Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, PG-13
The new mega Marvel movie padding in the pawprints of the epic 2018 hit Black Panther begins on a note of deepest sorrow. “Your brother is with the ancestors,” Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett, 64) tells her scientist daughter Shuri (Letitia Wright) of the late King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). We’re allowed to grieve together for a character, and a man beneath the mask, who died too young. From the start, there is an elegiac tone, a strong sense of family ties rooted in the past, and a determination, however hard, to move forward — and, damn it, still entertain.
Boseman, who passed in 2020 after a four-year fight with colon cancer, looms large over this sequel — yet this energy is positive and never overwhelms the narrative. It’s as if the series surviving and thriving without his noble presence driving the narrative arc will be repayment enough. The movie begins with his funeral, paying respects, and ends with a run of clips that show him as he was on screen: charismatic, virile and powerful.
Hello, winged fish-man and friends
The sequel begins with the discovery that Wakanda — a fictional African kingdom that keeps its high-tech paradise secret from the outside world — is not alone in having access to the magic, super-powered element Vibranium, craved by the corrupt nations beyond their private realm. It’s also accessible to an underwater empire. This hidden Atlantis is ruled by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a super-powerful being with winged ankles like Mercury and Spock ears who can breathe in water and fly above it — but has one weakness. He can dry out like a contact lens.
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What’s at stake
Namor gives Princess Shuri a bracelet and an ultimatum: Either join him in destroying the ravenous countries that are willing to do anything to possess Vibranium, or he and his Krishna-blue followers and assorted whales will ensure that Wakanda is nevermore. It’s this challenge, and its consequences, that rock deep-thinker Shuri out of her vapors and get her to accept that, in the vacuum left by her brother, she’s the future of Wakanda.
Star power on land and undersea
One of the outstanding things about the second Black Panther is its powerful cast, a panorama of actors largely of color, and its wide range of characters. Wright is a standout as we see her morph from the playful, precocious STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) prodigy she had been to a serious woman who must make hard decisions in difficult times. As for Bassett, I want her to star in every movie — she demonstrates a strength of muscle and temperament that makes every part she plays ring true and seem effortless. Add to this Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, among many other luminaries, and there’s a feeling of a world built with great imagination, believably populated.
Below the line, it’s tops
From the chic one-sleeved white gowns worn by the king’s pallbearers to the iridescent gear of the undersea folks, the costumes stun. They are of a piece with Ryan Coogler’s direction; the excellent script cowritten by his Black Panther partner, Joe Robert Cole; the cinematography; the special effects; the production design; and Rihanna’s passionate anthem, “Lift Me Up.”
Vibranium, Vischmanium — this paradise runs on woman power
Wakanda is a world that lionizes women who STEM, who invent, who fight, who love, who honor tradition, who mother, who have mothers. Wakanda honors the resilience of women. And that’s a powerful thing. Marvel movies and the superhero genre are traditionally male-oriented, but Black Panther, one of the biggest franchises of all, passes what’s called “the Bechdel Test” — meaning it features strong female characters who talk to each other, not always about men.
Wakanda for a long, long while
The movie makes you mourn the cool cat that was Boseman, but feel relief and relish that Wakanda is a drama strong enough to go on without him — if not forever, at least in a series of vibrant, empowering sequels as inspiring as this one.
Thelma M. Adams, the former film critic for Us Weekly and the New York Post, is a novelist who writes on film for AARP, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.