Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever – Marvel Phase 4 gets its groove back
The second Black Panther film has arrived. In the wake of the sad loss of lead actor Chadwick Boseman, the history-making franchise dusts itself off and moves forward – and it does so with great style and grace.
Before I go on, I should preface this with two admissions. Firstly, there will be spoilers. We are well past the deadline for keeping finer details secret, so if you haven’t seen the film, and don’t want it spoiled, then probably best to stop reading here.
Secondly, I do not have the same issues with Phase 4 of the MCU that many people seem to. I’m not going to pretend that Thor: Love & Thunder could hold a candle to Ragnarok, and I know She-Hulk wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, but I enjoyed them both.
Marvel and Disney are, to borrow an aphorism from Tony Stark, in hardware mode again. In the wake of the Infinity Gauntlet saga, new rules and heroes are having to be established in this universe. And the new Black Panther film is a wonderful, and important, addition to that.
But don’t let its role in the wider MCU take away from Wakanda Forever. This is a seriously good film in its own right.
The script and cast deal wonderfully with the loss of Chadwick Boseman, reflecting real life in art by starting the film with the loss of his character T’Challa to an unspecified illness. Leaping forward a year, the film finds T’Challa’s family dealing with his death in their own ways on a personal level. But there is a wider world at stake and the loss of the Black Panther has left the newly global Wakanda vulnerable.
As the world searches for Vibranium, the rare metal which is the secret to Wakanda’s technology, the country comes under threat both from other nations and from the newly disturbed people of the underwater world of Talokan and their god-like champion Namor.
What follows is an action-packed series of confrontations which rebuild the world of the Black Panther around a new hero and create new stories and characters to develop in the years to come.
Part of the power of the second Black Panther is that, not unlike the first, it charts the rise of a new hero. Laetitia Wright is the linchpin of this tale, as Shuri, the princess of Wakanda who believes a focus on science is needed to ensure the safety of their country. This places her at odds with her mother, the always sublime Angela Bassett, and Danai Gurira, whose expanded role as Dora Milaje general Okoye is another true success for the film. Shuri’s journeys, both personal and literal, also bring new allies in the shape of Michaela Cole as renegade Dora Milaje warrior Aneka, and Dominique Thorne as MIT student Riri Williams, whose Ironheart suit is the in-comic successor to Tony Stark’s Iron Man.
The introduction and expansion of these characters, and that of both Winton Duke’s brilliant M’Baku and Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia , not only breathe new vigour into the film, but allow a true exploration of how characters react to loss. As the centrepiece, Wright it brilliant throughout, both angry and dismissive and believably unsure whether she can take on the mantle presented to her.
It is a credit to the film that the story of grief, recovery and redemption, which feels like a movie in itself, is just half of this film. The arrival of Riri Williams and Tenoch Huerta Mejía’s Namor are part of the wider story around Vibranium and Wakanda, which sees the nation dragged into a battle which has devastating consequences for the already embattled characters. The rise of Namor plays wonderfully opposite Shuri, who is forced to ask what sort of leader she would be – is she like T’Challa? Or is she more in step with Michael B Jordan’s epic antagonist from the first film, Erik Killmonger?
As with the original, Wakanda Forever explores the line between hero and villain, asking how much of a role motivation and action play in how you and you actions are perceived.
With so much to fit in – and I have not even covered the appearances of Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, or Julia Louise Dreyfuss’ scene-stealing Valentina Allegra de Fontaine – it is impressive that Wakanda Forever never feels muddled or over-wrought.
Like the original, this is a film with a clear vision of the story it wants to tell, and it does an excellent job of placing that story in a wider universe without losing its own thread or feel.
As both a tribute to Chadwick Boseman and a relaunch of the Black Panther character, this is a beautiful, touching and engaging piece of art. And as a piece of the wider MCU, it is the serious step that many fans have wanted from Phase 4 and one that will provide the perfect launch into the coming Phase 5.
If Wakanda Forever is a vision of the future, then both the Black Panther mantle and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are in good hands.