Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)—An Emotional Tribute to a Beloved Icon
In 2016, T’Challa/Black Panther made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: Civil War to much acclaim from both fans and critics. In 2018, he received his solo film Black Panther, which broke box office records and made a landmark in cultural representation. Unfortunately in 2020, Chadwick Boseman tragically passed away battling cancer, leaving Marvel and Ryan Coogler scrambling and grieving. But instead of recasting T’Challa, they laid him to rest with Boseman. Which brings us to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and how the world will push forward without our beloved King of Wakanda.
Some time after The Blip, T’Challa tragically passes away due to an unknown illness, leaving the country of Wakanda in pieces. A year after his death, Wakanda is vulnerable to outside forces that would rather steal the country's vibranium for themselves, bringing the unwanted attention of the underwater civilization, Talokan and Namor (played Tenoch Huerta). Now Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett), Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), and the rest of Wakanda must prepare for war against Namor before his vengeance lays waste to the surface world.
I am sure like many others, Boseman’s death was extremely unexpected and even more unexpected was letting Boseman’s T’Challa pass with him. It’s a bold creative choice and honestly helped many of us grieve his loss with everyone else who made the film. The prologue alone was beautifully shot, along with the atmospheric melancholy and the accurate cultural representation for the funeral itself. In several African countries, such as Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana, dancing at funerals is seen as a form of respect and celebration of the dead that grants the deceased “light feet” as they ascend into the afterlife, not to also mention the color of white being the color of death in many African cultures. I was expecting to shed a few tears during this film but I wasn’t expecting the flood gates to open immediately as everyone mourned T’Challa together. This also gave tremendous weight to the film’s themes of grief and passing the torch as the mantle of Black Panther is passed on to the next generation. Good job Ryan Coogler. Good job everyone!
Apart from the beautiful tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, arguably the best part of this film was the character of Namor. I cannot express enough how fascinating of a character Namor is. Not only is he in comic accurate form, but his motivations are quite understandable and sympathetic: only provoking war to protect Talokan. He is portrayed expertly with the breakout star Tenoch Huerta as he brings both a sense of compassion and ruthlessness to Namor. He’s willing to avoid war but is not afraid to start it either. Not to mention Namor practically got all the best lines in the film, whether it is dropping life advice or being the coldest badass in the room. While it also makes me extremely glad that they didn’t kill off this character as they did Killmonger, it also makes me curious what would have happened if we got Namor, T’Challa and Killmonger in the same room. Namor may not technically be a villain in the MCU, but he is a stellar antagonist within Wakanda Forever.
Tenoch Huerta may have stolen the show as Namor, but the rest of the performances are nothing to scoff at. Angela Bassett is practically gunning for that Oscar this year as she delivers a raw and fierce performance as Queen Ramonda. She shows both a reserved quiet rage and broken anguish in two particular scenes, if you’ve seen the film you know which ones I am talking about. Letitia Wright gives a captivating and emotional performance as Shuri, we are able to experience how broken she has become throughout the film. It is also impressive that she is able to fill the big shoes Chadwick Boseman left as Black Panther. We also got a good introduction to Riri Williams or Ironheart in this film as well, with Dominique Thorne being excellent comedic relief and capable of holding her own against more seasoned talents.
Besides the emotional tributes, performances and story of the film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has some of my favorite cinematography, visuals and music. The cinematography alone is unlike any that I’ve seen. One of Coogler’s greatest strengths is using the camera to establish a story. Every opening shot is used to set up what happens in a scene and I love his use of fade in shots that blend beautifully into the panning shots. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Phase 4 of the MCU has some of the best cinematography that I’ve seen! To complement the breathtaking cinematography, the visuals are just as beautiful as they were in the first film as well as being the best of Phase 4. While it’s hard to choose just one amazing set, to me, the most stand-out set of the entire film has to be Talokan, the underwater kingdom Namor resides over. The film could’ve made it look similar to Atlantis in Aquaman, but it didn’t. Talokan combines traditional Mayan influences especially seen with the architecture and mythology.
While Coogler does a wonderful job telling a story with the cinematography, he struggles when it comes to shooting the fight scenes. There were too many scenes that were shot in close-ups to the point where I had a tough time telling what’s happening on screen. I was surprised with the amount of close-ups considering that Coogler also directed 2015’s Creed, which proved that Coogler CAN direct amazing fight scenes. I think he may be a bit out of his depth when it comes to more fantastical fight scenes, since the fight between T’Challa and M’Baku in Black Panther was actually pretty well shot compared to the fights in the sequel. Additionally, the film tries to set up too many storylines within a nearly three hour runtime. While this doesn’t bog the film down, it does start to feel a bit much at times.
Black Panther received Oscars for Best Original Score and nominations for Best Original Song. I am not going to be surprised if it wins in both categories at this upcoming Oscar ceremony as the music is downright beautiful. Especially with the song, Lift Me Up by Rihanna just giving us all the feels as the credits roll and remember the beloved King T’Challa. Not to mention the score, oh my goodness was it powerful, and the one piece I am talking about in particular is Namor’s theme as he addresses Talokan. It was badass, stressful and powerful as we know the exact type of chaos he will bring to his enemies along with how swift that chaos will be. Another piece I loved is the track Con La Brisa, which played during the scene where Namor gives Shuri a tour of Talokan. Not only is the track calming, but it perfectly conveys the underwater society of Talokan as a whole. You truly feel like you’re peacefully floating in the ocean, with no worry of the outside world.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever could have easily failed without the charisma of its former leading man. But they managed to persevere and make a film that lives up to the legacy Chadwick Boseman left behind. While there are some issues with the film doing too much at once and some questionable fight scenes, it really isn’t enough to deter away from the impactful story and raw emotion of its themes. The cinematography and visuals are the best we have seen in Phase 4 if not the entire MCU, along with complex characters and god tier performances from the whole cast; in particular Tenoch Huerta, Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright. The King of Wakanda may be dead and gone, but there are still people fighting to preserve his legacy. Rest in Power Chadwick Boseman, you are sorely missed!
Co-Written By: Michael Li