Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Score: A-

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Dominique Thorne

Running Time: 161 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been varying levels of "fine." After wrapping up the Infinity Saga with the biggest movie of all time (Avengers: Endgame), the MCU has of course dominated the post-COVID box office, but with little creative success. After two years of stagnation, Ryan Coogler has once again delivered a rare thing: a superhero movie with soul.

We'll never know what this much-anticipated sequel would have looked like had Chadwick Boseman not tragically died two years ago. But the film is a tremendous tribute to an actor taken from us too young. That it works as well as it does without a generational talent at the center is something of a miracle. That it continues to grapple with the original's themes of what one culture owes another, and what one country owes the world, makes this one of the year's best films.

Letitia Wright reprises her role as Shuri, the brother of the T'Challa. His absence has left Wakanda grieving and vulnerable. His promise at the end of the first film to share his kingdom's knowledge and technology has been reversed by his steadfast mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who revels in dressing down greedy U.S. officials. A search for vibranium outside Africa turns deadly, causing an international crisis.

In the midst of this chaos, Namor appears. In a star-making turn from Tenoch Huerta, the leader of the Talokan people is neither a villain nor a hero. But he and his people mirror the Black Panther and the Wakandans. They are both protective of their culture, land and resources, and willing to defend them all with intensity and passion. Their arrival puts the country between a rock and a hard place: Defiance means death and destruction. Alliance means the target on their back from the Western world grows. Actions have consequences, and nothing is black-and-white.

While the film does suffer from the common issues of many recent MCU entries - inconsistent CGI, too many characters, a pathetic attempt at LGBTQ+ inclusion - its biggest problem is being overstuffed. While the moving tributes to Boseman that bookend the film and the exploration of the underwater world of the Talkoan are welcome, they push the running time to nearly three hours. It's too much of a good thing.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had so many setbacks that it could have been a disaster. But with deep respect for its characters and indigenous culture, as well as a refusal to reduce its world to a good-vs-evil binary, it's another step forward for superhero movies.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.