Wow! You’ll say it over and over again as this mind-blowing superhero epic unfolds.
The loss of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), aka Black Panther, weighs heavily on the people of Wakanda. More on his sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and mother Queen Ramonda (Angel Bassett). They try to move on but are paralyzed by grief. A grief so deep it clouds their attempts to keep their nation safe. Outside forces covet their precious metal Vibranium, which absorbs, stores, and releases super amounts of kinetic energy. They must remain vigilant.
The royals think they are alone in their fight against the outside world until they encounter an intruder. Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía, “Son of Monarchs”) is the emperor of the hidden undersea kingdom of Talokan. Its people are of Mayan descent. It offers them the opportunity to fight common enemies. “Do you want to burn the world down? We will burn it together. Can we trust him? Is fighting someone the solution? Some say no: “If you go to war for revenge, it will never fill the void in your soul.
How do you carry on after Boseman’s death? It’s hard to fathom, but mission writer/director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole thought and planned perfectly. Their attention to detail and quest to honor the legacy of both actor and character is evident in every image. They start the film on a spiritual level and end it the same way.
The superhero is gone but his essence remains. Shuri steps forward. But burying himself in creating new war technology to protect Wakanda doesn’t protect his pain. Smart as she is, she has so much to learn. Her journey of self-discovery animates the film for 2h 41 min.
That daunting length shouldn’t worry ardent fans. Yes, some scenes could be lightened, some background sequences shorter and less exposure would be better. However, for the most part, editors Kelley Dixon, Jennifer Lame, and Michael P. Shawver cut the footage in a way that makes the time pass. Not so fast. Not too slow. Just right.
As the story unfolds, taking you in directions you never thought possible, the majesty of what you behold and its thesis on dealing with death grabs you visually and emotionally in the most stunning way. .
Wakanda, Talokan and all points in between or beyond are breathtaking to behold. The royal chambers, the underwater world, the battleships, etc. are impressive (production designers Hannah Beachler, Jason T. Clark). The colors are vibrant or cloudy as they should be (art direction Marlie Arnold, Cameron Beasley, Laurel Bergman and Jason T. Clark).
Namor’s royal attire and ethnic jewelry and clothing are glorious or appropriate costume (Ruth E. Carter). Action shots to dance sequences are captured and lit like they’re out of a blockbuster movie (cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw). Composer Ludwig Göransson’s heart-pounding score intensifies emotions from misfortune to bravery and the eclectic world music playlist (Burna Boy, Alemán, Blue Rojo, Tems), highlighted by a haunting theme song, “Lift Me Up” sung by Rihanna, is a keeper.
Coogler and Moore’s script takes audiences into a heady, ethereal dimension that’s as Afrocentric in nature as the original Black Panther. But this sequel is different. New. Centered on women too. The way Queen Ramonda confronts the nation’s adversaries on world stages is so confrontational and shameless that she should lead the UN
It’s a dignity, a grace and a strength that Bassett brings to all of his characters. However, she is in her glory as an exasperated matriarch: “My whole family is gone. Didn’t I give it my all? She deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
It’s almost like the rest of the cast follows her. The professionalism, wrangling of each character’s emotional core, flawless diction, and unwavering performances come from a stellar ensemble at the top of their game, guided by Coogler’s intuitive direction.
Wright strikes the right balance between bravery, vulnerability and grief. Son Shuri searches for answers imperfectly, stumbling as she goes. Namor, highly motivated, whose survival of the nation comes first, is his perfect foil. Mejía’s interpretation of this aquatic warrior is a respectful acknowledgment of Native American culture and its centuries-old dynasty. He also deserves an Oscar.
Kudos to Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia the secret spy and Dominique Thorne as Riri the inventor of technology. Danai Gurira fittingly plays Okoye, head of Dora Milaje’s special forces. Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross shines as the US State Department leaks. Many might wish Winston Duke’s role as M’Baku, the chief of the Jabari Mountain Tribe, had been expanded. He deserved more screen time.
Prepare to be wowed by majesty, dangerous liaisons, war, and inner growth. You will leave the theater enveloped in an overwhelming emotion that will not subside. A deeper feeling than 99% of the superhero movies you’ll ever see.
A eulogy. A show. A wonder. A state of grace. Wow!
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is currently in theaters.
Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. Read more reviews of Brown’s films at DwightBrownInk.com.