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Wakanda Forever’ is an emotionally resonant triumph

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Although Chadwick Boseman himself was not in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” his presence was felt from the film’s very first scene to its last.

There is no comic-book movie like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and there never will be. The film tells a unique story of loss and legacy, while also paying tribute to the late and great Chadwick Boseman.

The most recent installment in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe sees the leaders of Wakanda — including Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) — protecting the nation from interfering world powers after the sudden death of King T’Challa (Boseman). Meanwhile, a mysterious and technologically advanced underwater nation Talokan and its ruler Namor (Tenoch Huerta) present a new challenge to Wakanda.

As the sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther” — the first comic-book film to be nominated for the Academy Awards’ Best Picture — the bar was already high for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The sequel also had a significant legacy to uphold after lead actor Chadwick Boseman’s death in 2020.

Boseman was a larger-than-life figure and a hero to many, including myself. I remember the first time I saw Boseman on-screen in the 2013 Jackie Robinson biopic “42.” As a little brown boy who played baseball in a majority white town, seeing Boseman bring Jackie Robinson to life in film was inspirational and impactful.

Although Boseman himself was not in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” his presence was felt from the film’s very first scene to its last. As Wakanda grieves its fallen king, the audience, too, grieves the loss of Boseman. Bassett and Wright’s tremendous performances are a powerful depiction of grief, mourning and the effect of Boseman’s loss.

Bassett gives a commanding performance as Wakanda’s queen, forced to grieve her son’s death, while also projecting strength as the ruler of the most powerful nation on the planet. She also brings significant sensitivity to the part, as she navigates her role as a parent to Shuri, who is still processing her brother’s loss. It is no surprise there has already been some Oscar buzz surrounding Bassett’s performance.

Shuri’s character arc revolves around her learning to turn her anger and regret over her brother’s death into something productive for her nation. Wright’s performance is a stark contrast to her portrayal in the first film because Shuri is forced to grow up quickly in light of a series of traumatic events. 

Namor is another welcome addition to the MCU, serving as a compelling antagonist. Although his motivations are not nearly as fleshed-out as the previous film’s villain, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), Namor and his underwater kingdom of Talokan present an interesting tension with Wakanda. Both Wakanda and Talokan are powerful nations trying to protect their livelihoods and resources from other world powers, which creates an intriguing tension between Shuri and Namor.

It would be a travesty not to mention the incredible production design in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Similar to the first movie, the costumes are vibrant, detailed and beautiful. The soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson effectively utilizes musical motifs from the first film, while still exercising restraint when necessary. 

However, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is not a perfect film by any means. The movie could have been shortened by not including some unnecessary characters, such as Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) from the first film and Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), also known as Ironheart. Williams’ introduction in this film felt like a cheap way for Disney to plug Ironheart’s upcoming Disney+ series. Although the character was fun, she could easily have been written out of the film. Ross’ incorporation was also distracting and only served to preview future Marvel projects and characters, rather than furthering the plot of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a very ambitious film, and sometimes falls short in addressing larger themes of imperialism and the intervention of hegemonic powers. But although Marvel’s most recent installment may seem overstuffed at times, the good vastly outweighs the bad. And given the landscape of the comic-book genre today — in which new Marvel films and television series are produced like cars on an assembly line — the ambition is more than welcome. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a triumphant return to form for the MCU. 

What Director Ryan Coogler has achieved with this sequel is nothing short of remarkable, and other comic-book film creators should take note.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @PavanAcharya02

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