Black Panther: Wakana Forever Review – The Waves of Grief


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Joel Tapia, Writer

Out of loss and tragedy comes excellence, as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever delivers one of the MCU’s most sophisticated installments in the over decade-long franchise. The sequel offers a fascinating look at grief and vengeance while also delivering upon the promise of hope that the original cleverly put into the foreground.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever takes place sometime after the death of King T’Challa, who has passed away from an unnamed illness. In the wake of his death, his mother, Ramonda, and his sister, Shuri, must deal with an evergrowing global hostility towards Wakanda while also trying to put a stop to the emerging threat of Talokan and Namor.

Right off the bat, it’s essential to acknowledge the colossal elephant in the room, that of Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing. It was a highly debated decision for the movie to have killed off T’Challa instead of recasting him, but having seen Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the choice was undoubtedly the right one, as the movie would’ve felt incredibly empty and would have likely failed to tell such an encapsulating story about grief, and it shows via some powerful performances.

Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda is the clear star of the show here, as a character who is obviously significantly impacted by T’Challa’s death yet doesn’t allow that tragedy to take away her strength and resiliency. The grief-stricken yet powerful nature of her speeches throughout the movie is a thing of true and utter beauty. One such speech being her impassioned monologue to the higher-ups in Wakanda that has been advertised all over the trailers really strikes a chord, as the way her voice wavers from her grief yet still comes across as powerful is truly an incredible feat.

The other major person that gets elevated is obviously Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who is given more of a central role, going from a comic relief character in the original Black Panther film to the one wearing the mantle this time around. Without spoiling too much, her performance is incredibly nuanced and features some surprising twists to her character. The scenes in which she interacts with Namor, in particular, showcases just how far the character of Shuri has come, as she has an incredible mixture of sympathy yet an immense amount of anger.

The death of King T’Challa is not the only storyline that takes president in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, as the film introduces a major character to the MCU, Namor, the film’s antagonist. Tenoch Huerta does an outstanding job at portraying the significant comic book character, as he perfectly combines the charming nature of the ruler while also being downright scary at points.

The film will go from one scene in which Namor is speaking to his people very calmly and charismatically to another scene in which his character is battling characters with an intense ferocity and strength. This dynamic personality makes for one of the most interesting antagonists in the MCU for a while.

With the introduction of Namor also comes the introduction of Talokan and the Talokanil, Namor’s home country, and its citizens, respectively. It is immediately apparent just how much care and attention to detail that Ryan Coogler and his team put into this underwater world. The mixture of Marvel Comics’ Atlantis with Mayan history works seamlessly here, providing a rich world that finally gives representation for indigenous people of what is now known as Latin America in a major franchise.

Unfortunately, the world of Talokan isn’t as deeply explored as it could have been, with the film obviously focusing on the titular Wakanda, but thankfully what is here is so strong that it, without a doubt, deserves to be revisited in as many MCU entries as possible. Comic book characters Namora and Attuma are also here and are incredibly well-designed, so it’s a shame they get a bit shortchanged as this is a Black Panther movie, not a Namor one.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an excellent example of world-building not being intrusive to the movie’s story; instead, being something that only boosts the film. Talokan is not the only piece of MCU world-building that this movie can serve up, as there is a surprising turn of events involving Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross that I’m genuinely shocked hasn’t been leaked on social media yet. A clear example of the world-building that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever provides is that of Dominique Thorne’s Ironheart, a character who will be getting her own Disney+ series next year.

Thorne has a massive role here, much larger than you may expect, which only serves to make the Ironheart show vastly more exciting than before. The excitement is in large part due to her spunky yet likable portrayal of the character, who is set to wield tech that is akin to Iron Man.

Also, for those worried, no, Riri does not come across as replacing Tony, with her instead coming across as her own character who simply has a skillset similar to that of the billionaire. The world of Wakanda also expands with world traveler and tracker Nakia and Jabari leader M’Baku both get some major plot developments this time around.

M’Baku really feels like a true leader here, and Nakia is given a surprisingly emotional story involving her dealing with the loss of T’Challa in her own way. Other previous Black Panther alums also get plenty of screentime, with Dora Milaje members Okoye and Ayo, who are joined by Aneka, portrayed by the incredibly likable Michaela Coel. The Dora Milaje, in particular, have some intriguing wrinkles that are thrown in here, which hopefully will continue to be looked upon in future MCU installments.

Part of what makes the expansion of Wakanda so great is that it also serves another fantastic goal: showing just how similar two outwardly different cultures like Wakanda and Talokan can genuinely be. On the outside, these two places couldn’t be any more different, with one being in the jungle and the other in the ocean. However, just because they are two different locations with two different-looking people doesn’t mean that customs and beliefs can’t be similar, a fact that is expertly executed thanks to the movie’s world-building.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie that had the biggest curveball possible thrown at it with Chadwick Boseman’s passing, which, if helmed by any average director, would’ve made the movie DOA. Yet, Ryan Coogler has proven he’s an exceptional director, offering a film that is not only a must-watch for MCU and Black Panther fans, but also for fans of movies in general.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released in theaters last Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.