“I am Queen of the most powerful nation in the world! And my entire family is gone! Have I not given everything?”Queen Ramonda
The shadow of Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death loomed over Black Panther‘s sequel, but Ryan Coogler chooses to embrace it in an elegiac rumination on grief. Shuri has the fullest arc, as her rationality leads to a rejection of her mother’s traditions and an inability to process her grief, but Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda is the film’s greatest asset with a devastatingly powerful performance. Unfortunately, the nuanced exploration of these themes is diverted by the needs of a blockbuster franchise film to introduce new characters and hooks. Wakanda Forever opens on the world stage, as Ramonda refuses to share her nation’s vibranium resources, calling out the US military in contrast to other areas of the MCU. War nevertheless comes from beneath the waves in the form of Namor, reinvented here as the ruler of an underwater kingdom created due to colonial incursion into the Yucatán. Namor is a personification of indigenous rage, his cultural grief mirroring Shuri’s personal anger. Beyond that parallel, he lacks the depth that made Erik Killmonger such a fascinating villain — Namor is simply driven by an obsession that war with the surface world is an inevitability. Meanwhile engineering savant Riri’s introduction feels perfunctory in setting up an Ironheart TV show, whilst providing a fleeting Black American perspective — “to be young, gifted and black,” she quotes Lorraine Hansberry, before realising that means nothing to a Wakandan. The costuming remains exquisite in its detail, as does the Ludwig Göransson-produced soundtrack, though it is interesting to find that the film’s essential “blackness” is less immediately noticeable on this occasion, perhaps arriving so soon after The Woman King. The action, however, is the generic Marvel CG-fest with nothing memorable beyond a sequence in which the Wakandan men belay female warriors fighting over the vertical side of a ship. Coogler is to be praised that, with so much crammed into the bloated running time, its emotional core still feels heartfelt rather than hollow. Shuri’s interactions with those who knew her brother throughout the film explore aspects of grief, broadening her understanding, and particularly fascinating are her conversations with M’Baku who proves a surprising confidante. Nevertheless, Wakanda Forever feels hamstrung by its place within the franchise rather than elevated by it.
MCU Phase 4: Black Widow | Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings | Eternals | Spider-man: No Way Home | Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | Thor: Love and Thunder | Black Panther: Wakanda Forever