KIing T’Challa is dead. The Black Panther is no more. With Wakanda reeling from the death of its king, Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Basset) and Princess Shuri (Leticia Wright) face a struggle to protect their country from external forces eyeing its resources, especially its exclusive supply of the nigh-invulnerable metal Vibranium.
But there is another threat, one that comes from the deepest parts of the ocean – an underwater nation called Talokan, led by its enigmatic mutant king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta). And now Wakanda must deal with its grief and get ready to defend itself from arguably the only other nation capable of rivaling them in terms of technological might and fighting power.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was always going to be overshadowed by one thing – the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, who played T'challa, the original Black Panther of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Boseman died of cancer in 2020, while director Ryan Coogler was in the middle of writing the script for the follow up to 2018's Black Panther.
Considering the circumstances, Coogler and the stellar cast of Wakanda Forever does magnificently when dealing with the death of their star. It was obvious that great depth and thought had been given to paying tribute to Boseman in the movie, and some of the film’s best moments were the slower, more dramatic moments where the characters contemplate the loss of their king and son/brother and deal with their grief.
Angela Basset gives one of the most powerful performances ever seen in an MCU movie, her Queen Ramonda channeling power and control when her official headdress is on, and her softer, more motherly side coming through when it is off. Her grief at the loss of her son is apparent at all times, even during her most defiant moments, as she strives to keep her nation and daughter safe.
Wright’s elevation from supporting cast to lead actress in the franchise comes with great responsibility. For the most part, she manages to pull through admirably, nailing the big emotional moments perfectly, though her action scenes might need a bit more work.
But as much as an eulogy to Boseman as Wakanda Forever is, it is still an MCU movie, with MCU-sized expectations to meet. In Namor and Talokan, Wakanda gets the formidable foes it deserves, and the battles between the two nations were every bit the spectacle we expected.
Huerta’s Namor, in particular, is an excellent addition to the MCU. With a backstory that could set an early foundation for the further introduction of mutants into the MCU, Namor’s status as a king of a powerful world power, his charismatic charm, and exceedingly powerful abilities make him a formidable new wildcard of a character we will certainly see more of in future MCU films.
At two hours and 40 minutes, this is one of the longest MCU movies in the franchise. It is to Coogler and the cast’s credit that Wakanda Forever doesn't feel like it takes forever to end, but in hindsight, it would have been a much tighter and better film if it did not have to spend unnecessary time with setups for future MCU films and shows.
One of those 'setups' is Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams, a.k.a Ironheart, a science prodigy who invents her own 'Iron Man' suit. In a movie already juggling the substantial emotional drama with an all-out war between two world superpowers, adding Ironheart into the mix seemed a tad jarring, to tell the truth.
Sure, Marvel needs to introduce Riri ahead of her Disney+ series debut, but she just felt a little out of place in the midst of what was already going on here.
For the most part, Wakanda Forever works. It nails the emotional moments perfectly, handles Boseman's death with dignity, and gives Namor, Marvel Comics's first ever superhero, the debut he deserves. But at times, it does feel a little disjointed and uneven, like a film that was, well, rewritten to compensate for the loss of its biggest star.
But come to think about it, this probably makes it an apt film to close off Phase Four of the MCU, arguably the most patchy and uneven phase of the franchise yet.
Now that the future of Wakanda is secure and a new Black Panther is in place, we can look forward to Phase Five, which finally looks set to deliver on the promises that Phase Four gave us. Now bring on Kang.
Wakanda really is forever. Now bring on Phase Five!