“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Rated US PG-13)
Cast: Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Tenoch Huerta, Angela Bassett
Where to watch: In Theaters
If you’ve never seen the most beautiful, brightest, biggest and best diamond in the entire world, quite naturally the second or even third most beautiful, brightest, biggest and best diamond would strike you as incredibly dazzling and alluring.
Similarly, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a good movie. And for many, it will be a great movie. But it cannot reach the heights attained in “Black Panther”. And that’s perfectly fine.
It probably would have been impossible for it to come anywhere close to matching the brilliance of “Black Panther”, one of the most successful films of any genre in the last 10 years. It’s regarded as one of the very best (if not The Best!) comic book-based, superhero movie ever, and it’s the first such film to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
How can you top that? And especially without that 2018 film’s beloved star Chadwick Boseman, portrayer of the titular character. After his death in 2020, many questioned how and if this franchise could continue without him.
Well, while not quite “Black Panther” or “Logan”, Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler has ensured “Wakanda Forever” is satisfying on a level to which most Marvel movies (and almost all of anything associated with DC Films) can only dream of achieving.
Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Dora Milaje – the Wakanda all-female warriors – fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s (Boseman) death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom.
Specifically, they need to protect Wakanda from Namor (Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta) and the Talokan, an ancient civilization of underwater dwellings.
Underwater dwellings! Sound familiar? When you see them and their vast nation under the sea, you, too, might think of that DC guy “Aquaman”, a film also from 2018. But if “Black Panther” was the genre’s zenith for that year, “Aquaman” was unquestionably the nadir. And the watery elements of “Wakanda Forever” prove Marvel can make a better aqua-themed movie than DC!
Namor is a “villain” of the Killmonger variety (portrayed in the original by Michael B. Jordan, who also makes a cameo here.) He’s not entirely evil, and has logical and rational reasons for what he’s hoping to accomplish – unlike the vast majority of the cartoonish villains we have to endure in even action films that aren’t based on comics.
Huerta’s Namor is pained and traumatized by his past, just like Killmonger. You might not agree with his methods, but you get it, sort of. It doesn’t hurt that Huerta plays the character with a sense of charisma and mysteriousness.
What makes “Wakanda Forever” really special, however, are the characters we’ve come to love. Bassett’s role as Queen Ramonda has been beefed up significantly, and she delivers a strong and memorable performance. Gurira is amazing as the chief warrior, and Nyong’o is enchanting. Winston Duke and Martin Freeman are back and joined by Emmy darlings Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michaela Coen, rounding out a wonderful cast.
But just like in the original, Wright as Princess Shuri is the electric heart of this film. Unlike in the original, she doesn’t have to steal scenes, as the spotlight is mostly on her. She might not have as many humorous lines as before (she’s got some heavy burdens to carry this go-round), but her spirit and energy are intact.
The main action storyline isn’t quite as dynamic as with the original, but the commentary and jabs at geopolitical factors continue. However, at its core, this franchise has been about family, and even more so now. It’s like a more sensible, more realistic and less far-fetched “Fast & Furious” (you read that right! Makes you wonder which is the one based on a comic book!).
Will the comic book fanboys be enthralled with “Wakanda Forever”? That isn’t entirely certain. Some will and quite a few probably won’t. But this is clearly skewed toward people who don’t eat, drink and sleep comic book lore, and prefer a healthy dose of realism and relatability with their fantasies.
It’s also a truly wonderful send-off to Chadwick Boseman. It will be hard for some not to get emotional at the thoughtful and poignant manner in which his death is addressed.
And as you should know by now, stick around for the mid-credit and end-credit hints as to what comes next. Some wonderful music from Rihanna will help you pass that time.
No, “Wakanda Forever” is not as amazing as “Black Panther”, but it may make you hope Wakanda and the “Black Panther” franchise stick around for a long, long time, if not quite forever.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.