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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review: The perfect blend of style and substance

The sequel to the 2018 film Black Panther improves on the original with a more poignant story that explores several themes

3.5/5rating
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review: The perfect blend of style and substance
  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 01.49 PM, Nov 11, 2022

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Story: The sudden death of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) puts the Wakandan kingdom vulnerable to foreign incursion — by nations desperately in search of the precious metal, vibranium, found only in Wakanda. But when an American expedition discovers the metal at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the isolated and unknown underwater nation of Talokan retaliates with brute force determined to keep their existence a secret from the surface dwellers.

Review: The tragic death of actor Chadwick Boseman, who essayed the iconic role of King T’Challa aka the Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), forced the creative team at Marvel Studios to rework the story for the Black Panther sequel. Several commentators were critical of Marvel boss Kevin Feige’s decision to not recast the role considering several important characters have been recast in the past for various reasons. Edward Norton being replaced by Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk and Don Cheadle taking over as James Rhodes/War Machine from Terrence Howard are the most notable examples. And more recently Harrison Ford replaced the late William Hurt as General Thunderbolt Ross in the MCU. However, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever manages to effortlessly tell a gripping story without its titular hero.

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One would expect that the plot would pivot around finding the new Black Panther, which would have risked the film ending up being a cliche. Fortunately, the idea of the ‘new Black Panther', despite its obvious significance, takes a backseat in order to thoroughly flesh out the story and its thought-provoking themes. The strong performances by the lead actors also play a crucial role in keeping the audience invested in the story but distracted from delving into the identity of the new Black Panther. Angela Bassett delivers a powerful performance as Queen Romonda, while Letitia Wright (Shuri) and Danai Gurira (Okoye) also deserve plaudits for their roles. But the star of the film is undoubtedly Tenoch Huerta as the Talokan king, Namor, who plays a complex character and he is a contradiction to the less than compelling villains often seen in Marvel films in the past.

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The comparisons between DC’s Aquaman and Namor were always going to be inevitable. But it is not a straightforward comparison as one would imagine. Because there are two versions of Aquaman in the DC cinematic universe — the one created by Zack Snyder and the one created after Snyder’s departure. Despite the criticisms Snyder has received in the past, the characters he created always had rich backstories and lore with very specific traits. The same cannot be said for James Wan’s 2018 version of Aquaman which retconned Snyder’s version and the character. And Wan’s film, despite its commercial success, is all style and no substance — not too dissimilar to his Fast and Furious films. However, plenty of effort has gone into creating the lore and history of Namor. The world-building of the underwater city of Talokan is spellbinding. There is also a clear exposition of Namor’s motives and an understanding of what compels him to resort to deadly force to protect his kingdom. Director Ryan Coogler deserves praise for the manner in which Namor has been introduced to the MCU.

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The film’s central narrative explores themes of colonialism and imperialism. Through Namor and his kingdom the dark colonial past of the Europeans and the legacy they left behind are emphasised, but without hindering the overall story. American imperialism is another theme told through the lens of the diplomatic uncertainties between Wakanda and the US. Unlike recent films and TV shows, where such themes are often shoehorned for the sake of being politically correct, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has layered them into the narrative with subtlety. It is also interesting to note that the action and fight sequences are also handled with relative subtlety to match the film’s tone. And surprisingly even Marvel’s trademark ‘cringe humour’ is also toned down. In fact, the film is at its weakest when these unnecessary scenes added for comedic relief pop up on odd occasions. Another minor setback which prevents the film from being Marvel’s best film of Phase 4 is the under-utilisation of incredible talents such as Martin Freeman, Lupita Nyong'o, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

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Verdict: The final film of Phase 4 of the MCU removes any bad taste left by Thor: Love and Thunder. The film is a well-written poignant tale, with excellent performances by its lead actors, that breaks free from the conventional 'Marvel formula'. Even the harshest of Marvel critics would agree that the film offers excellent cinematic value — something that is at times alien to the franchise.

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