Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (United States, 2022)

November 09, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Poster

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an overlong blockbuster in search of an editor. It’s a series of impressive action sequences without a compelling narrative to connect them. It’s a frustrating example of how financial success, not creative impetus, drives the existence of sequels, and it illustrates how unwieldy, contradictory, and overstuffed the MCU has become. It’s as if this movie exists in a completely different universe from all the other recent productions emerging under the Marvel banner.

The movie begins with the offscreen death of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is shown only in flashbacks. Wakanda Forever, perhaps understandably, spends a lot of time mourning Boseman and it creates a pall that hangs like a low fog over the film’s bloated and unwieldy 161 minutes. (Note: If you’re looking to shorten the blow, there’s no post-credits scene. The mid-credits scene is important but the only thing you get if you stay to the bitter end is this caption: “Black Panther will return.”) This funereal tone makes the sequel considerably less enjoyable than its predecessor. It also invites all sorts of pseudo-philosophical ruminations about faith vs. cynicism that are pitched on a grade school level.

Given the financial considerations and the need for theaters to have a constant stream of blockbusters, it would be foolish to argue that Wakanda Forever shouldn’t have been made. But maybe the filmmakers should have waited longer and put more thought into storyline development and fashioning a better integration into the evolving MCU. While other Marvel movies are wrestling with cosmic entities and multiverse incursions, this one introduces a newly-discovered city in the depths of the ocean. Put this movie in a universe where there are no other superheroes and Thanos didn’t temporarily erase half of the universe’s population and it might make sense. The contradictions in the MCU have gotten to the point where they’re impinging on individual movie narratives and it’s only going to get messier. Fanboys/girls won’t care but what about casual viewers?

Wakanda Forever feels like filler. Two hours of setup builds to a rousing battle that’s over too quickly and ends with a dull thud that’s neither particularly satisfying nor emotionally resonant. I was reminded of Avengers: Endgame in the way that high stakes were quickly reduced to plot points and the big chances taken by Infinity War were systematically reversed. There’s a point when Wakanda Forever is poised to take a big chance and do something Game of Thrones risky…but it quickly backpedals. The movie ends up taking more than 2.5 hours to do what it could have accomplished better in about half that time. This is an interlude masquerading as an epic.

The core story speaks to the movie’s narrative paucity. This is essentially the tale of how T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), comes to grips with her brother’s death an accepts the mantle of the Black Panther. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the ruler of the vast underground kingdom of Talokan (not Atlantis, as in the comics), which is inhabited by blue-skinned humanoids who breathe through their gills. Namor has decided to declare war on the surface dwellers and wants to engage Wakanda as an ally. When Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is reluctant, he uses force as a means of persuasion. There’s a human scientist, a 19-year old college student named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), whom he wants dead and when the Wakandans elect to protect her rather than bring her to Namor, he kidnaps Shuri and Riri.

As straightforward as the main plot is, it’s complicated by a needlessly convoluted backstory for Namor, scenes at the U.N., and a goes-nowhere subplot involving two pointless characters, CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, reprising a role he previously played in Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther) and his ex-wife/boss (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who previously appeared in the TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and had a cameo in Black Widow). Wakanda Forever seems to be laying the groundwork for some future story that will inevitably be dwarfed by battles across the multiverse involving godly entities. The movie is almost always either looking back (to the original) or forward (to as-yet unmade future sequels).

Wakanda Forever is not so much a bad movie as it is disappointing and frustrating. There are some strong moments both in terms of character development (primarily for Shuri, who has the deepest and most compelling arc) and action (the car chase is perfunctory but some of the battle scenes are well-executed), but not enough of them. There are no rousing moments designed to elicit a mass cheer from the audience but there are plenty of instances when some viewers might suppress the desire to shout “get on with it, already!” It may be that the payoff won’t come until Black Panther 3 and that, when the entire saga is seen in its entirety, this middle chapter of the trilogy will gain stature. For now, however, as a stand-alone motion picture, Wakanda Forever leaves a lot to be desired.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (United States, 2022)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Tenoch Huerta, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Dominique Thorne, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Home Release Date: 2023-02-07
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
Cinematography: Autumn Durald Akrapaw
Music: Ludwig Goransson
U.S. Distributor: Marvel Studios
Run Time: 2:41
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-02-07
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1