From the moment Black Panther 2 begins it’s apparent it won’t be your run-of-the-mill Marvel movie. When Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in August 2o20, just as the script for the sequel was completed, there was a lot of widespread concern and anxiety, not just about how a Black Panther sequel would address his passing but whether it was appropriate to make a sequel at all.
Back in 2018, we were all transfixed by Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa, and it was his performance as the honourable King and heroic Black Panther that was the beating heart of the action movie — which, combined with a strong supporting cast, stunning visual effects, and unique attention to detail in terms of sound mixing, production design, and costuming, was the first MCU movie to win an Academy Award.
The good news is, in an era rife with reboots and recasting, Black Panther 2 doesn’t attempt to erase the legacy and impact of both T’Challa and Boseman. Before reading any further, please be advised that the following review contains minor spoilers about the film.
Instead, the legacy of Boseman and his character is lovingly carried throughout the film while also not shying away from the different faces grief and loss can have. As hinted in the trailer, the character of T’Challa is dead in this movie, and the first act of this film primarily focuses on the cruelty of life somehow going on after someone so important to you has passed away.
We see Shuri bury herself into science, Ramonda stepping up to try and be the leader Wakanda needs, and in a stark commentary on colonial greed, various countries trying to exploit Wakanda’s perceived weakness without their Black Panther protector in order to get their hands on some Vibranium.
The anxiety surrounding Vibranium and its potential to put a target on Wakanda’s back was an integral theme in the first Black Panther movie, which ended with T’Challa pledging to share Wakanda’s advanced resources with the rest of the world. The implications of that promise are what contribute to Black Panther 2’s central conflict, making the superhero movie just as plot-driven as it is a character study of the many faces of grief.
Grief is a difficult emotion to portray, but Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett both strike the perfect balance between raw pain, rage, and strength. Even at their characters’ most vulnerable moments, their power and resilience are never in doubt: even if they express that power in different ways.
Alongside the dark moments, there are also still glimmers of classic Marvel humour and fun that don’t feel out of place within the context of the film, with Okoye’s various rapports with M’Baku, Shuri, and Ironheart providing chuckles and lighthearted moments that prevent the film from falling down a hole of despair.
Sometimes, when a new hero is introduced into a Marvel movie, it feels a little forced and shoehorned. But Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams seamlessly fits into both the action and emotion of the movie, with a refreshing outlook and mindset that helps to pull Phase 4 out of its rut and makes me enthusiastic for the MCU’s future.
Although, in my opinion, the biggest villain in Black Panther 2 is the American Government (sorry, Martin Freeman), it’s no stretch to say that, as Namor the Sub-Mariner, Tenoch Huerta is the most captivating Marvel villain I’ve seen in a very long time.
We all love a movie villain with a compelling backstory. Still, I think that Namor slightly elevates the much-hyped Killmonger from Black Panther because his rage is replaced by something more cold and calculated, and his on-screen chemistry with Shuri adds a further dimension to the story. His performance isn’t just incredibly layered, emotional, and complex, but it’s also enriching in a way that matches up to the grandiose beauty of Talocan.
Sequences in the underwater kingdom are among some of the most visually gorgeous in the whole film, and given how wonderful we know Wakanda looks, you can be assured the standard is also pretty high. It’s also clear from the visuals and costumes that cultural sensitivity, accuracy, and celebration were at the core of this film.
In an interview with the movie’s producer Nate Moore, he explained to me that extensive research went into the portrayal of various tribal cultures, garments, and rituals. The extensive research that went into this film definitely shows and pays off, and in my opinion, really helps to enrich the worlds of both Wakanda and Talocan.
As fantastic as Black Panther 2 is (seriously, everyone should watch it), some minor things hold it back from reaching its full potential. One of these things is the movie’s mammoth runtime of 2 hours and 41 minutes. Although no scene feels wasted or unnecessary, and it’s a joy to spend time fleshing out Talocan and Namor, especially, you get the sense, especially in the film’s middle portion, that it could have been streamlined just a little bit.
Once or twice, I felt like the extensive exposition around Talocan could have been replaced with a little more development and focus on characters like M’Baku, Aneka, and Ayo. It’s a testament to the actors that these characters are so intriguing, and I think the film had the space and scope to develop them a little bit further.
There’s also a moment that I won’t spoil which felt a little bit like queerbaiting and a contrived desire to tick a certain box as opposed to genuine LGBTQ+ representation: although there is definitely scope for this moment to develop into something more fleshed out in future movies.
But I must stress that in the grand scheme of things, these critiques don’t make the movie any less engaging or less worthy of a watch. It’s just a case of really mature and well-crafted acting and writing having to be forced into the rigid structure of a superhero movie, like a square peg in a circular hole.
Ultimately, when it comes to Black Panther 2, there truly is something for everyone: thrilling action sequences, stunning visual effects, emotional acting, and a compelling, sensitive story that honours the past while looking toward a hopeful future.
Taking place post-Blip, the MCU Phase 4 as a whole has felt a little fragmented with a strong undertone of pain as various MCU characters try to piece together their broken lives and relationships amid the aftershocks of Thanos’ snap.
By the end of Black Panther 2, there is a sense of peace and hope amid all the grief, and that’s what makes it the perfect, cathartic way to end Phase 4 as we look ahead to Marvel’s Phase 5.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever elevates the superhero movie genre to another level.