by Rob DiCristino
This review spoils plot, character, and cameo details for Wakanda Forever.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not the film writer/director Ryan Coogler intended to make when he signed on for a sequel to his 2018 smash hit. It couldn’t possibly be. Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death midway through pre-production made it impossible to continue T’Challa’s story, that of a young monarch fighting to harmonize tradition and modernity, to atone for sins of the father and bring his proud but reclusive country into diplomatic maturity. Like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker before it, there’s a degree to which Wakanda Forever feels stillborn — it’s a consolation prize, the best Coogler and his team could produce under the circumstances. Electing not to recast their iconic lead character (maybe even learning from the disastrous reappropriation of Carrie Fisher footage in Skywalker), Coogler and Marvel chose instead to use T’Challa’s death as the emotional core of a new story, one in which his surviving family and countrymen struggle to defend a nation still grieving the loss of its most venerated champion.
Namor’s nationalism turns deadly, however, when Shuri refuses to hand Williams over to his execution squads. His warriors overwhelm Okoye (who is subsequently exiled for her failures) and kidnap the princess. Ramonda then enlists Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) — who emigrated to Haiti after T’Challa’s death — to find Shuri, while Namor details the history of his ancient Mayan people and the oppression they faced at the hands of conquistadors. Talokan and Wakanda are of common cause, Namor explains to Shuri, but when Nakia absconds with his captives, he launches a brutal attack on the capital city that results in more royal fatalities and the retreat of Wakanda’s population into the Jabari tribeland ruled by M’Baku (Winston Duke). Unable to mount an effective defense without the Black Panther, Shuri sets about developing a synthetic substitute for the now-extinct heart-shaped flower that gave the fearsome warrior his power. As Namor sets the stage for a final showdown, a new face takes up the legendary mantle.
Instead, Wakanda Forever gets lost in the weeds early on and never recovers. It’s great to see familiar faces like Lupita Nyong’o and Martin Freeman, but they have no place in this story, and their threadbare plotlines (including appearances from MCU TV’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus) further destabilize an already unfocused narrative to no measurable benefit. Most disastrous, though, is the full act devoted to supergenius Riri Williams. Dominique Thorne is pleasant enough in the role, but time devoted to her vibranium detector and Ironheart suit would have been better spent on Shuri’s — our alleged protagonist — emotional development or her unlikely commiseration with the brooding Namor. Esoteric works like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness may invite world-expanding crossover events, but Wakanda Forever is no place for a backdoor television pilot. A filmmaker of Coogler’s calibur should be exempt from this level of feckless studio interference. I want to believe there was nothing he could do about it.