Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

“Your brother is with the ancestors.”

Intimate and epic. Bold, colorful, otherworldly, built with great scale and by a collective of inspired eyes. This flawed yet grieving film is rich even in the moments that feel cheap. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a massive movie with a wide scope that’s microscopic in detail, and at the same time it’s one of the rare MCU films I believe improves upon its predecessor in nearly every facet. It’s familiar yet rejuvenating, and it offers hope to those lost by the abrupt loss of their hero and the clunky passing of the torch in the most recent MCU outings. It’s a steady and solid tribute.

Wakanda has lost their king. There’s little explanation to his illness or his passing, and none is really needed before the ceremonies begin and the drums start to beat. He was the Black Panther, but he was mortal too, and life isn’t forever and always. The way Wakanda Forever handles the passing of its leading man is reverential, honoring his stoic presence while still ushering in a new era through his techy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and an entirely new threat. The late Chadwick Boseman is felt throughout, but he doesn’t haunt the picture either, and the balance if deftly executed by director Ryan Coogler. The film is always moving forward, slowly yet steadily.

Great set pieces and small moments full of laughs elevate Wakanda Forever over its predecessor, which to me was incredibly over hyped, and it helps that the CGI here no longer looks likes something out of a video game. The sea-dwelling Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is one of Marvel’s most formidable and sympathetic antagonists to date, and his clash with Wakanda is earned even though his motives might be tarnished; he makes the movie intriguing. These films have a structure and we know how they’re going to play out, but to Coogler’s credit Wakanda Forever doesn’t unfold as neatly as some other Marvel movies. It’s messy, massive filmmaking, and it’s a step forward for the director when it comes to pacing something as massive and as broad as this. It’s a serious accomplishment.

Wakanda Forever is basically a female led film, scratching and clawing for inclusivity and peace, and the performances throughout are staggering in their weight and physicality. We’re introduced to new characters, revisit old ones, and the entire space just feels more fully realized and thought out than it was before. And yet my main gripe with the film is the tacked on and totally unnecessary mid credits scene. It sets up the future but undoes so much of the legacy that was just reestablished, and allows uncertainty to creep back in. Wakanda Forever might not be a better scripted film, but it’s far better made than the first outing, and it balances its grief with gallows humor and properly executed big budget CGI. I’ve never seen a film this big deal with death so personally, and to its credit Black Panther: Wakanda Forever honors and builds on its own legacy. I’m excited to see where it might go from here.

“This changes everything that we know.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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