Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 10th, 2022
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Ryan Coogler, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
King T’Challa is dead, succumbing to illness, as did Chadwick Boseman, the man who portrayed him in the 2018 Black Panther. As tragic as that may be (and it is), one need not worry about the state of the sequel, for director and co-writer Ryan Coogler is, as he was with the first film, on top of things. And so, though Marvel’s new adventure Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is, at 161 minutes, rather long, it is far from dull. Quite the contrary: Coogler and company not only keep the story going, but bring in many new interesting plot points, as well.
Following T’Challa’s death—which occurs in the opening minutes—Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett, Gunpowder Milkshake) is left in charge of Wakanda, the planet’s most powerful nation (thanks to the extraterrestrial element vibranium). Ever since T’Challa revealed the country’s true nature, however, everyone else on Earth is trying to get their hands on some vibranium of their own, foremost among the usual suspects of white-colonial background (Americans, French, etc.). But thanks to folks like Ramonda’s daughter—the brilliant scientist Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright, Death on the Nile)—and General Okoye (Danai Gurira, All Eyez on Me) of the all-female military unit the Dora Milaje, Wakanda is well-protected.
Or is it? Enter a new threat: Namor (Tenoch Huerta, Tigers Are Not Afraid), son of Talokan, an underwater realm off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (he’s known as “the Sub-Mariner” in the comics). When a deep-sea CIA probe looking for vibranium comes a little too close to his kingdom, he comes to warn the Wakandans of the dangers and to warn them what will happen if they don’t help him. Taken aback, both by his sudden appearance (despite their ostensibly impervious security system) and by his ultimatum, they stall, choosing first to do their own research. Namor is displeased.
In a movie where our primary interest, going in, is wondering who the next Black Panther will be, we find ourselves instead swept up in a robust bit of fascinating world building. Along the way, Coogler and his fellow writer Joe Robert Cole (who also collaborated on the first installment) take us on a complicated, beautiful journey through a universe equally as secret as that of Wakanda, and equally a refuge of otherwise-colonized people from the predations of Europeans. Not only is the production design a “marvel” (pun intended), but so is the intricate backstory, even if the internecine politics of it all gets a little muddled.
And then there is that central question of the next Black Panther. Does Wakanda even need such a hero? The women in charge seem to be doing quite fine, thank you very much. Still, if they had the “heart-shaped herb” that conveys superpowers, it could help them combat not only Namor and his aquatic minions, but all the other menaces, too. To refresh your memory: that plant was destroyed by Killmonger in Black Panther, and without it there will be no more of the titular protectors.
As the stakes rise, so does our interest. Many old friends join in the intrigue, including Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, Us), M’Baku (Winston Duke, the same), and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, Ode to Joy), as do new characters. Exciting though it all may be (and it sure is), some of it nevertheless drags, even as we begin to approach the answer to the central question that brought us here. In addition, this viewer has begun to tire of humanity’s seemingly endless obsession with monarchy and its bloodlines; this series is hardly unique in that respect. Still, Wakanda (along with Talokan) is a magical place, and this sequel proves a mostly worthy heir to its throne.