BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
November 11, 2022/ Walt Disney Studios Canada
Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Angela Bassett
Directed By: Ryan Coogler
The people of Wakanda fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T'Challa.
Written By Darren
Rating 5 out of 5
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not only a magnificent film, but it’s beautiful and emotional tribute to Chadwick Boseman that provides audiences with an exciting new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is a fitting close to Phase 4 while raising the bar for future films.
Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been characterized by loss and grief, whether it be our heroes reflecting on their lives lost during the Blip, or specific characters grieving personal losses such as Wanda’s loss of Vision, Bucky and Sam’s loss of Steve, or Peter’s loss of Aunt May. But no project has had to deal with the loss faced by Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: the loss of its star Chadwick Boseman. After a private battle with colon cancer, we lost Boseman in 2020 while the film was in pre-production. The effect of his loss is profound on this film, as it has been retooled to pay tribute to a star lost far too soon in a story thematically grounded in loss, grief and moving forward.
It is the perfect tribute to Boseman, at every turn honouring the effect his character had not just upon the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the entire world, but the relationship that Boseman forged with his cast members who return for the sequel. Every time a character mentions T’Challa, my heart broke as it was clearly more than a performance as you watch the cast come to terms and move forward without their Black Panther. Marvel has dealt with death and loss before, but it has never been handled so poignantly before, with all credit going to the performances and the direction and writing of Ryan Coogler. You can feel Boseman’s spirit instilled in every scene, giving the cast, characters and audience the closure and send off everyone needed.
Opening with an emotional farewell to T’Challa, the film then picks up a year later in Wakanda, where they are still mourning the loss of T’Challa. But as world powers set their sights on Wakanda’s vibranium supplies, a new and powerful threat emerges, hellbent on destroying Wakanda if they refuse to align with their goals for global domination. This film closes out Phase 4 by expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe with new characters, ideas and elevating previously supporting characters to lead roles, raising the bar in an unimaginable way. Even though the film clocks in at approximately two hours and forty minutes, you never for a second feel the length. Coogler’s writing creates a thrilling story full of amazing action sequences, emotional stakes like we have never seen before in a Marvel project, while setting up future plotlines for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While doing all of this, Coogler never for a second loses the emotional core of the story or each character’s individual arc, while paying the ultimate tribute to Boseman at every chance he can. Coogler has directed some magnificent films to date, but there is no question in my mind that not only is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever his best film to date, it is one of the best films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the year!
Much of the credit goes to the absolutely spectacular performances from the entire cast, but most notably the female leads of the film. Angela Bassett gives one of the best performances of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as Queen Ramonda, mourning the loss of her son while trying to hold her country together. Every scene for Bassett is worthy of an Academy Award as she unleashes a symphony of grief, anger, and power, that should solidify an nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her come next year. She creates the emotional backbone of the film while facing off against the formidable Namor, trying to protect Wakanda and her family at all costs, becoming a force to be reckoned with in every scene she is in.
Taking over the lead role of the film is Shuri, giving Letitia Wright an incredible role. We find Shuri overcome with grief over the loss of her brother, while also working through her personal guilt as she was not able to save her brother that leads to a fiery vengeance within her. Wright is nothing short of spectacular, delivering a very nuanced performance that captures the many emotional fragility of her character as she tries to navigate the legacy her brother left behind. Lupita Nyong’o is wonderful as always, navigating the loss that Nakia is feeling without T’Challa, bringing a warmth and compassion to the film. At the same time, Nyong’o is formidable in the action sequences, bringing yet another excellent female action star to the film.
Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba and Michaela Coel are great as our main members of the Dora Milaje, capturing an unbridled strength as well as vulnerability as they face an enemy who is more powerful than them. In her Marvel debut, Dominique Thorne is excellent as Riri Williams/Ironheart, bringing a sense of fun to the film. Her chemistry with Wright is great and infectious, proving that Thorne’s Riri will quickly become a fan favourite character going forward. But if there’s one performance to rival that of Bassett and Wright, it is Tenoch Huerta as Namor. Huerta easily fills the formidable shoes of left by Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger as the film’s villain, delivering one of the most complex villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Namor grapples with the past trauma of his people, his untrust of the surface world, and desire to bury the nation of Wakanda. He has an uncontrollable rage, fuelled by the need for vengeance and loss, that creates an emotionally complex character that is the perfect opposite of Wright’s Shuri. Needless to say, Huerta is going to be a formidable force going forward and I cannot wait to see what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in store for Namor.
Visually speaking, the film is an absolute spectacle. The mixture of practical and computer generated effects is nothing short of outstanding, creating one of the most mesmerizing experiences of the year. The underwater scenes are breathtaking, bringing to life this new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in incredible detail. Action explodes across the screen and Coogler creates many thrilling sequences, delivering the excitement that fans expect from a Marvel film with the heart and humour that has characterized the entire franchise. Once again, the production and costume design is nothing short of fabulous that brings to life both the Wakandan and Talokan cultures in every scene. Ludwig Göransson’s musical score is phenomenal, capturing a completely different sound for Wakanda while incorporating the iconic theme that he composed for the previous film. And Rihanna’s first solo song in six years “Lift Me Up” captures the emotional spirit of the film with a beautiful ballad that is certain to be a major contender for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards.
Then, there is the mid-credit scene. Marvel laid out the template for credit scenes for the modern blockbuster, teasing future projects and characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though, tacking on a credit scene to this film felt weird to me, as the film is a tribute to Boseman and teasing the usual Marvel tease in my mind felt wrong. But, the single credit scene is an emotional continuation of the tribute to Boseman that only heightens the tribute seen throughout the film, guaranteed to have fans crying in theatre houses across the world this weekend. There are truly no words to describe the sheer power of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, as Coogler and his team have once again crafted an incredible film that transcends the superhero genre. While it has the excitement and stakes of a Marvel film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is so much more thanks to the incredible performances of Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright and Tenoch Huerta, and its terrific direction from Ryan Coogler that delivers the most beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman that will ensure there is not a dry eye in the theatre as fans and Wakanda bid farewell to T’Challa.