Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - Review (No Spoilers)


To put into words the unimaginable situation that the cast and crew found themselves in upon the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman is impossible. Any attempts to match the cultural impact of the first film in the sequel became infinity more difficult without its charismatic, heroic lead. Yet somehow, director Ryan Coogler and his talented cast and crew have crafted a profound and emotional sequel that tackles themes of grief, loss, and legacy.

While this entry is certainly messier than the first outing, its themes and the care the filmmakers take with them is certainly remarkable. The cast is gifted and Coogler understands precisely how to use them in the best ways. The creatives behind the way this world looks, sounds and feels are operating at the top of their game, and makes the whole experience truly magical once more, and more than worthy of another trip to the magnificent world of Wakanda. 

In the wake of King T’Challa’s death, the prominent figures of Wakanda must step into new roles to protect the borders of the powerful nation. As the struggle to find their new place in the world amongst intervening world powers begins, the emergence of a new kingdom threatens to tear it all down, with or without Wakanda’s help. 

This film is nothing short of a colossal juggling act, attempting to tell this epic narrative of two kingdoms fighting for their place in the world and a meditation on grief - both real and fictional. And somehow, it mostly handles all it wants to do with surprising ease. Timing out at over two and a half hours, there’s never a moment that feels murky or long, and never once does it drag, maintaining an alarming level of energy throughout. 

One thing director Ryan Coogler, who once again shows why he is one of the best directors working today, has to fall back on is the absolutely stellar ensemble cast. Letitia Wright, back as genius and sister of T’Challa, Shuri, must step up into the leading role, and she more than rises to the occasion. There’s a complex arc for Shuri in which she attempts to find a position amidst her reliance on technology and the traditions of Wakanda, and Wright handles the gravity of her new role with poise and power. 

The rest of the cast is, of course, top notch. Winston Duke is ever charming, a presence that can help but make you grin every time he appears. Danai Gurira gets more of an arc this time, cementing herself as one of the better supporting characters in the MCU. But the two newest additions to the MCU further illustrate that the casting for the Marvel casting department remains unmatched. 

Dominique Thorne slides right into the universe as Riri Williams, a genius engineer who creates the machine at the center of this conflict. With charm and humor to spare, Thorne is another star (and gets spotlight in her own show next year). On the other side is Tenoch Huerta as Namor, a tremendous adaptation of a comic character that can often be one note. Huerta brings the exact right tone to Namor, the gentle voice that lures you into liking him is pitch perfect, that is until the anger and violence he keeps within erupts out.

And any conversation about the Black Panther franchise can’t be had without complimenting the gorgeous world building and the visuals that come with it. The beautiful world of Wakanda returns with its excellent production design and exquisite costumes, but the team behind the camera get to create a new corner to explore in Talocan, the ancient underwater city of Namor and his people. Though the exploration of this world is not as deep as Wakanda, from a brief glimpse of its inner workings, one can understand how this society operates. It is a place that immediately feels tactile and deserving of further exploration, hopefully, in the future. 

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