Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. © 2022 MARVEL.

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Angela Bassett, Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke, Michaela Cole, Florence Kasumba, Richard Schiff, Mabel Cadena
Writers: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole, story by Ryan Coogler, based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Director: Ryan Coogler
Distributor: Walt Disney Co.
Release Date: November 11, 2022

BLACK PANTHER, released in February, 2018, proved beyond any doubt that a black-led superhero movie could do blockbuster box office, as well as being excellent, entertaining filmmaking.

Based on the Marvel Comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, BLACK PANTHER chronicled the adventures of T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. T’Challa is king (he starts out as prince and ascends to the throne within the film) of the fictional African techno superpower Wakanda. T’Challa also has a secret identity as Wakanda’s mystical protector, the Black Panther, who has innate abilities that are enhanced by a super-suit.

Given BLACK PANTHER’s enormous success artistically and financially, coupled with its Disney/Marvel pedigree, a sequel was inevitable. But, tragically, Boseman died of cancer at the age of forty-three in 2020. Besides their grief – in addition to being extremely talented and charismatic, Boseman was by all accounts a genuinely good man – his friends and collaborators on BLACK PANTHER were confronted with the challenge of how to make the sequel without Boseman.

Since the filmmakers (probably wisely) opted not to recast, this meant that T’Challa’s family, nation, and cinematic legacy have to carry on without him. Fortunately for the storytelling, it has already been established that there were other Black Panthers before T’Challa, so logically there will be others who come after.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER begins with T’Challa’s death offscreen. A year later, this loss continues to profoundly affect his little sister, the Wakandan scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright), and his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), once again ruler of her country.

While Shuri and Ramonda mourn in different ways, a hitherto unknown nation, Talokan, makes a pre-emptive strike on a U.S. exploratory expedition. The CIA, unaware of Talokan’s existence, suspects Wakanda is responsible for what’s happened.

Not keen to have open warfare erupt with the United States, Ramonda and Shuri decide to look into what’s really happening. They are joined in this effort by Wakanda’s top military officer, General Okoye (Danai Gurira), T’Challa’s former love Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and a newcomer to the ranks, genius college student Riri (Dominique Thorne).

The truth is nuanced. Antagonists in movies are constantly telling the protagonists that they have a lot in common, but Talokan’s king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) is actually correct when he compares his people’s issues with those of Wakanda.

So, BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER is a type of political strategy thriller, along with being a coming-of-age tale. Yes, there is plenty of action of all sorts – superhero, vehicular, regular skilled human fighting – along with mythology and magic, but there’s also a plot that pulls it all together.

Director Ryan Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole (both of whom performed these duties on the original BLACK PANTHER) are largely content to let the situations speak for themselves. We understand Wakanda and Namor’s troubles not because we may or may not be familiar with Marvel lore, but because they correspond all too easily to what’s true in the real world.

The cast is wonderful. Wright conveys conflicting emotions with conviction, Bassett is at her most commanding, Gurira is formidable, Nyong’o is warm and charming, and Thorne makes the most of the inherent humor in an American suddenly thrust into extremely foreign surroundings. Winston Duke also contributes a sense of jovial pragmaticism as Wakanda ally King M’Baku. Mejía puts emotion and dignity into Namor’s ambiguity.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER gives us a lot of very powerful Black women in heroic roles (in addition to those already mentioned, Florence Kasumba and Michaela Cole play influential Wakanda warriors), and there is no need to explain anything about this. T’Challa is missed as a human being, a family member, a lover, and a monarch, but not because his maleness was required. It’s a true relief to see a group of women who don’t see their own or others’ gender as a cause to question ability.

There is no forgetting Boseman’s T’Challa, who has screen time courtesy of retrospective clips. Here, Coogler calibrates well – we share a sense of heartbreak, but are not so overwhelmed by it that we can’t take pleasure in this imaginative adventure.

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