Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Is A Brilliant Goodbye to Chadwick Boseman

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever starts officially on 11/11/22 though your mileage may vary.

If you follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe closely enough, you'll see stories on the internet about some big shot director or another complaining about how MCU maestro Kevin Fiege takes away the director's freedom to tell the tale they wanted to tell. These directors typically are not and have never been attached to an MCU movie and probably are just whining because their features haven't come close to what a typical Marvel movie does at the box office. They also must not be watching Ryna Coogler's Black Panther films, because the first film, starring the late great Chadwick Boseman, was a revelation both in terms of the MCU and African American pop culture. WIthin days if not hours of the first film's release in 2018, video testimonials were popping up all over social media with folks offering up moving, deeply personal testimonials about the importance of having a relatable black superhero on the big screen at last. Coogler's second effort, made all the more difficult with the tragic loss of the talented Mr. Boseman, is equally worthy of the praise it will undoubtedly receive.

It's no small thing to feature a female lead in a Hollywood film, even in the early 2020s, sad as it is to say. It's still a predominantly male-driven industry, as are the comic books that are providing Hollywood such rich materials to mine for box office gold. Coogler's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever features a strong female cast and quite possibly the best special effects you've seen in a Marvel movie yet. Ponder that for a moment. Yeah, even Thanos would say, "Better than Avengers: Endgame? Oh snap!" 
I'll do my best to avoid spoilers but you can probably guess how the film begins -- King T'Challa is dying of a mysterious ailment and passes away off screen, effectively closing the character's chapter while paying homage to the actor. There is a Wakandan funeral, and different expressions of grief by the returning cast: Angela Bassett as Quess Ramonda, Letitia Wright as Princess Shur, Danai Gurira as General Okoye, Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, Florence Kasumba as Ayo of the Dora Milaje and Winston Duke as M'Baku. The Queen decides it's time for her daughter to get out of her laboratory where she's been funnelling her grief by trying to artificially recreate the mystic "heart-shaped herb" that gives the Black Panthers their power, which were destroyed when Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) usurped the throne of Wakanda. During their retreat into the bush, they meet Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the god-king of a tribe of undersea-dwelling people who delivers a shocking bit of news to the Wakandan Queen: His kingdom of Talokan (not Atlantis, though the similarities are obvious) has vibranium too! His people had turned themselves into blue-hued water breathers in a last-ditch effort to save themselves from the pestilence the Spanish Conquistadors brought with them to Mesoamerica. His mother was pregnant with Namor at that time resulting in Namor being born as the first mutant in the world, hundreds of years old, able to breathe above or below the ocean's surface, and possessing wings on his fseet that grant him incredible quickness and agility in flight to go along with his near-Hulk level strength. It seems that the good 'ol US of A has launched a new prototype vibranium detector (as the otherworldly metal was heretofore undetectable) that was designed by a 19 year-old techno wizkid named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne...the new Tony Stark?) and Namor wants Wakanda to join forces with Talokan to protect their precious resources. And that's where it all hits the fan! With Namor's people determined to kill Williams to protect their secrets, the Wakandan dynamic duo of Shuri and Okoye goes to her rescue, which ends poorly for the heroes. They turn to their old CIA friend Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) who used to be married to his new boss...drumroll...Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)! I didn't see that one coming! Oh, before I forget, the new Black Panther is...
Nah, I won't spoil that! I'll instead point out how director Coogler deftly manages to pay homage to Boseman while still integrating T'Challa into the plot, but also letting the original film's supporting cast take on bigger roles and grow as characters. In the Thanos story arc there really wasn't much time for a lot of character growth, and don't even get me started with time travel and the Multiverse! But here, the Coogler allows the characters enough time to grow without falling into the trap of long exposition scenes. When there is backstory to explain, he provides enough interesting visuals that it never bogs down the film. Coogler's special effects and visual effects teams blow everything out of the water -- literally! Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern this is not (Sorry Deadpool, couldn't resist!). I dare say this is the best special effects I've seen yet in the MCU. And if Ruth E. Carter doesn't take home another well-deserved Oscar for Costume Design next year, someone will have to pinch hit for Will Smith and slap the voters!
At roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes without trailers, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever never felt that long to me. Every scene held my attention. I've already read criticisms regarding a lack of star power without Boseman. I, for one, completely agree with Coogler's approach. Chadwick Boseman was already approaching the level of greatness we associate with Denzel Washington. Had cancer not taken him so young, he likely would have been compared to Sidney Poitier -- he was that good. I'd have to include him on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest African American actors of all time. Boseman was simply irreplaceable. Even as fine actors as Michael B. Jordan (who could have been resurrected in some weird comic book way had Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole so chose), Donald Glover or Daveed Diggs are, they would have felt like replacements, standing in Boseman's panther shoes, trying to recreate his T'Challa. Coogler wisely allowed Boseman and T'Challa to occupy the soul of his film, while elevating a largely female cast to the heart of it. How Black Panther failed to win Best Picture and Coogler even a nomination for Best Director or Boseman for Best Actor at the Oscars in 2019 I'll never understand. Coogler deserves it for this effort! Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a worthy sequel to a landmark game-changing original, and needs to be seen on it's own merits, of which there are many. It may be evem more visually sumptuous and grander in scope and action-packed excitement than the first film. 
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is rated PG-13 and opens today in St. Louis, officially everywhere on 11/11/2022. I'm not at all sure when the weekend officially started on Thursday around here, but we're one of those states that still messes around with Daylight Savings Time, so we probably lost a Friday somewhere. Enjoy the show, America! WAKANDA FOREVER!
5.0 / 5.0