Director Ryan Coogler
Screenplay Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett

If ever there is a film that has been showered with goodwill from the start, it’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. After the first film became the 9th biggest box office hit of all time, the sky was the limit for the early production. The world stopped turning August of 2020, when the original star and ultimately irreplaceable Chadwick Boseman succumbed to cancer.

Rather than try to replace Boseman and his generous shadow, Coogler and company decided to take the hit and move forward. You know, the way survivors do in life. The original cast, with a few strategic additions, forge a workable story out of what remains.

The tale starts with the mourning period. Bassett confronts the world powers conference to state that Wakanda will not be giving the world vibranium, given the fact that they keep trying to steal it. Back in Wakanda, Shuri wanders through her experiments aimlessly and angrily, as she has since she was unable to save her brother by duplicating the magic herb destroyed by Killmonger.

On the other side of the ocean, a secret government search for another strain of vibranium is ransacked, with the machine used to detect it captured. It shows up shortly in Wakanda in front of Shuri (Wright) and her mother the queen Ramonda (Bassett), delivered by Namor (Mejía) with the demand that they find the person who has designed it.

Where this goes will be left to the viewer.

The best things about the film are the performances, the soundtrack and the creative exploration of belief and grief. As for the former, Wright, Bassett and Nyong’o give us characters who move between misery, authority and self-reflection with ease. Duke manages to give us a bold patriot, different in temperment but not made to the fool, a trope most films with three female leads might rely. Mejía’s Namor has been fighting for so long, he thinks everyone is an enemy.

The soundtrack is even more a standout than it was the first time around. Con La Brisa, the theme employed when Namor shows his vistor through Tolokan as we learn its history is a highight. There are as many joyful sounds as are there somber reprises. It all stands out for how at one the sounds are with the piece.

The wise thing about the exploration of feelings after the loss is how even in a completely different culture like Wakanda, not everyone swallows their grief down with belief. Ramonda and Shuri’s journey is a significant one with which any parent engaging in a struggle with their children can relate. Coogler and Cole are wise enough to throw stumbling blocks for the hero to overcome that are more psychological than physical.

The drawbacks to the main plot lay primarily in an uninspired third act. It’s kind of a bummer to bring a violent meeting for two fasinating and creative cultures never before seen.

What we have seen before is the fridging of a character to spur on our hero. What it lacks in originality, Wright replaces with authenticity.

This will be in a dead heat for top film of a big year for sequels. It is a worthy, if occasionally slight tale that serves as a solid springboard for a Marvel franchise that right now is happy to have one.

(**** out of *****)

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