2018’s Black Panther remains one of the MCU’s highlights, a vibrant superhero movie filled with heart, soul, and a truly unique and lived-in aesthetic. Given its success — including a “Best Picture” Oscar nomination and $1.35 billion at the box office — and cultural impact, a sequel was a foregone conclusion. Sadly, King T’Challa himself, Chadwick Boseman, passed away in 2020 from colon cancer, casting doubt on any future Black Panther movies.
But writer/director Ryan Coogler and the remaining cast members forged on ahead while making it clear that they would not be recasting Boseman’s role or “resurrecting” him via digital effects. The sequel wouldn’t shy away from Boseman’s death, but rather, incorporate it into T’Challa’s storyline while bringing the African nation of Wakanda — the world’s most advanced civilization — into conflict with the underwater kingdom of Talokan and its ruler, Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
Has Coogler and Marvel done right by Boseman with the second Black Panther film? Or is it just another example of a studio capitalizing on intellectual property? Read on to see what critics are saying about the MCU’s 30th(!) film.
We can also see, almost in real time, a franchise coming to terms with loss at the same as its fictional characters. Chadwick Boseman, who in the previous adventure had played T’Challa, king of Wakanda, died of cancer two years ago at just 43 years old. Now this new film pays a heartfelt and decent tribute to his memory in a drama shaped around this sudden blow, making an honest attempt to shape a superhero film around the subject of grief.
The first 15 minutes of the film opens with a somber tone conveying to all that the King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of Wakanda is dead. The passing of actor Chadwick Boseman was written into the story. The determining factor of T’Challa’s death was an illness as the cause of death. Wakanda Forever keeps the circumstances surrounding T’Challa’s death vague — this is not the movie’s focal point. Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole offer a rich substantive story that gives Marvel its mojo back.
At times, a sacrilegious and probably deranged-sounding question rises to the surface: Did Wakanda Forever even have to be a superhero movie? It gives away little to note that someone new will wind up inheriting T’Challa’s catsuit, carrying on the Black Panther mantle and, in all likelihood, taking her place in the next phase of the endless MCU soap opera. The baton pass is bracing without feeling particularly satisfying, not least because the anointing of another Wakandan figurehead ultimately feels antithetical to the movie’s democratic spirit.
Only the first action scene, a too-brief and atmospheric depiction of Talokan’s denizens launching an ambush on a C.I.A.-run deep-sea drilling platform, has the panache that the previous film displayed at numerous turns. And the sight of two mostly CGI-rendered groups of warriors colliding in slow motion quickly makes Wakanda Forever feel lugubrious and plodding as its narrative spins its wheels ahead of someone coming along to fill T’Challa’s shoes.
It is a grim movie, in many ways, with a darker visual range than its predecessor and an overall heaviness that makes some of its forays into Marvel ensemble banter hit a little strangely. (Still, the occasional comic relief is welcome.) The tactical side of things doesn’t always pan out. Some of its huge, militaristic battles risk striking an oddly impersonal note in the midst of a movie whose stakes are carved out in such personal terms. The talking is often sharper than the fighting, which can get muddled. Coogler — whose best movie might still be Creed — is good at everything, but Wakanda Forever finds him excelling most in scenes like our first encounter with Namor, in an attack on an underwater mining mission, a sequence that’s all about the setup, about dredging up a sense of mystery. The movie isn’t always on such sure footing. But that’s almost appropriate: a messier movie trying to reckon with a messier range of feelings.
Wakanda Forever somehow feels even more intimately woven into the tapestry of its own moment, which is both extraordinary and fitting. With T’Challa’s death (and Boseman’s) at its crux, Wakanda Forever is an altogether darker, more complicated film than its predecessor. Coogler’s script, co-credited to Joe Robert Cole, focuses on the ways in which grief can morph into something awful and hateful under duress, and if left unresolved for too long. In their respective mourning, Shuri and Namor are foils, accentuating by example the self-destructive ways in which denying grief only serves to prolong it.
Perhaps sensing that he had no other choice, Coogler packs Wakanda Forever to the gills. This is an overstuffed film, where you get the sense that the filmmaker added literally everything he could think of to the story. A go-for-broke approach that’s both commendable and kind of exhausting — I definitely started to feel the film’s 161-minute runtime, even amidst all the big action scenes.
And underneath it all is a beating heart; a tribute to both Boseman’s loss and legacy. The emotional punch is more impactful than the physical one here, and whatever the flaws of Wakanda Forever, its emotional heft is strong — and honest. There’s no sense of manipulation here, only a sense of grief coupled with acceptance.
As the credits roll on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a few things sink in. You’ve just watched a great setup for the future of the MCU. You’ve just watched a film that expertly pays off all of its dangling character and plot threads. And, most of all, you’ve watched a film that’s beautifully overwhelming on almost every level. You might not think it’s going to get there in the middle, but by the end, the film kind of feels like you’ve fully celebrated and appreciated life itself.
Directed once again by Ryan Coogler, with his same co-screenwriter Joe Roberts Cole in tow, Wakanda Forever was dealt a tremendous blow with the shocking passing of Chadwick Boseman. It handicaps the plot in many ways, but not the story that pushes forward the original film’s ideas of identity, the dangers of political isolationism, birthright legacies, and more.
For some Marvel fans, this is going to be a more somber affair than they’re used to. It turns out that seeing half the universe wiped out by a purple alien isn’t as emotional as thinking about one of your favorite performers being gone. Though, when you emerge from the theater, you’ll be thankful for the ride Boseman took us all on and the road he’s paved for those who walked beside him. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever might be a trip down to the river to lay an old friend to rest, but the journey is necessary to move forward.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a bigger, more ambitious, and more stirringly poignant endeavor than its predecessor. But it doesn’t feel like the product of a studio merely trying to make a financially successful follow-up to one of its most popular and well-regarded films. Rather, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever plays like the triumphant celebration of an idea, the mournful farewell to an actual hero, and a promise of even greater things to come all rolled into one.
Director Coogler, cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, the production design and special effects teams, the costumers and makeup departments, et al., deliver some jaw-dropping visuals, from the breathtakingly beautiful memorial procession for T’Challa to our introduction to the expansive and idyllic and isolated underwater kingdom of Talocan. We get a traditional, almost old-fashioned chase sequence involving a muscle car and a motorcycle, and of course some massive battle scenes, with the blue-skinned and seemingly invincible Talocan warriors taking on the equally formidable Wakandan army.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is under a lot of pressure, but Coogler lands it. The performances are strong, and the stakes feel natural and internal. Even when you know it is getting a little long in the tooth, it is more a matter of not wanting to leave for the bathroom and missing something. For people dealing with Marvel fatigue, this is the film that will give you some hope. Black Panther 2 will end the MCU’s turbulent Phase 4, so at least that helps them stick the landing.
This must have been an incredibly difficult film to make, for the obvious reasons: how does a filmmaker and his cast carry on after the loss of such a dazzling colleague? But ticking boxes isn’t the same as pulling magic — or even just insight — from thin air. The picture’s most stirring moments come near the end, where we get brief flashback glimpses of Boseman as T’Challa. For those few seconds, he radiates everything that’s missing from Wakanda Forever. The sad reality is that the show must go on, and without him, it’s just more of the same.
In many ways, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is quietly the most powerful MCU film, especially in Phase 4, serving as a strong capstone to a tonally wild era of MCU films. Ambitious in terms of scope and the emotional weight being confronted, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a powerful and often-times moving epic that stands tall alongside the previous film and serves as a beautiful tribute.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will arrive in theaters on November 11, 2022. Watch the trailer below.