The sequel to "Black Panther" titled "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is a sincere tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, but overall, the film feels manufactured. The center of movie starts with a funeral for King T'Challa. Shuri and Queen Ramonda follow the black coffin, with a silver emblem of the Black Panther mask and the crossed arms of the Wakanda salute on top, while dancers jubilantly dance in memory of their fallen king. After the coffin rises to the sky, an emotional montage of Boseman as T'Challa follows. The "Marvel Studios" logo appears, announcing that this is still a Marvel movie, which detracts from the sincerity of the film.
The success of "Black Panther" was its unique standing outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The humour, characters, and concerns were particular to the story, without being beholden to franchise-building aspirations. However, with this sequel, writer/director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole face limitations, including the tragic death of Boseman. Other constraints feel like a capitulation to assimilate into a movie-making machine, which detracts from the movie's authenticity.
The script for "Wakanda Forever" is overflowing with ideas and themes, but it fails to execute them successfully. Instead of fighting their common enemy (white colonists), two kingdoms led by people of colour are pitted against each other, which doesn't thematically land. The film also attempts to address the pain caused by the historical annihilation of Indigenous kingdoms in Central and South America, while also setting up the Marvel TV series "Ironheart," acknowledging The Snap, grieving Boseman's death, and finding a new Black Panther. These competing interests are further complicated by the demands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the need to satisfy Black audiences who want to see Black regalism on screen.
At every turn, "Wakanda Forever" struggles, starting with its convoluted setup. Colonist countries are searching the world for vibranium, and a young scientist named Riri plays a role in a search that leads mercenaries to the underwater kingdom of Talokan, led by Namor/Kukulkan. Namor later appears in Wakanda, dripping with water and wearing a menacing and bold demeanour. His arrival prompts Wakanda to turn to Everett Ross, which leads to numerous cameos and subplots that weigh down the entire film with franchise expectations. The film attempts too much in one go, and the sense is that it should have been split into two movies.
The focal point of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is the portrayal of justified anger by Coogler. Bassett's Ramonda delivers a powerful speech in her first major scene where she rebukes the United Nations for demanding that she share vibranium with the world while simultaneously attempting to steal the resource from her country. Her performance is commanding, her gaze is firm, and her tone is biting. Shuri, on the other hand, has isolated herself in her lab and is creating dangerous weapons. She harbours a desire to watch the world burn, which leads to rash decisions and further conflict with Namor, who is seeking revenge for his ancestors and mother. While the film attempts to present the trio as representing different stages of grief, it falls short due to the slow and convoluted attempt to familiarize the audience with the atrocities experienced by Namor.
Perhaps there was a way to connect these story arcs, but the movie fails to do so due to inadequate visual storytelling. Too often, the dialogue remains on the surface, either by providing excessive exposition, externalizing the characters' thoughts, or attempting to merge the real-life losses of the actors with those of their characters. While this offers the performers an opportunity to process their grief on screen, it begs the question of why filmmakers have forgotten how to show without telling. Why do contemporary blockbusters feel the need to hold the audience's hand and provide every minute detail? At one point, after Namor has explained his entire backstory, Shuri responds with "Why are you telling me all of this?" It feels as if Coogler gave himself this note.
The weaknesses in both dialogue and storyline, as well as the film's tendency to cater to IP-driven needs, would be more tolerable if the visuals were more compelling. However, the shaky fight scenes are difficult to follow, with choppy editing blurring otherwise inelegant compositions into an incomprehensible mess. Though some of this can be attributed to projection issues, even the cinematography by Autumn Durald Arkapaw, working with the film's numerous visual effects, lacks a sense of space. Scenes of everyday life in Wakanda, such as Black people shopping or communities enjoying each other's company, feel artificial, and even the once-splendid landscapes of the nation are now murky backgrounds. The only exception is Talokan and its magnificent Mayan architecture and decorative wall paintings. Nevertheless, the viewer wishes that Namor had been given his own film, where these scenes could have been explored more thoroughly, as was the case with "Black Panther."
The film ultimately attempts to set up the future through Shuri, a talented actress played by Letitia Wright, who has the ability to emotionally carry a movie when given good material. However, she is hampered by a script that is lacking. She must fight through a cringe-worthy cameo, clunky jokes, and an ending that feels too tidy. Winston Duke, who plays M'Baku, provides support with his assured and charismatic performance, while Lupita Nyong'o's Nakia is underutilized. Danai Gurira's Okoye is a beacon of resilience, and Michaela Coel's Aneka is an oddball character who does not quite fit in with the sombre ensemble. The collective efforts of these performers are not enough to overcome a film that relies too heavily on shouting matches and broad visual and political metaphors that have been distilled to their simplest forms, lacking the complexity and nuance of their truths. This is not unlike Rihanna's uninspired soundtrack offering, "Lift Me Up."