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“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a melancholy, but triumphant sequel
December 1, 2022
In 2018 “Black Panther” took over the world. The film succeeded far beyond any expectations and became one of the most successful Marvel films, financially and critically, as well as eventually becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time.
It was a major moment in film history, showing the level of success that a film could achieve that had a majority Black cast and crew. The film won three Oscars and was nominated for four others. Two of those Oscars, for costume design and production design, were both the first time an Black nominee had won either award.
“Black Panther” has since become a cultural touchstone, beloved by many and seen as an important text in modern American film history. A sequel was inevitable and was in development shortly after the initial film’s success. Although none could have ever predicted the tragedy that would befall its production, just two short years after the original’s runaway success.
The film’s leading man, Chadwick Boseman, who played the titular role, tragically passed away after his battle with cancer on August 28, 2020. This was a major shock to many, as his illness was a well-kept secret from the public, all the way up to his passing.
This placed the team behind “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in a massively unfortunate and difficult position, in that they knew they wanted to continue the story of the world of Wakanda but wanted to pay respects to the actor who the original film owes a lot of its success to.
Four years after the release of “Black Panther” and just two years after Chadwick Boseman’s passing, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” was released in theaters, on November 11, 2022. The film is a satisfying and successful sequel, despite the nearly insurmountable challenges that the team faced, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Wakanda Forever” immediately sets itself apart from the very opening, immediately delving into the death of T’Challa. The film deals with this real-life tragedy in the best way that anyone could have and is highly respectful both to the legacy of the actor Chadwick Boseman, as well as the character he helped create.
Following this emotional, but necessary prelude, the film continues to be an outlier from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its moody tone and a dark color palette that is nearly unheard of for the franchise, which is typically known for its overly bright, washed-out digital sheen.
The film is just as, if not more, beautiful than its predecessor, highlighting amazing worldbuilding for both Wakanda and the new location of the underwater Talokan city. Utilizing excellent set design, cinematography, and an atmosphere that reflects the tragedy and confusion that the audience feels, as well as the characters in the film itself.
The film’s director, Ryan Coogler, who previously directed the first film as well as the equally crowd-pleasing “Creed”, continues to be one of the strongest directors working within the superhero film genre. His innate excellence continues to shine through even the most overwhelming of big budget blockbusters, which is especially unusual for films within the MCU, which are known for feeling anonymous, even when helmed by equally talented filmmakers.
“Wakanda Forever” is far from anonymous, highlighting immediately arresting locations and characters, always utilizing the power of various filmmaking techniques to get the audience on board, always feeling effortless.
The characters and performances all shine in this very personal film, all of which are dealing with overwhelming grief and turmoil throughout the film’s nearly three-hour runtime. Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, and MCU newcomer Tenoch Huerta all stand out, giving layered performances, all of which must communicate emotional and complex issues within the world of the film, and the real world as well.
The grief and emptiness that Boseman’s passing has left is present in nearly every choice throughout the film, especially those who worked with him in the first film. Perhaps the most powerful choice Coogler makes is to begin and end the film with tributes to Boseman and allowing the actors to pay their respects, never letting the audience forget who the film is truly for.
The single most exciting aspect of “Wakanda Forever” though, is its villain. Namor, a fan favorite in the comic book world, makes his first live action appearance in the film. He leads the Talokan tribe, heavily inspired by Yucatán-Mayan history and designs. His characterization continues in the same direction as the previous film’s villain, Killmonger.
Namor is a highly sympathetic villain, whose motivations are fleshed out, allowing the audience to be just as invested in him as they are Shuri, the film’s primary protagonist. Namor’s main goal is to protect his people and prevent them from being exploited, not unlike the Wakandan nation or Killmonger before him. This also continues in the series focus on the effects of colonization, exploitation of minority groups, as well as world politics.
Namor in the comics was always most known for his imposing and fierce presence, always doing whatever it takes to accomplish his goals. This is brought across perfectly in the film, making him feel equally smart as he is brutal. The Talokan tribe themselves are also a joy to watch, highlighting creative water-based combat sequences and hand to hand combat.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ” goes as far as to surpass the first film in its epic scale and atmospheric tone which also makes it one of the best MCU films, especially regarding its technical creativity. Although there are a few too many plotlines and the bloated runtime could feel exhausting in certain sequences, it still is massive blockbuster filmmaking at its best.
Ryan Coogler continues to be one of the most exciting directors working at this scale, delivering films that are as equally personal as they are crowd-pleasing. Although the film’s main purpose was to mourn the loss of Chadwick Boseman, it still succeeds as a fun, yet melancholy end to the current “Phase 4” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.
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