‘Panther’ sequel is tasteful, exciting
It's a noble effort to pick up the pieces after an unexpected tragedy
When news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing shook the world in August 2020, Black Panther director and co-writer Ryan Coogler was already deep into development on the sequel for his massive superhero hit.
Somehow, Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole were not only able to completely rewrite their screenplay around the absence of their franchise’s lead protagonist, but they were able to turn it in the following spring for filming. Between Boseman and COVID, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was beset with so many creative and logistical challenges that it’s something of a miracle that a finished product actually emerged from the murky waters of uncertainty. It’s neither the cultural phenomenon nor the MCU high point that its predecessor was, but it’s a noble effort to pick up the pieces after an unexpected tragedy.
Our story opens with tech wizard Shuri (Letitia Wright) frantically trying to synthesize cures for her ailing brother T’Challa (Boseman, in archival footage) before hearing that he succumbed to his illness. After mourning the loss of their king, Wakanda sends Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to the United Nations on their behalf to discuss how the trade of vibranium, their most valued resource, can continue. Among parties interested in said resource is Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the powerful leader of an underwater kingdom who threatens Ramonda and Shuri with war if they don’t find the scientist responsible for creating a vibranium-detecting machine. Shuri and fearless General Okoye (Danai Gurira) tap CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) for help in seeking out the one Namor demands in order to stave off conflict with his humanoid soldiers.
Movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t known for their brevity, and at 161 minutes, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is second only to the 3-hour Avengers: Endgame in terms of runtime within the now 30-film series. At points, it undoubtedly feels its length, but for a movie that’s so overstuffed, it cultivates a handful moments that are nonetheless stunning and stand toe-to-toe with the best material in the first Black Panther. Every scene dealing with the passing of Boseman, from the modified Marvel Studios card that honors his legacy to the divine end credits featuring Rihanna’s stirring single “Lift Me Up,” is handled with intelligence and utmost respect to the late actor’s memory. MCU fans have been trained to stay through and after the credits for what is typically a pair of extra scenes; audiences should note that there is only one such scene this time, but it’s absolutely unmissable.
Thematically, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever struggles to pack the formidable punch of its predecessor, which seamlessly incorporated the quandary of isolationism vs. globalism within its narrative. Black Panther was also a landmark film for Afrofuturism, but now that we’ve already seen Wakanda in multiple MCU entries, this world doesn’t feel quite as magical as when we first laid eyes upon it. While the undersea nation of Talokan hasn’t been seen on screen up to this point, the conception and aesthetic of it simply isn’t on par with how immaculately Wakanda was conceived for the first film. It also doesn’t help that trailers for next month’s highly anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water, a film that also features submerged CG blue people, have been running in front of this movie and upstaging it with visual effects that are quite literally second-to-none.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the final film in Phase Four of the MCU, which also includes eight TV series and two one-off holiday specials. Even for a moderate Marvel movie fan as myself, it’s getting to be quite a bit, and I’m beginning to question how much creative satisfaction can be gleaned from a media franchise that has inevitably repeated its own concepts. It could also be that the current “Multiverse Saga” era of storytelling feels more disjointed than the previous “Infinity Saga,” which set up the Infinity Stones as interstellar MacGuffins for our heroes to snatch from big baddie Thanos. After this film, I don’t see how it or movies like Black Widow or Eternals will fit into this overarching storyline, but I suppose we’ll all have to keep watching to find out.
Regardless of how Black Panther: Wakanda Forever works into the master plan, it’s another reliably exciting and occasionally moving heroes-and-villains tale.
New movies coming this weekend
Playing in theaters is The Menu, a horror comedy starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy following a young couple as they travel to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the celebrity chef has prepared a lavish menu with some shocking surprises.
Also coming to theaters is She Said, a based-on-a-true-story drama starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan depicting the pair of New York Times reporters who broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct allegations.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Spirited, a musical comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell retelling Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol about a miserly misanthrope who is taken on a magical journey of self-reflection the night before Christmas.