Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review: An emotional and thrilling follow-up
It was tough to say what to expect with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever considering the big shoes it had to fill and the massive obstacles it had to overcome. Not only did it have to follow the breakthrough award-winning hit of Black Panther, but it would have to go without T’Challa and the original Black Panther since Chadwick Boseman tragically passed back in 2021. Yet, Wakanda Forever manages to be a strong follow-up that utilizes its tragic loss for an emotional epic that continues the legacy of Black Panther well and pays tribute to its fallen.
As expected, with Boseman’s passing would come the end of the T’Challa and Blank Panther we’ve come to know as the film opens to Shuri (Letitia Wright), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and the rest of Wakanda reeling after T’Challa suddenly dies from a mysterious illness. With Wakanda having no Black Panther to protect them and now dealing with a newfound vulnerability, they face two major threats that seek to use them for their own purposes. The surrounding governments who want to use Wakanda’s Vibranium resources for their own weapons and a group of ocean-dwelling warriors known as the Talokan led by the powerful Namor (Tenoch Huerta) who want Wakanda to team-up with them in a possible war with the surface. Caught within the crossfire of everyone coming after them, Shuri and the rest of Wakanda must find a new strength and possibly a new Black Panther.
What always makes a great sequel is how it touches on the themes and story threads of the original, and Wakanda Forever does a great job of that. It’s fascinating how T’Challa revealing the existence of Wakanda to the world creates new obstacles for Wakanda. With everyone hungry for Vibranium and fearful of the unknown, Wakanda has become a political scapegoat often getting blamed for things or facing baseless suspicion. It’s an intriguing and realistic depiction of harmful profiling and others creating enemies out of unprovoked fear that also ties well with the fears that Namor has for the Talokan.
It’s great too that even though Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is gone, the themes and emotions he established about the trauma of racial injustice and how it fuels vengeance are still evoked through Namor’s story. Namor is a great addition to the MCU canon not just for bringing in a unique faction in the Talokan, but also for his emotional arc. Like Killmonger, Namor isn’t strictly a villain as he carries some understandable emotional pain that ties to historical, cultural injustice he faced growing up that makes him more relatable and real. It’s also really nice how Aztec mythology is directly embedded into Talokan culture as it creates some strong visuals and some grounded historical background for them to fit neatly into the MCU. Plus, Huerta, who’s already shown himself to be a great actor, is just excellent here bringing a great ferocity and humanity to Namor that makes him a fascinatingly complex character.
Now, even without Boseman there, this cast still kills it and the change in the spotlight is, frankly, something that makes this sequel a little stronger than the original. With all due respect to Boseman, T’Challa and his performance were never really the talking point of the first movie compared to the supporting cast and Jordan’s Killmonger. That’s not to say that there isn’t a noticeable hole without him there, but Wakanda Forever puts those beloved supporting characters in the spotlight and it makes the experience even better. Wright and Bassett are the perfect emotional centerpieces to this film with Bassett putting in a performance that deserves awards attention. The pain, anger, and heartbreak they evoke throughout is palpable and their personal arcs are deeply engaging and provide the film with some of its most potent emotional points.
Truthfully, the best way that Wakanda Forever pays tribute to Boseman and T’Challa, aside from some flashes of him that’ll certainly bring a tear to many viewers’ eyes, is by delving deep into the lingering grief of him being gone. It hasn’t been that long since Boseman passed so there’s a lot of fresh feelings that fans still have and this film perfectly acts as a companion to that grief. It’s easy to connect with all the moments that see the characters struggling to process T’Challa’s death and finding ways to move forward. Wakanda Forever is about that healing process after tragedy and all the clashing and coming together that happens in Wakanda makes these characters coming back together again not only feel organic, but meaningful in this new light. There are a lot of scenes that see this lingering pain have lasting and unexpected effects when it’s lashed out and also have some real tear-jerking moments when it reaches a boiling point. All in all, this cast is better than ever and absolutely nails establishing a new legacy for Black Panther and paying respects to Boseman.
Even when it comes to creating this conflict between Wakanda and the Talokan, there’s something really intriguing about it that’s thrilling to watch. It takes its time and goes for a slow-burn approach in establishing Talokan and the eventual conflict they would have with Wakanda making every action have some depth and meaning to it. Thus, when things boil over, the large-scale conflicts are filled with incredible action moments that are stunning to see on the big screen and feature some great music that creates great energy, but also have some emotion embedded into it. There are really some good emotional beats that catch you off-guard and it’s actually nice how Shuri is forced to confront a similar lesson that T’Challa did with Killmonger. It feels less like a simple copy and paste of the original’s plot and rather more of a continuing theme in becoming Black Panther making it a strong arc for Shuri and for Black Panther as an icon.
Now, Wakanda Forever isn’t without its faults and lackluster elements. Personally, while the attention to detail is great in the film, right down to the subtitles have some good color and uniqueness for who is speaking, some of the visual effects during the action could be improved, especially some of Namor’s fast movement. Namor is definitely a standout of the film, but the Talokan just kind of reside in his shadow making some of the supporting players within the Talokan and the faction as a whole feeling undervalued. The inclusion of Riri Williams/Ironheart (Dominique Thorne) also feels unnecessary and lackluster since she basically acts as plot device more than a meaningful character and her story leaves little impact. Also, while the post-credit scene has good intentions and will tug at the heartstrings, it realistically won’t have any payoff for a while and comes off like a simple gesture rather than a meaningful act.
Despite maybe a couple of lackluster elements and choices, Wakanda Forever is a great follow-up story that introduces some great new characters and story threads while utilizing its grief well to craft a thrilling emotional epic. It sees beloved characters deal with a grave tragedy in meaningful ways that are easy to connect with and pays tribute to Boseman through its narrative making it carry real emotional weight. Wakanda Forever easily one of the strongest MCU films, post-Endgame and sets up an intriguing legacy for Black Panther moving forward.