“Wakanda Forever” Has the Narrative Power of a Modern-Day Epic (Spoiler-Free Review)
When you settle into your reclining theater seat with your favorite movie snacks to watch the anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (preferably in an IMAX theater, which is definitely worth the extra dollars), you can expect a strong story brought to life by a dedicated cast. While the movie honors the late Chadwick Boseman and the character he brought to the screen in the first Black Panther movie (2018), Wakanda Forever isn’t stuck in the past. Nor is it a sluggish transitional sequel, as the second installments in film franchises often are. It’s an exciting, emotionally gripping, aurally immersive, and visually impressive Marvel movie that is, on every level, a modern-day epic. It follows the stylistic and aesthetic patterns set by its predecessor, keeping director Ryan Coogler’s vision for Wakanda alive. It also introduces a few new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the ruler of a stunning underwater kingdom. But the glue that holds the colorful costumes, otherworldly sets, and epic fight scenes together is Shuri (Letitia Wright), princess of Wakanda and sister to the late King T’Challa. Her story and development are what make Wakanda Forever, the second longest movie in the MCU, worth every minute.
After the death of T’Challa, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and her daughter, Shuri, must process immense grief while protecting Wakanda and leading its people in the absence of the Black Panther. Many powerful nations from around the world are seeking to infiltrate the kingdom to take advantage of its most valuable resource, vibranium, but their soldiers cannot hope to compete with the fearless warriors of Wakanda. Shuri and her mother soon learn, however, that they have a new and more powerful foe to face. Helping them in their efforts are several familiar characters, including Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira). As Shuri faces physical, mental, and moral battles that will test her strength and leadership capabilities, the fate of Wakanda and the safety of the world remains in question.
If those sound like highly dramatic stakes, it’s because they are. But, at this point, that’s what the MCU is all about. What would a Marvel movie be if the outcome of the plot didn’t affect the fate of the entire planet, universe, and multiverse? If there’s anything wrong with Wakanda Forever, it’s that it, like other recent Marvel films, shoves everything but the kitchen sink into one movie and tries to open one too many doors for future films and spin-off shows. I can’t speak to the MCU experts who will understand every reference and catch every cameo and Easter egg. But I can say that besides the lofty ambitions that come with every Marvel film, Wakanda Forever is a thrilling and engaging cinematic experience. The action sequences are memorable and perfectly timed. The costumes are iconic. Ludwig Göransson’s score is the stylistic icing on the cake, pulling the visual aesthetics together and adding depth and tone to each scene. The performances are steadfast and powerful. Letitia Wright in particular gives a marathon performance as Shuri, exploring the depths of griefs and the heights of unchecked rage.
While the MCU as a whole has gotten entirely too big for its own good, the individual films and shows are held together by their dynamic characters, whose internal battles and development make the films so relatable and watchable (even for audience members who don’t necessarily keep up with the intricacies and details of the franchise). This is especially true for Wakanda Forever. In the absence of T’Challa, Shuri gracefully steps into the spotlight as the new protagonist in the Wakanda narrative. Okoye, Nakia, Ramonda, Namor, and others each get to take center stage for brief periods of time, but Shuri’s development is the main focus of Wakanda Forever. As she battles her way through the many stages of her personal grief, Shuri is also forced to make decisions that will affect her family, her nation, and the entire world. If you were a fan of the character before, you’ll certainly be pleased with her development in the latest Black Panther movie.
But even if you haven’t kept up with the other movies, you can still find a lot to enjoy in Wakanda Forever. The film’s greatest strength is its ability to tell a compelling and meaningful story in the middle of a vast cinematic franchise that’s constantly sprouting new heads. In Shuri’s battle with guilt, Queen Ramonda’s selfless leadership, Okoye’s fierce loyalty to her nation, and Nakia’s quiet grief, there lies all the deep and complex emotions that make narrative cinema so addictive. Beneath all the CGI thrills, Wakanda Forever tells an epic story.
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