*Note: This is a spoiler-free review.
"Your brother is with the ancestors."
Recreating the magic of 2018's "Black Panther" was always going to be an arduous journey for writer/director Ryan Coogler. Having initially developed a script for a sequel to a movie that made over $1.3 billion at the global box office, Coogler and the world were thrown for a loop when Chadwick Boseman passed away in 2020. Having chosen not to recast the role made famous by Boseman for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Coogler went to work on a sequel without his titular character. The result, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," is a substantial achievement and a proper sequel that adds to Boseman's legacy.
The opening moments of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" will tug at your heartstrings in ways you are most likely not prepared for, even though everyone watching knows what the outcome will be. Many returning characters are featured in prominent positions in Wakanda, the fictional country within the MCU that has become a global leader in geopolitics due mainly to their plentiful resource only found in Wakanda: vibranium. Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), M'Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) have all returned in a sequel dedicated to showcasing the power of women.
The story commences with the arrival of Namor (Tenoch Herta), a sexy feathered serpent god-like man who can breathe underwater and gives Jason Momoa a run for his money. Perceived as a threat, he, too, has found a way to harvest vibranium from deep under the sea. His army's advances are triggered by American special forces who use a machine to locate vibranium in international waters. That machine was designed by MIT student Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who needs protecting by Shuri and Okoye when the Americans and Namor are hot on her trail. Events unfold that prompt the people of Wakanda to proceed into attack mode to defend their homeland against unpredictable foes.
An antihero of sorts, Namor's origin story is one to simultaneously be respected and feared for his growing power amongst humans. Huerta is magnificent in a villainous role that takes on a life of its own, both in the air and underwater. But the true bright spots come from Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett's performances that take the concept of grief and let the audience examine it along with them. The movie's gift to the world is the emotionally charged gifts that both actors bring with every frame.
As much as Chadwick Boseman's presence is missed in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," the film is dripping with the symbolic nature of King T'Challa. Many of the words spoken by Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright in this sequel are directly related to the work that Boseman put into strengthening his character and propping up the kingdom of Wakanda as if it was an authentic global superpower. Some nicely timed surprises will keep the audience on its toes, and some jokes lighten the tension manifested by Boseman's absence.
The heart of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" comes from the comic book-driven storylines and deserved attention on its female performers. Coogler is at his best when the women around him drive the story forward in new and exciting ways, taking a blockbuster and forcing it to ponder profoundly on ancestry and moving on beyond heartbreak. This sequel acts as an uplifting reminder that grief is real and losing someone close doesn't mean losing all hope in the power of community. While the film is packed with a few too many characters and extended narratives for my liking, it is one of the better entries to Marvel's growing film catalog in recent years.
King T'Challa walked so that another Black Panther could run.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟