- Run time: 2 hours 41 minutes
- Studio: Marvel Studios
- Director: Ryan Coogler
- Where to Watch: In Theaters and Disney+ on Release
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the conclusion the MCU Phase 4, following up both Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. Returning director Ryan Coogler was tasked with the worst possible challenge – continuing his story without the beloved actor that brought the titular character to life. Returning cast members include Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, as well as Martin Freeman and Winston Duke. Newcomers include Tenoch Huerta and Dominique Thorne. Serving as both a sequel and memorial to Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda Forever is touching and heartfelt, but it is still full of the usual MCU flaws.
I really enjoyed most of the original Black Panther and it feels like Wakanda Forever was absolutely intended to be a different movie. It’s well known that Ryan Coogler had already written a follow up involving Chadwick Boseman’s character, but after his untimely death, the story had to be scrapped. The decision to not recast Boseman’s character is the right move and I respect the hell out of Kevin Feige and Coogler for not recasting him and forcing somebody else to pick up the mantle. That said, the decision to put Letitia Wright into the Black Panther role is going to be hit or miss for a lot of audiences. She is designed as a side character and might not have the depth or skill to be a leading actress in a comic book movie. She does a decent enough job, but her character is forced to stop on a dime and completely change her attitude several times. It’s a lot to ask, and she does the best she can but the cringey dialogue really gets in the way. The next Black Panther will really be the thing that makes or breaks her tenure as the character.
Even though Wright is given the leading role, Angela Bassett is the real stand out. She is incredible and powerful in every scene. Her delivery of every line demands respect, just like her character should. Nobody else matched her energy and it’s certainly a top MCU performance for sure. Lupita Nyong’o’s return as Nakia is on the same level as Wright’s promotion as Shuri. They play off each other well, but nothing that stands out in the realm of the MCU. Danai Gurira and Winston Duke are in much the same situation as Nyong’o. They are standard MCU performances, but Duke is only used for comedic relief which is a waste. I would have liked to see Gurira get a little more of a redemptive arc, or have her station reinstated as General instead of getting a hideously designed suit upgrade.
As for the villain, I’m not a big fan of the origin story Namor was given but I like the underlying direction. Having this ancient Mesoamerican themed Atlantis-lite culture is a really cool idea and it serves nicely as a foil to Wakanda. Tenoch Huerta struggles to bring real life to the character and it makes for a weak villain with no real appeal. The best MCU villains make me understand their point of view but his perspective just didn’t land for me. He just comes off flat and uninteresting. Dominique Thorne makes her MCU debut as RiRi Williams, aka Ironheart. She’s serviceable and has even more of a challenge than Wright does, but she’s played remarkably safe. There are zero risks taken with her character and it’s very boring, borderline wasteful.
Wright and the rest of the crew were allowed to grieve openly on screen and it was incredibly heartfelt. It’s very obvious that this cast knew they had something special in the first movie and it translated to great chemistry on screen. The loss of Boseman does leave a hole in the MCU that will never be completely filled, but Coogler and crew acknowledged that by not trying to fill it. Not all audiences will appreciate the time spent on this in a comic book movie, and it does drag out the run time significantly. There are a few moments that could have been cut out to make the run time a little snappier while still maintaining the respect.
The CGI was bad at the worst of times, but there were several noticeable effects that really looked good. Coogler used a lot of slow motion to highlight these water grenades that Namor’s army had and it looked really nice. But for every nice thing, there’s a not so nice thing. The Talokanian soldiers looked like worse versions of the Na’vi. The Wakandan capital city looked amazing, but then Talokan looked absolutely awful. There are so many things wrong with shooting underwater scenes, CGI or practical and I’ve yet to personally see a movie that can get it right. But if there’s one thing that the Black Panther movies do better than most MCU movies it’s the soundtracks. I’d put them just behind Gunn’s work on the Guardians movies.
Wakanda Forever suffers from much of the same issues as the last 30 MCU movies, but goes above and beyond when creating a memorial of sorts for Chadwick Boseman. With a lot of baggage to sort through, Coogler and the cast present an emotional story that differs wildly from what audiences are used to. There is a level of authenticity and heart in this movie that only tragedy can bring, but it doesn’t do enough to outdo the original. For every positive, there’s a negative and that’s just the way the MCU is. As weak as Phase 4 has been, Wakanda Forever is a middling, but fitting conclusion.