Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Is a Sprawling Meditation on Grief

Design by Alexa Druyanoff

“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point.”

Chadwick Boseman’s sudden, tragic passing in August 2020 represented more than just the loss of a famous actor. He was a husband, son, and a real life hero. In becoming the Black Panther, Boseman brought representation to a genre that had historically ignored Black stories. He helped Wakanda become a true city upon a hill—a beacon of hope and excellence inspired by the African kingdom of Lesotho and made real by the communities that rallied around the first film.

Wakanda Forever faced an uphill battle from the start, having to deal with the loss of Boseman, filming during the pandemic, and following up one of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful superhero films of all time. Despite the tall order, director Ryan Coogler created a passing of the torch and fitting goodbye for one of the most beloved actors of this generation.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever picks up with Shuri in the aftermath of T’Challa’s sudden death. Struggling to grapple with the passing of her brother, she buries herself in her work, forsaking traditions for technology. All the while, her mother, Queen Ramonda, is forced to deal with Wakanda being on the world stage, as nations around the globe seek to mine Wakandan vibranium. This struggle for vibranium introduces us to Namor, the king of the underwater city of Talokan, who comes into conflict with the Wakandans. We also meet Riri Williams along the way, an MIT student who ties all of these threads together.

If it seems like there is a lot going on, there is. Wakanda Forever runs for almost three hours. It’s a sprawling film that moves from city to city, introduces us to an entire civilization, and follows an ensemble cast, all while telling an emotionally impactful story about grief. In Black Panther’s past outing, both T’Challa and Killmonger were driven to vengeance by the death of their fathers in male-centric chronicle of violence and grief. Wakanda Forever acts as a mirrored account of these tales, showing us how the female side of the royal family responds.

None of this ambitious story works without the cast. Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett give some of the most nuanced, raw performances of the year as Shuri and Ramonda. They show true strength and leave it all on the screen, using Wakanda Forever to process real grief. Rounding out the Wakandan side, Winston Duke’s M’Baku and Danai Gurira’s Okoye are excellent and pack an emotional punch despite less screen time. However, the breakout star is Tenoch Huerta as Namor. His steadfast leadership and charisma jump right off the screen. 

The score by Ludwig Göransson is once again killer, though Kendrick Lamar’s presence is sorely missed. This film’s album lacks the hard-hitting, head-banging production of the first. The costuming (outside of the Ironheart and Midnight Angel suits) and set design are top-notch, bringing Wakanda and Talokan to life. Coogler and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw helm the film serviceably, managing to coherently depict the many different facets of the story onscreen. 

That being said, no shots stand out in the same way that Killmonger entering the throne room, the ancestral plane, and the final Wakandan sunset did in the first film. The plot itself juggles too many elements, leaving some characters short-changed. This is particularly true for Riri Williams, who unfortunately operates mostly as a plot device, much like America Chavez in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. The third act also falls slightly short, relying on worn out Marvel-isms and too much CGI.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever succeeds when it reflects the trauma that this cast and crew have faced. Both the Wakandans and the Talokans have to come to terms with their past, and the smaller moments between characters stand above the somewhat boilerplate MCU elements. In making Wakanda Forever, Coogler and company have created a fitting, mournful tribute to Chadwick Boseman and a quality entry into the MCU canon.

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