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Wakanda Forever

MOVIE | The sequel to Black Panther is entertaining, just don’t expect it to make much sense


Marvel Studios/AP

<em>Wakanda Forever</em>
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➤ Rated PG-13
➤ Theaters
S2 / V5 / L4*

The first Black Panther movie smashed box-office records and became a worldwide phenomenon, setting the bar pretty high for director Ryan Coogler’s sequel Wakanda Forever. But the film was derailed when the star, Chadwick Boseman, died of colon cancer in 2020.

Boseman gave such an iconic performance as Black Panther that Marvel Studios decided they wouldn’t recast the character—Prince T’Challa the Black Panther died with Boseman. With this sequel, Coogler attempts to honor Boseman’s legacy while taking the fictional African country of Wakanda in a new direction.

The film begins and ends with moving tributes to Boseman. Beautiful scenes of T’Challa’s choreographed state funeral impart a loving melancholy. Viewers will wonder whether they’re mourning a beloved actor or a beloved character. It doesn’t matter because Coogler does such a good job creating a sense of personal connection to Wakanda’s grief, you almost fail to notice how bad the script is.

Queen Ramonda (played with convincing emotion by Angela Bassett) must rule Wakanda despite grieving her dead son. Her genius-scientist daughter Shuri (Letitia Wright) wrestles with her own sense of loss and her doubts about the value of tradition. T’Challa had promised to use Wakanda’s most precious resource—the magical metal vibranium—to help the world. Ramonda changes direction, claiming the world’s out to get Wakanda now that its protector is dead.

But Wakanda has a new powerful foe. Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is a flying merman with super strength and super speed, who leads an undersea kingdom with its own rich deposit of vibranium. He and the Wakandans fight over Riri (Dominique Thorne), a genius ­teenager who makes vibranium detectors and Iron Man suits for fun. When Ramonda refuses to give Riri to Namor, he declares war. Watery fight scenes follow.

With a 2-hour-and-40-minute running time, Wakanda Forever feels like a slog. We get a half-hour Boseman tribute that makes you a little wistful but doesn’t further the story. Riri’s inclusion feels shoehorned into the film to promote her upcoming series on Disney+, and the movie has about half an hour of scenes with the CIA that merely set up future Marvel installments.

The mantle of Black Panther finally gets passed to its new owner about two hours in. What was meant to be the movie’s big moment felt small and anticlimactic. And the war between Wakanda and Namor? Its motivation makes no sense whatsoever, and the stakes are incredibly low. At most we see a few dozen people fighting.

At the climax, the characters not only give up on vengeance, they just completely give up.

In the first Black Panther movie, the villain Killmonger had a point—his solution was wrong, but his complaint had merit. Much of the messaging in this sequel feels contrived. In the comics Namor is from Atlantis. This movie reimagines him and his followers as Mayans who migrated underwater when Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico.

There appears to be a political subtext here. America and France get called out as bad guys, and there’s lots of talk about colonizers and exploiters. African and Mesoamerican indigenous religions are good, but Christianity is bad. Is Coogler telling black and brown people to stop fighting each other and unite against their real enemy—white folks? Will girl power save the world?

The crux of the movie hinges on whether the main characters will embody the noble spirit of Boseman’s T’Challa or seek vengeance. Coogler botches what could have been a worthwhile, if basic, dilemma. At the climax, the characters not only give up on vengeance, they just completely give up. After an exhausting 160 minutes, the ­supposed heroes can’t be bothered to care about justice.

Wakanda Forever has some entertainment value—plenty of spears and explosions and high-tech gadgets. But don’t expect it to make sense. I assume most people will disagree with my assessment, including those who will judge the film based on their admiration for a beloved actor who isn’t actually in it.


Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD's Arts and Culture Editor. He is a World Journalism Institute, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University graduate, and he teaches at Houston Baptist University. Collin resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.

@collingarbarino

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