Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

“If I sit here and think about my brother too long, it won’t be the clothes that I burn but the world and everyone in it.”

Usually, when the Marvel Studios fanfare starts after an opening sequence, the Michael Giacchino specially composed score plays accompanied by the best moments of the MCU since it’s inception. With the next installment and final entry in phase 4, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, returning co-writer/director Ryan Coogler changes the normalcy. A moment of silence is given with images and shots of the late Chadwick Boseman, honoring the legacy of the actor who was the MCU’s titular king of Wakanda. With such a heavy and unexpected loss of Boseman, how the story will continue became the concern. How will Coogler push forward with the remaining characters?

It’s without question, the enormous task Coogler and Joe Robert Cole would undertake – filling the shoes Boseman left after being introduced in 2016 and making several appearances in the Avengers films along with his own, the character became a fan favorite along with the actor wearing the suit whom the citizens of the fictitious Wakanda call “The Protector”. A task that would go on to become a celebration of Boseman’s life and contribution to acting while pushing forward. If phase 4 had an unsung theme, it’s grief – picking up the broken pieces that the Infinity Saga left off with. Grief has followed the already established characters closely – reminding them of the fragility of life, not just in the fictional multiverse but in real life in which Coogler and Cole are imitating.

Wakanda Forever is more than a war cry, it’s a greeting, a poignant sense of purpose and understanding, understood without saying a word, simply just crossing your arms against your chest. One of the many ways fans will remember Boseman.

With emotions running high, Wakanda Forever writes in the late actors passing into the narrative. An off-screen death due to an incurable disease that makes sense, crafted with the utmost care for the memory of Boseman and his family. After that – the story picks up exactly 1 year later, after the snap, somewhere along the timeline of events that the rest of phase 4 takes place. Coogler and Cole’s story focuses on the aftermath of Black Panther, following the now Queen of Wakanda Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and the Dora Milage, led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) picking up the shattered pieces of the past.

“Wakanda has lost its Protector” Ramonda proclaims in front of the U.N as the Queen rescinded on T’Challa’s promise of sharing the precious metal of vibranium with the rest of the world. Simultaneously, somewhere in the Atlantic ocean, the Dora Milage stop the theft of the metal, making a fool out of the nation that has attempted the theft. Wakanda will not be bought or bullied to give up what has made the reclusive country the wealthiest in the world.

Every comic book adapted movie needs a villain, it’s a requirement. Good vs evil. The protagonist vs an antagonist. Wakanda Forever introduces a familiar villain/anti-hero that fans of the comics are sure to recognize. However, breaking off from the normalcy, Coogler and Cole create a new backstory for the villain Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). In the comics, Namor is king of Atlantis, in Wakanda Forever Namor is the ruler king of Talokan, steeped in Mayan mythology as to not be confused with DC’s Aquaman. Coogler choosing to take these liberties with well-established comic book characters makes sense. As a result, Talokan offers an entire world of exploration and cultural celebration.

Something the first Black Panther accomplished with its eyes closed. Where Namor fits into the narrative begins with T’Challa’s proclamation – sharing the wealth of Vibranium with the rest of the world will expose this under water kingdom, something Namor is against. As a leader, Namor will do whatever it takes to protect his people even if it means going to war with the surface world. The odds are in his favor – earth is made up of 70% water. Think of the army he commands.

As a villain in a cinematic universe that notoriously has a weak spot in the armor for good villains, Tenoch Huerta follows in the path of the Eric Killmonger’s, Thanos’s, Vulture’s and Loki’s. Charismatic, soft spoken, fierce, intimidating, and dangerous, Huerta Mejía commands every scene he’s in, you can’t take your eyes off the K’uk’ulkan, or ‘Feather Serpent God’. Going to war or killing him will be a catastrophe for Wakanda. Somehow in a room full of Wakandan elders, M’Baku of the Jabari Tribe (Winston Duke) understands the repercussions the most.

As an ensemble, Wakanda Forever follows in its predecessor’s path, featuring some of the most talented names in the industry. Doubling down for their friend and colleague, each performance is an anchor in the beating heart shaped herb, echoing the power and pride that the first film brought to an underappreciated culture and heritage. All are standouts but among those that steal the attention is Letitia Wright. For 161 minutes Wright’s Shuri channels every heartbeat that went into making Wakanda Forever happen. When Shuri is sad, heartbroken, angry, Coogler amplifies those emotional states of mind through his and Cole’s screenplay – making it the best the MCU has seen in a few years and a couple of phases. The weight of Boseman’s death can’t be contained from any of the main cast that has both shrunk and grown. A notable absence is Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi, who opted to star in Nope instead.

Rounding out the ensemble, who all bring their A-game with stellar performances are Lupita Nyong’o as returning as Nakia, Florence Kasumba as Ayo, Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, Michaela Coel as Aneka, and Martin Freeman returning as Everett K. Ross. All of whom shine in their supporting roles, adding their experiences in dealing with the loss. Some like Thorne and Coel are new additions to the franchise, paving the way for more appearances in the same vein that T’Challa first appeared in Civil War.

Among several returning cast members from Black Panther, returning to score the film is longtime frequent collaborator with Coogler, Ludwig Göransson, curating another outstanding soundtrack for the nation of Wakanda, Talokan and its people. Oscar winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter fashions both Wakanda and Talokan with dazzling style and an eye-popping color palette of stark whites and dense blacks.

For the near 3 hours that Wakanda Forever is paying an emotional tribute to its king T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman, the ambitious undertaking does slip away momentarily. 2 and a half hours plus can be edited down to make for a tightly wound film instead of prolonging the inevitable next chapter. Regardless, the ambitiousness of Coogler works when the script isn’t being oversaturated by heavy visual effects and characters that don’t add much to the bottom line – now, like Wakanda, we can move on, saying our final heartfelt goodbyes while still remembering the past, cherishing the memories of those who made this world possible. The more time that passes post Wakanda Forever, the more poignant the story will remain.

Wakanda Forever will take you on a journey – an emotional roller coaster ride that detracts from the everyday comic book movie the genre pumps out. Though it may be the final appearance of Chadwick Boseman on screen posthumously, his memory will serve as a reminder of what storytelling can accomplish when the right people are put in place. Though his final performance came by way of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, he will always be remembered as T’Challa, the Black Panther, protector of Wakanda.

Screenplay By: Joe Robert Cole & Ryan Coogler

Story By: Ryan Coogler

Directed By: Ryan Coogler

Music By: Ludwig Göransson

Cinematography: Autumn Durald Arkapaw

Starring: Letitia Write Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Angela Bassett

Release Date: November 11, 2022

Running Time: 2 Hours 41 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

Based On: Black Panther by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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