“Wakanda Forever” is the big-budget follow up to “Black Panther”, the 2018 global phenomenon that went on to gross over $1.3 Billion dollars at the box office. This is the fourth feature film by director Ryan Coogler, who was tasked with the herculean effort of directing this sequel despite the passing of his close friend and lead star, Chadwick Boseman (King T’Challa). “Wakanda Forever” sees the return of the majority of the cast from the first film returning, sans folks like Daniel Kaluuyaal. The goal: to captivate viewers once again though heart, emotion, and entertaining by way of this spectacle.
To start, we find the nation of Wakanda in deep mourning, trying to heal and forge ahead under the matriarchy of T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). After the somber opening, Queen Ramonda is forced to address world leaders over their aggressive insistence on having access to Wakanda’s natural resource, Vibranium. As this matter over Wakanda’s advanced technology is being debated, a dangerous presence emerges that poses an incredible threat to Wakanda’s land and existence. This threat comes by way of the undiscovered and underwater world of Talokan which is led by a powerful King named Namor.
After ultimately rejecting an offer from Namor that would make Wakanda and Talokan allies, the Wakandans are forced to ban together to protect their country from Namor and his fierce battalion of Talokan Warriors. This conflict brings about a war between both sides that results in high stakes drama, tension, and immersive action sequences carried out on an epic scale.
“Wakanda Forever” is a very entertaining, yet somber and emotional film that is largely shaped by the passing of Chadwick Boseman. This is a feature where the grief of the cast truly blurs the line between film and reality in a way that will certainly touch film goers. As the viewer, fans get to see the characters mourn T’Challa”, their King, while simultaneously watching the actors mourn Chadwick, their friend. This delicate balance is handled with sensitivity, reverence and grace by Ryan Coogler who is emerging as one of the favorite directors in the industry today.
At its core, “Wakanda Forever” is a film about loss, healing and pressing forward as Coogler attempts to navigate through the world of Wakanda without the beloved character of T’challa. However, despite the melancholy that permeates throughout the film, the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan proves to be riveting storytelling that is much more serious, engaging, and carries more gravitas than most of the recent projects from the MCU.
There is no one primary star in the movie, exuding ensemble in every sense of the word where each of the separate parts create one organic whole. Many of the stars from the first film are back for this installment including Angela Bassett (Queen Ramonda), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Winston Duke (M’Baku) and Martin Freeman (Everett Ross). Newcomers to this sequel include Dominique Thorne (Riri Williams) and Tenoch Huerta (Namor). Unfortunately, due to the film’s multi-layered structure, not every actor has as much screen time as one would hope, but each one certainly has their shining moments.
As Namor, Tenoch Huerta gives a charismatic, intense, and sometimes frightening performance as the King of Talokan, an ancient underseas civilization that has remained hidden for centuries. Huerta’s striking portrayal is the complex characterization of a leader whose actions can be perceived as justified depending on the perspective one views his motives from. As the film’s antagonist, the character of Namor is skilled, powerful, extremely well written and has an engrossing back story which guides his superb character arc throughout the entire film.
Letitia Wright also gives a captivating, nuanced, and emotional portrayal of Shuri, the one-time sassy sister who has lost her sibling. She is overcome with grief and denial, but must press forward to help her Mother save Wakanda at all costs. Wright shows her true range here and rises to the occasion with a moving and wonderful performance. Lastly, Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda is given much more to do in this film and steals every scene she’s in due to her commanding presence, powerful performance and seasoned acting prowess. Acting as both a Queen and mother, Bassett took the real life pain and put it all into her work. Basset’s performance here is simply phenomenal and she could receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work. She’s that good here.
From a writing and directing standpoint, “Wakanda Forever” also highlights the fact that Ryan Coogler continues to become a master at filmmaking. Coogler’s ability to balance such mature themes of heartfelt grief, cultural ideologies, political overtures and heightened drama while still displaying the film’s “comic book” sensibilities is quite fascinating to witness. In terms of his directorial vision, the look of the film, the shots and angles he choose, as well as his choice of sound, soundtrack, and silence to emphasize key moments showcases Coogler’s growing maturity as a Director. This type of direction, in conjunction with the beautiful cinematography from Autumn Durald Arkapaw, makes “Wakanda Forever” a film that is both sonically and visually pleasing to the senses.
Another area of “Wakanda Forever” where Ryan Coogler has upped the ante is in the action department. This film features considerably more action set pieces than its predecessor which are more polished, beautifully choreographed, and visually vibrant. It also appears that Coogler and his team heard the warranted criticisms of some of the CGI in the 3rd act of “Black Panther”. The visual effects in this film are more detailed & dynamic as evidenced by the spectacle on land, in air, as well as the beautiful underwater scenes in Talokan. This renewed and improved focus on the VFX truly accentuate the expansive action sequences on display in this film.
Overall, “Wakanda Forever” is an extremely ambitious and well-made film that was likely the most challenging of Ryan Coogler’s directing career. Once the decision was made to not recast the character of T’challa following Boseman’s death, Coogler was faced with quite the challenge: Create a film that organically addresses this enormous loss, but at the same time, still produce a large-scale comic book film that features elements of thrills, tension, new characters, spectacle, and high stakes action that rivals its 2018 predecessor.
In my opinion, Coogler and his cast passed that test with flying colors and gives us a film that is not only heartfelt, intimate, and emotional, but also one that is very entertaining. Honestly, because of the brotherly relationship he had with Chadwick, his kindred connection to his cast, and his innate grasp on the material he helped introduce in 2018, I don’t think anyone else but Ryan Coogler could have completed this sequel, this competently, under these less than ideal circumstances.
No matter which side of the fence you fall on in terms of the “RecastTchalla” movement (Google it if you’re unfamiliar), I don’t think any fan of cinema with a keen eye for details can deny that this is a well-crafted film that was created with care, love, and a desire to honor the legacy of Chadwick Boseman. If I had to point out any perceived flaws, I do think there are some small moments of humor in the film that didn’t quite land. Additionally, I thought there was a certain subplot and “world building” element for the larger MCU that didn’t fully serve this film’s narrative. However, these issues were very minor and did nothing to take away from the emotional a enjoyable journey this film takes us on.
Every fan of 2018’s “Black Panther” may not get exactly everything they desire from the “Wakanda Forever” but there are still plenty of wholesome elements to enjoy in this spirited and soulful sequel. From the sharp direction, cinematography, performances, surprises, action, score, soundtrack and beautiful production design, this sequel more than proves itself to be a worthy successor to the original. “Wakanda Forever” is a huge win, one of my favorite films of the year and one that comes HIGHLY Recommended – Enjoy!