‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review: The MCU Is Back, Baby!

For my money? Better than the first one.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the sequel to the 2018 film and the 30th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In the film, Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and other allies try and defend Wakanda against a new enemy, led by Tenoch Huerta. Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, and Angela Bassett also star, while Ryan Coogler returns to direct.

From the start, this film was faced with an impossible task. After Chadwick Boseman, the titular Black Panther, passed away in August 2020, it was unclear how (or even if) the film would progress. Director Ryan Coogler was forced to re-write the story, but even though he is gone, Boseman’s presence is felt all around the film, even if his shoes are too big to totally fill. While at times admittedly a tad bloated, this sequel features the style and heart that come from a Ryan Coogler project, while also featuring a great villain and some cinematic risks.

The first “Black Panther” film had the show stolen by Michael B. Jordan’s bad guy Killmonger, and that is arguably again the case here with Tenoch Huerta’s Namor. Huerta gives the character charm, anger, and sympathy, sometimes all at once, and his backstory (as well as what it could mean for the MCU moving forward) takes influence from Mayan heritage to create a character and civilization that feels established and real.

As the new lead, Letitia Wright is emotional but strong as Shuri. Still grieving over the loss of her brother, Wright has several scenes where she truly gets to flex her acting muscles. I liked where they took her character (she receives the mission meant for Boseman in the initial plans), and her take on becoming her own Black Panther. The rest of the cast, from newcomer Dominique Thorne to the elegant Angela Bassett, are solid in their roles, delivering what the plot needs form them.

One of the biggest complaints about both the first “Black Panther” and Phase 4 of the MCU was the special effects and over-use of poor-looking green screen, and things are mostly better here. Coogler stages a fantastical new world that feels lived-in, and the looks of the textures and moving hairs on people while underwater is better than the likes of “Aquaman.” Some of the fight sequences are still a bit flat or wonky, but it isn’t nearly as distracting as recent Marvel films. The score by Ludwig Göransson and costumes by Ruth Carter (both of whom won Oscars for their work on the original film) remain top-tier, too.

The film is much more serious than your average MCU joint, and I was actually surprised how dark things get towards the end. While I enjoyed the less-jokey take on a superhero film that still doesn’t take itself too seriously (think about on-par with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), it does create some riffs in the pacing/tone. Things move quickly with some fun action sequences only to slow down when we return to Shuri’s lab. While the film is never boring, it is one of those cases you wish it could trim off some of the obvious fat (similarly to this year’s “The Batman”).

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is among the best films of Phase 4 of the MCU (behind maybe only “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) and is a touching tribute to a talent we lost far too soon. It features well-developed characters, entertaining fight sequences, and some engaging political conflicts. Coogler and his team should be proud of what they were able to pull off, and if the next slate of MCU films are anything like this, I’m back on board the train.

Critics Rating: 8/10

Walt Disney

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