found in the 2018 picture. Perhaps the reason for this is the overall somber tone that Coogler depicts in Wakanda Forever. Naturally, this poignant meaning is a great reflection for the feature, with characters dealing with grief and moving on, but this can be a “double edge” sword that loses a lot of fun and some zippiness to the proceeding that the first Black Panther film was able to achieve, which had a better balance of comedic relief, superhero action, and theatrical dramatics. Again, while I do praise the more mature themes in a superhero movie, the particular winning blockbuster formula that Marvel that has perfected in the MCU (blending comedy and heart) is severely missing. Yes, there are moments where the feature catches those nuances beautifully, yet those moments are few and far between; creating a more serious and gravitas sequel endeavor in comparison towards its predecessor. It’s not a super deal breaker for me as I kind of expected to be this way (something that sequel movies try to do a lot) and it was kind of heavily promoted as being more emotional driven, but there is something about the movie that loses that certain fun MCU excitement of blockbuster flourishes that are customary in this cinematic universe. Thus, Coogler’s intent for a more emotional tale comes at the expense of the MCU’s signature style laughter and heart for a more serious and somber presentation.
The other big point of criticism that should be mentioned is the actual overall mechanics of the story being told in the movie and how it sort of buckles slightly in Wakanda Forever’s narrative. With a heft and long runtime of 161 minutes (two hours and forty-one minutes), the movie is the second longest film in the MCU, with the first still being Avengers: Endgame. Given that particular fact, there is a lot unpack that Coogler (as well as Cole) try to examine, explore, and delve into throughout Wakanda Forever. Because of this, the movie’s story tries to spin too many narrative plates and serving too many masters in order to encompass everything that is being told. It’s plays as palpable sequel to the 2018 film, a touching tribute to Boseman’s T’Challa, and tease of what is to come from other MCU entries. So, it goes without saying that the film needs a long runtime to examine everything, yet that sometimes comes at the expense of a few narrative threads that don’t completely pan out correctly. Most notable is in the film’s beginning portion where the United Nation is putting pressure of Wakanda to share its resources. Yes, it is a setup for the main plot, but never really brought again after these initial scenes happens, which is kind of odd. The same with the underwater kingdom of Talokan, which vibrant and rich and becomes a main focal for Namor’s realm and his people. Despite depicting the MCU’s iteration of their Atlantis and having that Mayan art décor vividness in its culture as well as a flashback scene of how everything comes to be for Namor and his people, there could’ve been more time devoted to the actual navigation of this undersea culture. There’s plenty to explore and present, yet we (as the viewers) only scratch the surface of what Talokan is. Perhaps Coogler wanted to merely introduce Talokan into the MCU and will be explored further in the MCU universe later on. Yet, despite the importance of it all, it feels like more could’ve been examined more of Namor’s underwater kingdom and its people.
Also, most of the scenes involving Riri Williams feel shoehorned into the feature, with a lot of movie’s runtime revolving around her character. I’ll get more into the Thorne’s performance in the film later on, but I just felt like the character of Riri didn’t need to be in Wakanda Forever and ends up being a bit clunky, especially when the main focus should be Shuri, the other supporting characters in the nation of Wakanda, and Namor. To wrap this up, there is no doubt about it that Coogler wanted to make a very ambitious narrative for Wakanda Forever, but the overall reworking of the film’s story buckles slightly underneath that ambition for very crammed superhero sequel movie. Fortunately, those particular points of criticism are more minor ones to me….it just might be seeing a bit deeper to others out there than me.
Luckily, what definitely helps overlook those criticisms is the overall cast in Wakanda Forever, which delivers solids performance across the board and helps bolster the thematic and superhero nuances in this ambitious sequel. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Letitia Wright, who plays the main protagonist role of Shuri, the sister to the former King of Wakanda / Black Panther and the daughter to the presiding Queen Ramonda of Wakanda. Wright, who is known for her roles in Death on the Nile, Sing 2, and The Silent Twins, has certainly made a name for herself, especially after appearing as Shuri in the first Black Panther feature, with the actress becoming a memorable supporting player in that movie as well as being involved in the big events that happened in Avengers: Infinity War. Thus, with the passing of Boseman, the character of Shuri had to be refocused from being side character that was mostly designed for comic dialogue moments and few intellectual science flourish cues, into a more prominent player that is more serious and grounded in human emotion for Wakanda Forever. The end result is something that actually works, with Wright handling the material and character reworking as Shuri immensely well and definitely commands the attention of whenever she’s on-screen. Much like her real-life affection towards Boseman, Wright imbues Shuri with plenty of sorrow and regret, feeling the lost for her brother as she can’t mourn his loss and feeling the loneliness. It’s great to see a character do a complete 180 in her presence in the MCU, which symbolizes growth and evolvement and both Wright and Shuri can harmonize with in Wakanda Forever. It’s a testament to Coogler’s ambition for this sequel as well as Wright’s performance to make such a large turnaround choice for a character like Shuri, with the final result being a sensational, powerful, and engaging main lead for the feature. Perhaps the only downside is (naturally) the real-life controversy surrounding Wright’s opinions on social media. I won’t go into them, but may diminish her triumph in some viewer’s eyes while watching her on-screen and her placement in Wakanda Forever. Regardless of that notion, I believe that Wright did an incredible job in the movie by turning Shuri from side character to a main character, with Coogler giving a meaningful character arc in the feature that speaks volumes. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for her character in the future within the MCU.
While Wright’s Shuri is the main protagonist of Wakanda Forever, there is no doubt that the character of Namor, the presiding ruler / leader of the underwater kingdom of Talokan, is the film’s main antagonist and who is played by actor Tenoch Huerta. Known for his roles in Narcos: Mexico, Here on Earth, and The Forever Purge, is a relatively newcomer to the superhero genre as well as the larger pantheon of MCU villains. While some MCU main baddies have been a limper, with features relying more on their acting talent’s star power than how the character is written in the movie, Huerta helps breaks that mold with a very engaging and interesting representation of the character of Namor, a classic villain from the Marvel comic books, which has been repurposed / reworked for Wakanda Forever from its source material. The result is something that definitely works in the film’s favor, with Namor (from a visual standpoint) being a force to be reckon with; watching him zip across the air with precision speed and be strong enough to combat a wide variety of enemies that stand before him. Clearly, he’s quite agile and powerful, which is fun to see within an antagonist villain. Yet, despite that notion, Namor comes alive through Huerta’s performance of the character, with intense type of dialogue moments. Rather than just making him the “big bad” of the feature, the script for Wakanda Forever gives Namor reasoning behind his actions as the sovereign ruler of his people and of the possible future of what will come to pass if the nations of the surface world start to invade the depths of the ocean. Because of this, the character is indeed rich with substance rather than just looking for world domination, with Huerta delivering some terrific dialogue lines in almost every scene he’s in, with many of his interactions with other talents like Wright’s Shuri or Bassett’s Ramonda being some of the best that the film has to offer. In the end, while not as formidable as Thanos or as cunningly style as Loki, Huerta’s Namor still stands out as a fantastic and well-rounded antagonist that fits beautifully in Wakanda Forever’s story.
To help Shuri battle against Namor and his aquatic warriors of Talokan, the supporting characters in the movie are solid, with most returning to reprise their character roles from the first Black Panther feature. At the head of this is seasoned actress Angela Bassett (Mission Impossible: Fallout and Contact), who reprise her role of Queen Ramonda, the Sovereign Queen of Wakanda who now serves as the steward to the throne after passing of her son, T’Challa. Much like the previous film, Bassett commands every scene she is in and delivers a very powerful turn as Ramonda, who (like her daughter) is grieving over the loss of her son and becomes a voice of reason / comfort for Shuri, which was much like what T’Chaka did for T’Challa. Like most MCU installments, Bassett acts as the “veteran” acting talent of the feature and she performs it incredibly well with style and grace; one that is befitting both her stature as an actress but also as a Ramonda, a powerful ruler. Behind her, actress Danai Gurira (The Visitor and The Walking Dead) delivers another great performance in her return to the Black Panther character role of Okoye, the proud and fierce warrior leader of the Dora Milaje. Like before, Gurira is perfect in the role of Okoye, who delivers a mixture of comedic one-liners and steely demeanor, yet Wakanda Forever gives the character a bit more to do and shows a different facade to her when things go awry. Plus, she’s still complete badass warrior and the movie allows more time to showcase that point.
Next, actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave and Us) reprise her character of Nakia, a Wakandan War Dog spy that has moved away from the conflict / struggle of Wakanda for a more peaceful life. Though she comes more in the latter half of Wakanda Forever, Nakia gives more comforting position for Shuri’s grieving process journey, but still manages to play a part in the film’s action in the middle and ending conflict. Plus, Nyong’o is still terrific as the now a bit more mature Nakia, who has more time for reflection of her love for T’Challa and the new future without him. Lastly, actor Winston Duke (Us and Person of Interest) returns to reprise his role of M’Baku, the formidable warrior leader of the Jabri tribe. From the moment he appears on-screen, Duke is the big “scene stealer” once again in the movie, with his witty remarks and his somewhat manly bravado. Yet, Duke makes the character his own and evolved slightly, with a more mature and level-headed iteration of the character, with (perhaps) some of the reasoning that T’Challa had left on him that gives M’Baku more sense towards reason than just fighting. And, I for one, loved it.
Of the new supporting character, the character of Riri Williams gets the most screen time and who is played by actress Dominque Thorne. Known for her roles in If Beale Street Could Talk and Judas and the Black Messiah, Williams is a relatively unknown actress, yet she manages to make such a breakout role in such a high profile superhero blockbuster feature. For her part, Thorne is solid in the role of Riri, who gets mixed up in the larger scheme of things in Wakanda Forever’s conflict, with Wright’s Shuri acting almost as a surrogate older sister for her, with their scenes together being the best. Perhaps the big downside to Williams’s involvement in the feature is what I mentioned before, with character almost shoehorned into the movie, with the picture dedicating a lot of time to her when the story should be elsewhere. It’s kind of a mixed bag as the movie makes her character have a soft introduction, which will eventually lead into the Marvel TV series Ironheart, but one could’ve easily removed Riri Williams from the movie (reworked the script slightly) and still have the same result, with more time devoted to the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan. Still, I thought that Thorne was good in the role and look forward to seeing what she has to offer in her own MCU adventure in the future.
Beyond Thorne’s Williams, the only other notable “new” supporting character in the movie is Aneka, a Wakandan warrior and member of the Dora Milaje, who is played by actress Michaela Coel (Black Earth Rising and I May Destroy You). While nothing substantial to her character and her involvement in the overall story being told, Coel’s Aneka is a welcomed addition to the roster of Wakanda characters and I had no complaints about her acting, which was good, nor her character itself. Lastly, comedian actor / talk show host Trevor Noah (The Daily Show and Coming 2 America) reprise his Black Panther role as the voice for Shuri’s A.I. named Griot, who is more important in Wakanda Forever than the previous film.
Other returning characters from the MCU are Everett Ross, a special agent from the CIA branch that had previous ties to Wakanda, and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, the new director of the CIA and Ross’s ex-wife, who are played by returning talents actor Martin Freeman (Sherlock and The Hobbit trilogy) and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld and Onward). Both are welcomed side supporting players in Wakanda Forever, yet…much like what I felt about Thorne’s Williams, these characters mostly there for continuity reasons and / or reasons to further “plant seeds” in the MCU’s larger story, especially in Louis-Dreyfus’s Valentina, who has a large presence in the movie than any other MCU projects she has appeared thus far, yet feels a bit shoehorned for the upcoming Thunderbolts feature. Still, for better or worse, both Freeman and Louis-Dreyfus perform their parts fine.
The rest of the cast in the film, including actress Florence Kasumba (The Lion King and The Quest) as the Dora Milaje warrior Ayo, actress Mabel Cadena (Monarca and Dance of the 41) as Namor’s cousin Namora, actor Alex Livinalli (Ozark and Fall Into Me) as the Talokanil warrior Attuma, actress Maria Mercedes Coroy (Bel Canto and La Llorona) as Namor’s mother, actress Lake Bell (It’s Complicated and In a World….) as CIA’s scientist Dr. Graham, actor Richard Schiff (The West Wing and Man of Steel) as the new U.S. Secretary of State, and actor Isaach de Bankole (Casino Royale and French Exit), actress Dorothy Steel (Daisy Winters and Saints & Sinners), actor Danny Sapani (The Oxford Murders and Trance), and actress Connie Chiume (I Dreamed of Africa and In My Country) reprise their roles from the previous film as the Wakandan elder leader of the River Tribe, Merchant Tribe, Border Tribe, and Mining Tribe, make up the minor supporting players in the film. Altogether, while these characters are mostly limited in their screen time (or are more physical presence), still make the most of their characters and are perfectly fine in the feature.
Lastly, much like the customary notion of all MCU installments, Wakanda Forever does feature one Easter Egg scene during the end credits sequences, which is placed at mid-credit portion. While I won’t spoil it for my readers out there, it is indeed a poignant one that gives a little bit of meaningful clarity in the Black Panther saga rather than simple “teasing” what lies in the future for the MCU.
King T’Challa is dead! As a power vacuum sweeps across the nation of Wakanda (and their stance in the world order), a new threat emerges from the ocean depths, which causes turmoil and chaos, while Princess Shuri must step forward to deal with this aquatic enemy in the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Director Ryan Coogler’s second outing in the Black Panther superhero saga proves to be one of his more ambitious projects to date by presenting a tale that is befitting the real-life trauma of Boseman’s passing and infusing the movie with a palpable taste of struggling through loss, while staying true to the blockbuster thrills of narrative set in the MCU. While the feature can’t surpass its 2018 predecessor, which lacks the balanced special spark of magic that the first film had and a few other nuances that felt superfluous, it certainly does come very close, with the movie delivering a fantastic sequel endeavor, which is mostly thanks to Coogler’s direction, a intriguing tonal shift, a thematic message of dealing with grief and loss, great action sequences, a solid presentation (production quality, set design, costumes, hair / make-up), commanding score, and an incredible assemblage of acting talents from the cast, with most notable standouts being Wright, Huerta, and Bassett. Personally, I really liked this movie. It lacks a few moments that the first Black Panther movie was able to capture, which I still believe the first film is superior one of the two, but that doesn’t mean that this sequel is by no meanings terrible. On the contrary, it’s a superb sequel is wonderful done and speaks too many through its narrative. The profound nature of cinematic storytelling being told is memorable, the production is once again visually top-notch, and a great performance from its cast. Definitely a good quality sequel and perhaps the best MCU films of 2022 releases (i.e. better than Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder). Thus, my recommendation is beyond a shadow of a doubt a “highly recommended” one, especially for fans of the MCU, of the first Black Panther, and the casual moviegoer. With the Phase IV saga wrapping up soon and the Phase V and Phase IV installments already being mostly mapped out, it’s unclear when Black Panther 3, which is almost a forgone conclusion at this point, will be released and how the characters (Shuri, Namor, and the other denizens of Wakanda) will play a part in the grand scheme of the MCU. Only time will tell. For now, though, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever stands as a triumph victory of achievement in the MCU stays true to Coogler’s vision of people of this fictional African nation and his honoring of Boseman’s passing, while also representing the classic notion that out of sorrow and tragedy can come hope and peace in the promise of a new tomorrow.