As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter in the wake of King T’Challa’s death, Queen Ramonda, Shuri, M’Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje must band together with Nakia, T’Challa’s former lover and a War Dog spy, and CIA agent Everett Ross to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had to decide how to face two immense challenges — following up a cultural phenomenon and one of the most popular and resonant movies in recent years, and doing it without its magnificent lead, Chadwick Boseman. The effortless charisma and commanding dignity Boseman brought with him are absolutely missed in this sequel, yet writer-director Ryan Coogler decided to use his loss to give the film a complex gravity and message about grief, legacy and moving forward. Not only does Coogler use the sequel to expand the scale from the first film into a glove-trotting political fantastical battle, but also as a means to explore new stylistic grounds, feeling more director-focused than any Marvel movie in a while.
The visuals and action manage to even outdo the excellent and versatile fights from the first film, and the pace is much more graceful than the tighter pacing of other MCU films from this year. The music by Ludwig Goransson has a language of its own, always surprising, entertaining, and hitting you hard. Goransson uses African, Latin, and electronic bases in order to create a score that builds off the one from the first. The cinematography is more intimate than in the last film, with the camera sometimes closer to the characters or letting the visuals feel more seamless rather than showy. The movie addresses our feelings of sadness about losing Boseman and T’Challa through the characters, but doesn’t linger in it or feel stuck in the past. Speaking of the characters, Letitia Wright is great as Shuri, who is forced to mature quickly after what she’s had to cope with here, but it feels like this entire world of Wakandans, even the lovable side character of M’Baku, is growing and getting wiser with time. Angela Bassett delivers a ferocious performance as Ramonda, and honestly some of the best acting this entire Marvel franchise has seen. Dominique Thorne also shines as a cheerful, lovable presence she conveys through Riri Williams. Lupita Nyong’o also provides warmth and elegance as Nakia, though Martin Freeman’s return isn’t exactly necessary and his role in the plot could’ve been combined with Nyong’o’s character. Now, how does one follow up a villain as resonant and scene-stealing as Michael B. Jordan’s brilliant Killmonger? With Namor, Tenoch Huerta delivers a kindness we haven’t seen in many villains before, while clearly being violent and vengeful in his methods while showing warmth and empathy towards his people. He makes Namor a memorable character whose backstory’s execution isn’t the most hard-hitting but whose developments are always interesting.
This movie is the most sophisticated work Marvel’s done in a while, distancing itself from reminders of the bigger universe and allowing Coogler and crew’s creativity run free and deliver spectacle that feels consequential and really sinks in. It’s refreshing to feel like a Marvel movie isn’t constantly working to check off boxes to set up a bigger universe and pander to the widest action movie fanbase possible — after all, the first Black Panther was all about making stories about POCs no longer niche. While the messages may not be as revelatory as in its predecessor, it’s a film that rivals the first in ambition and weight. Perhaps it resonates so well because we all feel like a world with Wakanda is an infinitely better one, and a world without its late hero is one that’s infinitely worse. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever demands your eyes on the big screen and an open heart, with the performances and style creating an action adventure with gripping and soulful humanity.