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Warning: spoilers ahead. This is my Wakanda Forever Review.
Like many other lovers of a good movie about Black people winning, I saw the highly anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever this past weekend.
Opening with over $330 million in box office sales worldwide, people lined up to see how and if the sequel could fill the shoes of Black Panther, which was one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and the first superhero film to receive a best picture nomination at the Oscars.
For many, it was a masterpiece. Some of my social media friends even said it was the best movie they’d ever seen. For me, the movie was a strong “OK”.
Black Panther sequel
With a runtime of 2 hours and 41 minutes, Wakanda Forever tells the high-level story of a history of resistance to colonialism with nations of color fighting to preserve their culture and resources against white people. However, the centerpiece of the conflict is between Wakanda and Talokan, an ancient and unknown underwater kingdom also rich with vibranium.
It opens with an emotional ceremony for the kingdom’s fallen leader T’Challa (the first Black Panther) who was played by Chadwick Boseman. Boseman passed away from colon cancer at the age of 43 in 2020.
While Wakanda is in mourning, other countries – and Talokan – see the Black Panther’s death as an opportunity to take advantage of a seemingly weakened nation.
In the earlier scenes of the movie, Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) attends a United Nations conference to address a failed theft attempt of the prized vibranium by France. Simultaneously, an American government entity has discovered vibranium in the Atlantic Ocean with a device built by 19-year-old Harvard University student, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne).
Upon learning about this device, the Talokans attack the navy ship that made the discovery in hopes of keeping their source of vibranium and their hidden kingdom secured. Since, at the time, Wakanda is the only nation known to have vibranium, the African nation is immediately blamed for the attack and its relationship with the U.S. becomes strained.
A new hero
Later, while Queen Ramonda and Princess Shuri (Leititia Wright) are having a heart-to-heart about T’Challa’s undisclosed death, they’re visited by Talokan’s ruler, Namor, who demands that the Wakandans kidnap and bring Riri to him or face war from his nation. Of course the Wakadans aren’t going to just give into these demands and let this person die, so they set up a rescue mission.
While on the mission in Massachusetts, Riri, Shuri and General Okoye are met with a fight from the U.S. government and the Talokans. When the Talokans are on the verge of killing Riri, Shuri offers herself as their prisoner instead. Both she and Riri are taken back to the underwater empire.
Ultimately, Riri and Shuri are rescued by Nakia (Lupita N’yongo) who’s sent by Queen Ramonda, and a Talokan woman is killed in the process. Angered by this “transgression”, Namor retaliates, kills Queen Ramonda and kicks off the war in which Shuri has to become the Black Panther to save the country.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is good, not great
The movie was visually stunning, emotional and layered familiar themes around struggles for representation, misrepresentation and liberation. But, there were just a few storylines jammed into it without explanation.
Even in an almost three hour-long film, we didn’t learn as much as we should have about Talokan and some of its main characters. As Albert Samaha noted in his review, “We spend too much in suburban Virginia with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) as he banters with his ex-wife Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) over US foreign policy, but we don’t get to learn more about the visually stunning Talokan, a kingdom we know little about beyond its founding history despite the film’s epic length.”
Additionally, Riri’s character (who I found out is superhero Ironheart in the Marvel Universe) was abruptly thrown into the mix without much of a backstory. All we see is this young, obviously brilliant Black girl from Chicago who all of a sudden becomes a Power Ranger in a replica of Iron Man’s suit.
Lastly, it felt like the franchise was so pressured to provide an answer to “Who would be the new Black Panther?” that Shuri’s rise to power was forced and temporary. Don’t get me wrong, we love a story about a strong Black woman but there’s a bit of contradiction in the storyline. Renaldo Matadeen sums it up perfectly in discussing Queen Ramonda’s death being a tipping point for Shuri:
Film throws too much together without context
??Further anguish isn’t needed because Shuri already has walls up due to T’Challa’s death. Thus, with the first half of Wakanda Forever hinging on T’Challa’s death and Shuri’s inability to save him, she’s already become corrupted — bitter towards the Black Panther mantle, the throne, her culture and the royal legacy.
As a result, the loss of her brother and Namor’s subsequent hostility would’ve been enough of a tipping point, creating conflict with a living Ramonda who wouldn’t want her daughter consumed by anger. But by killing the queen, the grief factor becomes inconsistent and enters a state of flux as Shuri then pivots from T’Challa’s passing to her mother, which honestly should break her.
Then we later find out that before he passed, T’Challa birthed a son with Nakia. So it leaves us wondering if Shuri is a placeholder and if he’ll be the next Black Panther.
All in all, it was a spectacular job by Ryan Coogler, who had the incredibly difficult job of trying to deliver the magic of Black Panther in Wakanda Forever, especially considering the unfortunate death of Chadwick Boseman. With the open-ended storylines, I guess we just have more to look forward to in this series.