‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’: The Conskipper Review

With the untimely and tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, many in the film industry, and fans around the world, wondered how a second Black Panther film would be possible.

Boseman defined the role of T’Challa and made Ryan Coogler’s 2018 film a cultural phenomenon, but questions lingered about the course that the newly rewritten film would take. Would Marvel Studios recast the role of the King of Wakanda? Would they attempt to bring back Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in a multiversal twist to tale over the mantle of the Panther in a story of redemption? Would one of the talented cast members from Black Panther lead Wakanda into the future?

Coogler’s saving grace for Wakanda Forever was the fact that the director populated the world of Wakanda with a plethora of engaging supporting characters who step up to the challenge in the sequel to complete an engaging story about loss, mourning, and acceptance.

Coogler doesn’t waste any time dealing with the death of T’Challa at the start of the film, but also deftly sidesteps the overwhelming sadness that could have derailed the production from the start for the cast and fans. The “life imitating art” aspect of the opening scene is a heavy one, and everyone in theater across the world will feel the loss on both levels, and when the opening Marvel Studios montage played, the theater that I saw it in was as quiet as a church service.

Once the life-affirming funeral procession is complete, the film begins dealing with the plight of the Wakandan people and their place in an international landscape that wants their most precious resource: Vibranium.

This search for the precious resource leads to the introduction of the stand-out antagonist of the film Namor (played by Tenoch Huerta). Like Jordan’s Killmonger, Huerta’s Namor is also a morally ambiguous character that immediately stands apart from other “villains” in the MCU’s rogue’s gallery. Huerta imbues one of Marvel’s oldest characters with a gravity and intensity not seen since Jordan’s Killmonger, but with an added touch of grace and quiet charm. Fans have been waiting for the character’s debut (which until recently was entangled in usage rights) and they will not be disappointed, as he arrives with the same complexity of the four-color version of the troubled prince.

Letitia Wright’s Shuri comes alive in the scenes with Huerta, getting out of the science lab for a change (a big one in fact), establishing herself as the true princess of Wakanda. The process of Shuri attempting to fill the void of her lost brother is a gradual and painful one, and one that seems genuine on screen. She is at times brooding, hopeful, and furious, and her journey serves as the focal point of the film.

Wright is joined by a plethora of co-stars that shine in Wakanda Forever, and as previously stated, the ensemble cast from Black Panther all contribute to the success of the film. Angela Bassett steals the scenes she is in as Queen Ramonda, wearing all of the regal responsibilities and grief over the loss of her son on her sleeve, and it is a treat to see Bassett once again deliver another outstanding performance in a long line of outstanding performances in her career.

Danai Gurira and Winston Duke continue their memorable performances as Okoye and M’Baku, and also demonstrate how they have both changed since the death of T’Challa, with Okoye showing more cracks in her emotional armor and M’Baku’s more measured and reticent outlook on life and his nation.

Lupita Nyong’o also returns as an expat currently living in Haiti, and she also gets time on screen to take action in service to Wakanda. Even more so than the previous film (and in part out of necessity), the women get to drive the story in a natural way. There are no references to them being inferior in battle or underestimated by their male adversaries, which is a refreshing change from the standard “You think you can contend with a man?” lines so overused in today’s action films. They don’t need to prove themselves; they are automatically seen as formidable fighters and thinkers.

To Coogler’s credit, the film does not look like a standard Marvel Studios film or TV series (whose “house style has begun to grate on some fans and critics). Similar to Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, the visual style sets the film apart from the rest, and it was clear that both directors were given more leeway than others due to their previous Marvel hits and track records. The colors, variety of shots and camera angles, and sets make each separate world come alive, whether it is a vibrant colors of the streets and markets of Wakanda or the blues and greens of underwater empire Talokan, each place and the characters that inhabit them seems unique.

The film also thankfully stays away from the “joke a minute meter” that plagues Marvel films. While Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams occasionally slips into this comic relief mode, the moments are not enough to turn viewers off or alter the tone of the piece.

Wakanda Forever doesn’t feel like a comic book movie; it instead feels like a six issue arc of a comic series intended to be collected in a trade paperback. And while the pacing and ensemble nature of a comic series may turn off those critics that don’t read comic books on a regular basis (or at all), those that do will be able to appreciate the “comic come to life” aspect of Coogler’s film.

Coogler and his talented cast deliver a film that at one time seemed like an impossibility, and by the end of the journey, it is clear that Wakanda will indeed live Forever.

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