Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a masterpiece of a sequel. The film had to navigate many difficulties on its path to the silver screen, chief of which was the heartbreaking and untimely loss of its lead star Chadwick Boseman. But as we all hoped, Wakanda Forever is indeed a love letter to Boseman – one that keeps his memory alive in beautiful ways and weaves a breathtaking story of grief, loss, love, and hope renewed.
It’s one week before the Black Panther sequel becomes available on Disney+ and Digital (February 1, 2023), and the film will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on February 7th. Here’s my spoiler-filled review and look back at Wakanda Forever in the lead-up. For more of our thoughts on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, be sure to check out this episode of The Cosmic Circle podcast as well.
[Warning: Spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are below!]
Shuri as the next Black Panther
The loss of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa ripples throughout Wakanda Forever, but the way it affects his sister Shuri is particularly profound. Struggling with her inability to cure his illness, Letitia Wright brings a depth of rage and suffering to Shuri you’d never expect based on the first film.
Wright is a powerhouse in Wakanda Forever. Her impeccable performance anchors the entire film. Shuri’s transformation into the Black Panther takes her to unimaginable heights, making her one of the best characters in the whole MCU. In my opinion, Letitia Wright delivers the best lead performance in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe – and I desperately wish she was getting more awards recognition for her work here.
Refusing to grieve T’Challa’s death and then faced with the unexpected loss of her mother, Shuri’s emotions explode in a complex expression of grief and anger that takes her to dark, dangerous places. Wakanda Forever’s third act turns Shuri into a superhero unlike any other. Facing off with Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the Ancestral Plane fuels her rage, with Shuri giving into vengeance in a shocking, emotional way that immediately sets her apart from T’Challa.
Shuri’s Black Panther is like no other previous protector of Wakanda. In the first film, she was a young, genius princess who provided valuable backup and tech support. She disregarded tradition and strove to modernize Wakanda, ruffling some feathers in the process. But in this sequel, as Shuri looks into the eyes of her own Black Panther suit for the first time, her strength radiates off the screen in waves strong enough to knock you back. Shuri isn’t ruffling feathers anymore – she’s slicing them off with a pure, unbridled strength befitting the Black Panther.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a film about mothers and daughters
If Black Panther was a film about fathers and sons, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the perfect mother-daughter follow-up. Angela Bassett delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Queen Ramonda, the grief-stricken isolated ruler of the most powerful nation on Earth. Unable to get through to her daughter and help her express her own grief, Ramonda faces challenges both at home and abroad.
Ramonda’s greatest weakness is her emotion, though. While we absolutely sympathize with the grief fueling her decisions, they are made in haste and ultimately result in her own death and a war between Wakanda and Talokan. But who can blame her? Firing Okoye (Danai Gurira) might seem like a step too far, but you can’t argue with Ramonda’s reasoning.
Ramonda’s fears resonate even more when you remember that both her children died in the Blip, something I wish Wakanda Forever touched on a little bit more. She may have gotten her kids back five years later, but losing her son for the second time made her understandably overprotective of Shuri.
Shuri’s actions in the wake of Ramonda’s death are identical to T’Challa’s in Captain America: Civil War, a connection I didn’t expect but absolutely loved. And when Ramonda pulls Shuri back from the brink in her final battle against Namor, I love that she gives Shuri the same advice she gave T’Challa during one of his greatest battles: “show him who you are”.
Ramonda isn’t a perfect ruler by any means, but she is a human one. Her loving relationship with Shuri forms one of the best parent-child pairings in the MCU, right up there with the stark contrast between T’Challa and T’Chaka.
Namor’s kingdom under the sea
As for our resident underwater dwellers, I adored everything about Talokan! Everything from the production design to their creepy siren singing was executed perfectly. Maybe a little too perfectly, in fact.
Namor was a fantastic antagonist, but the movie succeeded in making me hate him so much that I was almost screaming for Shuri to kill him. Yes, he’s incredibly attractive. Yes, he has an emotional backstory with perfect motivations. But he’s the one who started beefing with Wakanda immediately and then had the audacity to assassinate their grieving queen?
Wakanda did technically shoot first, but Namor was antagonizing them from the beginning by threatening to attack in his first meeting with Ramonda and Shuri. His methods were questionable at best and I thought it was very excessive for him to want to fight the entire planet because someone found vibranium in the ocean. Threats like Val are absolutely real and dangerous, but I found Namor impossible to defend given how needlessly aggressive he was.
It made Namor a perfect villain and I loved how much I hated him, but it also meant I had no interest in seeing him become an antihero by the film’s end. After Ramonda’s death, all I wanted was for Shuri to kill Namor even though I knew it wouldn’t happen. On subsequent viewings, my feelings mellowed out and while I definitely want to see more of Namor, in all honesty, he deserved a lot worse.
I feel like I’m one of the few who adored all the politics of Wakanda Forever. Talokan having their own vibranium was a stroke of genius and I loved the geopolitical arms race T’Challa inadvertently kicked off by revealing Wakanda’s secrets. If I’ve got one complaint, it’s that we didn’t see enough of Wakanda’s new place in the world, although they were understandably isolated due to the loss of their king.
Val’s scenes were edited awkwardly into the movie but I loved seeing Julia Louis-Dreyfus here. I thought her presence only proved Namor right, lending credence to his warmongering ambitions. Of course, this is all setting up a massive crossover in Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts, but it’s about time we got some good worldbuilding in Phase Four. I can’t wait to see Val get her own vibranium, and I can’t wait to see a live-action war between Wakanda and the U.S. after it was teased in What If…?.
Wakanda Forever’s weaknesses
While I loved 90% of the film, Wakanda Forever still has some issues. As mentioned previously, Val’s scenes were inserted strangely at times and could have been integrated better. I thought the Blip should have been addressed more, but after reading the script I understand why scenes dwelling on it were removed. I wish they had remained, but the movie is already pretty long so it seems they were simply cut for time.
My biggest problem with the movie was Okoye’s arc, which also seems to have been cut for time. Everything with Okoye up to and including her firing was fantastic, but her role afterward felt aimless and unfulfilling. The idea of a civilian Okoye is fascinating but Wakanda Forever doesn’t dwell on it at all. Instead, it throws her into a Midnight Angels suit alongside a character who’s had five minutes of screentime.
In fact, the Dora Milaje in general is the weakest part of the movie, which is particularly disappointing given how amazing they’ve been in previous projects. Florence Kasumba’s Ayo is a fan-favorite who finally got her chance to shine in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but still gets little to do in the actual Black Panther films. There’s an interesting storyline hidden somewhere about Ayo becoming general and being in love with her subordinate Aneka, but Wakanda Forever doesn’t even show Ayo’s promotion onscreen.
Speaking of Aneka, I couldn’t believe that the MCU would waste the talented Michaela Coel. I’m sure we’ll see Aneka in the future but she didn’t really contribute anything to Wakanda Forever. When Okoye recruits her for the Midnight Angels, she remarks what a rebellious spirit Aneka has. That line almost made me laugh because we didn’t see any rebellion apart from Aneka fighting with daggers for a few seconds.
Aneka’s storyline also seems to occur mostly offscreen, which is awkward and makes the viewer feel like they missed a few scenes. But then again, I guess we are missing them. Based on the script and teaser trailer, the Dora Milaje storylines were cut for time. There were many more scenes involving Okoye, Ayo, and Aneka that would have given them actual arcs instead of truncated moments of supposed character development.
I think cutting the Dora storylines is Wakanda Forever’s biggest mistake since their removal weakens what is otherwise an extremely solid film. I don’t care that the movie is already 160 minutes long. I’d rather have a 170-minute film that properly develops the arcs it sets up, especially since everything that was cut is actually good. Bring on the three-hour director’s cut!
Where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ranks in the MCU
Other people may not feel as strongly about Wakanda Forever as I do. I think it’s one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen and certainly the best second entry in the entire MCU (sorry, Winter Soldier). The way this film builds upon its predecessor, from its themes to lines of dialogue, is nothing short of excellent.
Despite being an interconnected universe, the MCU often drops threads entirely from one solo movie to the next. With Wakanda Forever, it’s the complete opposite. Shuri’s arc alone parallels and contrasts T’Challa’s from both Civil War and Black Panther so magnificently that I had to write an entire article about it!
Wakanda Forever is such a strong step forward for the Black Panther franchise that you’ll never be able to look at the first film the same way again. While that’s true of some other MCU movies, I’ve never felt it to this degree. Next time you rewatch Black Panther, how will you look at Shuri without thinking about her suiting up as the Black Panther for the first time? How will you watch Killmonger burn the garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb without thinking about how he’s ultimately dooming T’Challa, Ramonda, and countless Wakandans?
To me, that is the central success of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It’s an unforgettable film that forever reframes the way we see the Wakandan corner of the MCU. If the Dora storylines hadn’t been cut, I genuinely think Wakanda Forever would be the closest to perfect an MCU movie would ever get. I’ll always have minor nitpicks (why would you go to war with underwater people ON A BOAT??) but if those Dora Milaje scenes weren’t cut, every character’s arc would have been meaningfully completed.
Regardless, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a triumph for the MCU, particularly considering its fraught production. Ryan Coogler and his team have taken one of the greatest losses in their lives and turned it into a beautiful tribute to their friend and a powerful step forward for the franchise Chadwick Boseman began. I cannot wait to see what’s next for the Black Panther and her country.