“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is an impossible sequel. The task of creating a follow-up to 2018’s “Black Panther” — no short of a cultural phenomenon — was already a daunting one. But when in 2020, its star Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer, it meant a complete overhaul of the proposed script. Coupled with the need for the movie to fit into the corporate machinations of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, a win for Wakanda seemed unfeasible. But Wakanda Forever sticks the landing nonetheless.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” depicts a Wakanda in mourning after the passing of King T’Challa. At the same time, Wakanda is threatened by the Mesoamerican underwater nation of Talokan, led by a dangerous king, Namor. The latter aspect is a remnant of the movie before Boseman’s passing — and is apparent. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s” main conflict, the threat of war between its two hidden societies, can at times feel disconnected from its emotional hook, the death of T’Challa. Though “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is two different stories, both remain solid.
As an action blockbuster, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” delivers a more-than-satisfying adventure, successfully juggling its two worlds and creating a compelling hero and villain. Letitia Wright steps up to the plate and gives protagonist Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and a side character in the first film, an emotional performance. An introverted genius who scoffs at tradition, Shuri is a character clearly never designed to take the spotlight. But the fact that she isn’t a noble leader like her brother is what drives her story in the film, where she questions if she is ready, or even willing, to take up the mantle of Black Panther.
Tenoch Huerta’s performance as the villain Namor is similarly compelling. Although he cannot reach the heights of Killmonger, the antagonist from the first film, Namor is effortlessly cunning and sympathetic. As the ruler of a secret nation, he, just like the Wakandans, is right to fear the might of other world powers. When diplomacy fails, Wakanda is the first such power he sets his sights on. And the battles as the two kingdoms clash are visually spectacular.
The more important part of the film is its tribute to the late Boseman. Though T’Challa is really only the focus of the film’s prologue and epilogue, the time spent on remembering him is more than enough. The portrayal of grief is human and ordinary, with its characters coming to accept the king’s passing throughout the movie. And though T’Challa is gone, his spirit lives on in the film, reminding us of all he inspired.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is messy, as grief tends to be. At a staggering two hour and forty minute runtime, it stumbles in moments, but ultimately emerges victorious. More than a continuation and more than a memorial, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a seemingly impossible triumph.