I want to start this review by describing one moment from the screening of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. After a short, heartbreaking prelude, the familiar Marvel logo animation begins. But this time, it’s not filled with the faces of all the various superheroes that have graced our screens. It’s all Boseman.
There’s no music, nothing. Just silence.
That intro lasts for less than a minute. You could feel the entire audience of several hundred people hold their breath. And once we cut back to the film, there was a collective sigh of relief and some sobs, myself included. The colossal loss of Boseman was felt throughout.
Grief is the biggest element in Wakanda Forever, the sequel to Black Panther and the first Black Panther film without original star Boseman, who died tragically in 2020.
That tragedy, both real and fictional in the world of Wakanda, shapes everything in the film; it guides Shuri as she grapples with her insurmountable grief and anger, it forces Queen Ramonda’s hand as she is made ruler of Wakanda and it leaves Wakanda without a protector.
Wakanda is now also facing a new threat in the form of Namor and his underwater people. Wakanda isn’t the only place with access to vibranium (the rare metal found in Wakanda) it seems, and Namor now seeks war with the surface people. Namor demands Wakandans to help him or he’ll wage war on them too.
There’s no denying it: Wakanda Forever is an important and affecting film. Director Ryan Coogler navigates a difficult, almost impossible situation with grace and vision. It’s no small feat and, to that, I raise my hat.
Yet, so much of Wakanda Forever is flawed in a way I can’t get past. Its narrative is unfocused, characters come and go and Namor makes for an underdeveloped, if fascinating villain. The globe-trotting narrative jumps from location to location in a hurry and none of the plot has time to breathe. It never feels as organic as it should.
Characters like Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and M’Baku (Winston Duke) are somewhat sidelined and are given only a few scenes to do something meaningful. Namor, brilliantly played by Tenoch Huerta, gets an interesting backstory that ties into Mesoamerican history and colonialism, giving the character a lot of depth that is otherwise missing from the script.
Namor at times feels like Coogler’s attempt to recreate Killmonger from the first film. Namor is righteous; ruthless, yes, but his moral compass is strong and unshakeable. But Wakanda Forever is – and must be – focused on the collective loss felt by the people of Wakanda, which leaves less time to develop and deepen the character of Namor, leaving him a little on the bland side.
But there is also much to love. Letitia Wright is heartbreaking and profound as Shuri. This is mostly her film but Coogler also goes to great lengths to focus on all the women of Wakanda and how the passing of the king, the protector, affects them.
Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda is a commanding, regal presence. Her grief is just as acute as Shuri’s but she deals with it internally, as is expected from a leader. At times, it explodes out of her with fury and she is overcome with the inexplicable sense of loss.
Wakanda and Talokan, the home of Namor, both feel rich and vibrant, but we don’t spend enough time in either. For a film that deals with the loss of a protector of a whole nation, Wakanda Forever seems very unconcerned with Wakanda and its citizens.
There’s no real sense of place and time here – most of the action happens outside of Wakanda – but the funeral proceedings witnessed at the start of the film feel rich, precise and detailed. Those details are otherwise missing from Coogler’s film.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever never reaches the highs of its predecessor or some of Marvel’s best. It’s still an impressive achievement from Coogler and his cast, all of whom seemingly pour their personal experience of losing Boseman into their roles. It’s a film infused with grief while also celebrating the legacy of such a talented actor.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in cinemas November 11.