Year:  2022

Director:  Ryan Coogler

Rated:  M

Release:  November 10, 2022

Distributor: Disney

Running time: 161 minutes

Worth: $14.50
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Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Angela Bassett

… an emotionally resonant work, brimming with subtext and nuance …

Writer/director Ryan Coogler had what at first glance seems a near impossible task with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: continuing a franchise after its lead actor has died. The tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman in 2020 was a huge loss to the world but Marvel is eternal and unstoppable, so how best to continue?

Happily, Coogler opted not to incorporate any ghastly CGI trickery, or abrupt recasting, that would have cheapened Boseman’s loss, but rather wove it into the very fabric of the story. Of course, then the question became, how on earth do you replace such a memorable actor and then tell a satisfying story in its own right? Somehow, Wakanda Forever manages to do so, although some aspects are much more successful than others.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever takes place a year after the death of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) from an unspecified disease and everyone is still struggling with the loss. Shuri (Letitia Wright) is throwing herself into work, designing and creating new technology for Wakanda but seemingly unable to process her grief. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is leading her people and trying to be a mother to Shuri, all while managing relationships with various other countries and their attempts to flog Wakanda’s precious Vibranium reserves due to a perceived power vacuum. This perception is being cheerfully challenged by certified bad arse Okoye (Danai Gurira), who continues to lead Wakanda’s all-lady special forces, the Dora Milaje. The story really kicks off when Vibranium is detected beneath the sea in the elaborate underwater kingdom of Tālocān. And the leader of these aquatic people, Namor (Tenoch Huerta)? He’s not one to share.

There’s a lot going on in Wakanda Forever. Too much, frankly, and the 161-minute runtime is way too bloated. So, what works? Namor is a great new addition to the cast and while his motivation gets more simplistic over time, he’s a bold and memorable character. Angela Bassett, also, is in the finest of form, with genuinely moving emotional moments and superb speeches to boot. Letitia Wright is also a capable and likable main character and while she’s not quite as iconic as Boseman (who could be?), she slips deftly into this much expanded role. On the downside, new addition Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) isn’t given enough screen time, or purpose, to make much of an impact. Her inclusion in the cast seems to be an introduction to the MCU before starring in her own show Ironheart in 2023, but in a film this crowded, she feels superfluous. There are also about half a dozen subplots that don’t really go anywhere and would have looked much nicer on the cutting room floor, tightening up the film and putting proper emphasis on what works so well.

Still, credit where it’s due, Ryan Coogler has made a film that’s strikingly different from the rather forgettable Marvel fare of late. This is an emotionally resonant work, brimming with subtext and nuance and exhibiting none of the empty quippiness these films rely on all too often. It certainly won’t be for everyone, and the runtime is likely to punish the patience and bladders of more than a few cinemagoers, but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an accomplished work that, with a few judicious edits, could have been even better.