Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
CONJURING up a worthy sequel to the game-changing Black Panther was a tough enough job for director Ryan Coogler.
But finding a way forward without the late Chadwick Boseman – one of the shining stars in Marvel’s Avengers universe – felt like an impossible task.
Thankfully, Coogler has some pedigree for succeeding against the odds.
With 2015’s Creed, he dragged a written-off Rocky franchise off the ropes and turned it into a world beater.
Here, he pulls off an even greater trick. Boseman’s shocking, sudden death in 2020 at the age of just 43 could have been a dark cloud that overshadowed Wakanda Forever.
Instead, it is the driving force behind an epic tale of love, loss, and what it means to live with tragedy.
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We return to Wakanda to find a nation in mourning. The fictional African state looks as gorgeous as ever, with futuristic skyscrapers glistening between rolling mountains, but it is reeling from the off-screen death of Boseman’s King T’Challa, aka. the Black Panther.
Predictably, it hasn’t taken long for superpowers like France and the US to pounce on the confusion, as they try to plunder Wakanda’s most valuable resource, Vibranium.
On top of that, there is a quite literal rising threat from the ocean kingdom of Talokan, whose brooding leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is hellbent on destroying most of the dry world.
Hunky Huerta spends half of his time emerging from the ocean like Daniel Craig with gills, but he is a refreshingly complex villain – torn by the choice of war or peace.
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It’s the women of Wakanda, however, who really steal the show.
Letitia Wright’s Shuri – formerly the Q to T’Challa’s Bond – grows before our eyes from child prodigy into a wise, fearsome leader. Every close-up of her face speaks a thousand words and she rises to her star billing effortlessly.
Danai Gurira, as leader of the Dora special forces Okoye, is still handy with a spear, but it’s her comedic chops that hit hardest. Angela Bassett is formidable as the grieving Queen Mother, Ramonda, and I May Destroy You’s Michaela Coel even pops up as a rebellious warrior.
While we’re thankfully spared much of Marvel’s tiresome franchise building, at nearly three hours long, there’s still a few signs.
A couple of fight scenes drag, and Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett appears on a sole mission to set up the third instalment.
Wakanda Forever shines brightest when it steps away from the action and tugs on the heartstrings.
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Ludwig Göransson’s luscious score – supported by tunes from Rihanna and Stormzy – does much of the heavy lifting in a pitch-perfect tribute to Boseman. In the rare moments the music stops, the silence hits you like a sledgehammer.
This is brave, powerful filmmaking that deserves its crown.
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