Movies can be a means of catharsis for people dealing with grief. With the sudden demise of lead actor Chadwick Boseman in 2020 to colon cancer, director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) pens a love letter to both “T’Challa” and the beloved thespian in the best way he can in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
In the sequel, T’Challa, the Wakandan king and the last Black Panther, succumbed to an undisclosed sickness, leaving Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to both govern in his place and protect their nation from other governments that covet their vast supply of Vibranium. On top of this, Ramonda needs to be a mother to Shuri (Letitia Wright), who has denounced tradition as a way to grieve her brother’s death.
Wakanda Forever revisits the cliffhanger in the original. T’Challa’s decision to disclose the existence of Vibranium to the world has led Americans to mine them in the oceans, prompting the underwater kingdom of Talokan to be hostile. Namor (Tenoch Huerta) leads his army of blue-skinned mermen to protect his people from the surface world. Tensions rise as Wakanda becomes the scapegoat for Talokan’s attacks.
Bassett delivers a standout performance, showing vulnerability as a mourning parent as well as dignity and power as a political leader. Even without a word, her nuanced acting is a superpower that affects the viewers. It is no surprise that the audience cheered when her name appeared in the credits.
But while most of the cast are women, it does not shove female empowerment down our throats unlike the cringe-worthy scene in Avengers: Endgame. Danai Gurira (Okoye) shows a funny and vain side to the usually strict leader of the Dora Milaje. Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia) returns as the multi-faceted princess-turned-spy and explains why she has left Wakanda since The Blip. The rest of the Dora Milaje also gets more screen time. Michaela Coel and Florence Kasumba bring to life the fan-favorite queer couple from the comics, Aneka and Ayo.
Then there’s Letitia Wright. The actress faced the huge task to carry the whole film. Boseman’s shoes are big shoes to fill but Wright pulled it off with her emotional performance as Shuri. Judging by how large her headshot is in the posters, it is safe to say that it is a dead giveaway who wears the new mantle of Black Panther. Still, you would find enjoyment in her character’s journey.
But more than her transformation into the new Black Panther, Shuri represents our collective grief over the passing of Boseman. The emotional punch this movie throws could be a lot to take so make sure you bring tissues to the theater. Anyone who has lost someone would resonate with the film’s message.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. There was a controversy over making Namor, who is caucasian in the comics, Mesoamerican, with designs inspired by the Mayan and Aztec cultures. While this is understandable, there is no need to hate Tenoch Huerta’s iteration of the Submariner. Huerta gives justice to the character so it could fit within the mythologies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). X-Men fans will also be thrilled that a certain “M” word is dropped, reflecting Namor’s affiliation in the comics.
The appeal of a shared universe is its connectedness so it does have surprise appearances from characters from the first Black Panther movie and a certain streak-haired government lady that has popped in Black Widow, series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Hawkeye. Looks like lightning here strikes twice (or four times) and someone is set to steal Nick Fury and Wong’s thunder with cameos.
But before you bolt out with me, another aspect of the movie that made it grounded is the quality of CG. That sentence is almost paradoxical but hear me out. Previous MCU movies have greatly relied on visual effects that sometimes feel inauthentic. The futuristic nation of Wakanda is more believable and almost breathing like a character by itself. Kudos to the VFX, SFX, and production design teams of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever for bringing to life a visually stunning film.
When it comes to MCU movies, it’s always been hard to beat the two-punch epic that was the Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Frankly, a number of MCU fans still live in 2019 and reminisce about that saga. As for solo movies, it’s a toss between highly-engaging Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the first Iron Man film that launched MCU.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever comes as Marvel Studios’ most beautiful movie to date, full of heart but still packs action and tension to appeal to fans of the superhero genre. It helps us process our grief with a story that builds on the character’s legacy. Post-Endgame, it is the franchise's greatest film yet, a fitting tribute to the legendary Chadwick Boseman.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now showing in Philippine cinemas.