In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, reveries appear to be endless. This infinity draws on the power of intersection: the reimagination of potential, the convergence of cultures and the thrill of multiverses. Marvel’s “Black Panther” championed this unity in 2018 with poise that both charmed and empowered viewers globally.
But even fantasy can be struck by reality. When leading man Chadwick Boseman devastatingly passed away from colon cancer in 2020, Marvel decided not to recast King T’Challa of Wakanda in its sequel. The giddy anticipation for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” swelled with grief, and the original film suddenly felt like a finale.
Yet, in “Wakanda Forever,” the Black Panther lives on, and joyfully so. Shuri (the brilliant Letitia Wright) may literally take on her brother’s title, but what the Black Panther and Boseman’s legacy stand for organically pulse throughout the film. Like its predecessor, “Wakanda Forever” centers around Black liberation and joy, creativity and community — while grief frames this sequel, it’s love that appears on-screen in full force.
Love is most intense in the relationship between Shuri and her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). With heart, Wright and Bassett unravel the intricacies of their characters’ challenging mother-daughter relationship. As they each grieve the death of T’Challa, the pair are forced to shoulder new responsibilities — and face new enemies.
The sequel’s action picks up when the mother-daughter duo meet villain Namor (a nearly convincing Tenoch Huerta), the ambitious leader of a blue-skinned, water-breathing superhuman civilization. Threatening to wage war against Wakanda, Namor demands that the two bring him the scientist who created the world’s only vibranium detector.
Soon, Shuri and the spear-wielding General Okoye (Danai Gurira) head out (in rather conspicuous undercover gear) to take the scientist to Wakanda — who they discover is a 19-year-old genius student at MIT. Dominique Thorne brings big smiles to the audience as the antsy but witty Riri Williams (marking the first appearance of superhero Ironheart in the MCU). Later, a rescue effort calls for the help of undercover spy Nakia, splendidly played by a soulful Lupita Nyong’o.
Together, Thorne, Wright and Gurira unlock a bewitching chemistry that makes for some of the film’s best scenes. Their comic relief helps thaw the film’s heavy, tactile rawness, especially alongside CIA intel and “favorite colonizers” Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
As much as these new friendships are delights to watch evolve, Riri’s introduction to the franchise feels a bit abrupt. While Thorne bursts with liveliness on-screen, it doesn’t take long for her character to fade into the background, with director Ryan Coogler hastily pivoting to return focus to Shuri’s personal growth.
While this shift makes some plotlines feel disjointed, Coogler’s tradeoff certainly works in the end. Wright takes center stage with candor, and though her character’s inner conflict is predictable, her performance is nevertheless mesmerizing — and often heartbreaking. Illuminating the ever present tension between vengeance and virtue is Marvel’s tried-and-true formula, but the hero’s journey that Shuri follows in “Wakanda Forever” feels different with its roots in a grieving reality.
As much as glitzy fight scenes and sharp one-liners entertain audiences, the film’s nucleus thrums with urgent intimacy. Throughout Phase Four, Marvel has often chosen superficial, tidy plotlines over meaningful character development, but “Wakanda Forever” prioritizes its ensemble without question.
This trust in character evolution allows for emotional intensity to strike through the screen like a tsunami, amplified by its cinematography. The film hurtles through the blistering blur of an underwater empire, then slows for the hazy heatwave of a desert, hauntingly hovering on the stillness of a dead body. Set to Ludwig Göransson’s immersive soundtrack, “Wakanda Forever” is all at once wistful, haunting and optimistic.
After spiraling through grief and love with sagacity, the film ends beautifully with an exquisite, full-circle parallel to its beginning. While it may take a long time for the sting of loss to evanesce entirely, the end of “Wakanda Forever” marks a new beginning.