The 2018 film Black Panther was a tremendous success, far beyond what people expected. The film introduced most filmgoers to Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation hidden in Africa, and created a star out of Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa, King of Wakanda, and doubled as Black Panther, a mythically strong superhero who defended Wakanda against all threats, internal and external. It offered a tantalizing vision of a nation that had technology far beyond our own, existing in harmony with its tribal African roots, and made Boseman a superstar in the Hollywood firmament. Boseman sadly passed away in 2020, leaving the franchise in turmoil; would someone replace him as Black Panther in the Wakandian universe, or would they retire the classic Marvel hero after the demise of its cinematic star?
The new film Wakanda Forever answers those questions in an engaging and exciting manner, bringing us back to Wakanda as the royal family and nation continue to mourn the loss of its T’Challa. Most affected by the loss is his devoted sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), the brilliant, tempestuous scientist leading the tech revolution in Wakanda. In a nod to the endless exploitation of African nations by other countries, the film is also about access to scarce mineral resources, specifically Vibranium, a metal with fantastic properties that’s only found within Wakanda. Captain America’s marvelous bullet-proof shield? That’s made of Vibranium. Create a Vibranium detector and you could theoretically discover Wakanda’s secret location. Vibranium can also power enormously powerful weapons, so it’s no surprise that other nations are eager to get their hands on some, often through any means, fair or foul.
That’s the jumping-off point for Wakanda Forever, and it’s genius Cambridge University student Riri (Dominique Thorne) who invents a gadget that she’s sure is benign but others find far more interesting, a gadget whose implications prove a threat to the fragile world order of nations. Among other things, it draws Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who is more than ready to aggressively protect his own hidden domain, even if he has to set the world on fire to do so. There’s lots more to the plot, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, let’s stop at this point!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going through a rather dull patch with its last few movies, notably the tepid Eternals, a film that was barely engaging enough to have succeeded as a straight-to-streaming Disney+ release, the tonally clumsy Thor: Love and Thunder, and the baffling visual effects sizzle reel of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. There have been some winners in what is being called Phase Four, most notably the terrific Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but overall the MCU has needed a shot in the proverbial arm and that’s just what Wakanda Forever offers. In a way that is very similar to the first Black Panther film, it offers a new and exciting world that is hip to our modern society but adds enough interesting technologies and cultural artifacts that it’s also both fun and thrilling.
The performances are excellent, including the fierce warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the regal and passionate Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), T’Challa and Shuri’s mother, along with the sly leader of his own Wakandan tribe M’Baku (Winston Duke). The visuals are great, the soundtrack (other than the closing track by Rihanna, which I felt was meh) is terrific, and the sets and world building is exceptional, but what really makes Wakanda Forever work as a film is that it continually surprised me with its twists and turns. So many comic book movies are highly predictable, making them dull vehicles for superheroes to beat each other up in ways that are increasingly unbelievable, so just as Shang-Chi surprised with its melding of traditional superhero fare and Eastern mythology, so does Wakanda Forever offer up a fun and surprising storyline that blends African tribal mythology with contemporary Western culture, a mashup that will keep you glued to your seat for its rather long running time.
Are there issues and hiccups with the movie, both in the storyline and in some of the seemingly rushed visual effects? Yes. Is it a bit inexplicable that Wakanda exists in the same universe as The Avengers, yet none come to help the beleaguered nation? Yes. Are these enough to mar the experience of the film? Not at all. I enjoyed the heck out of Wakanda Forever and recommend it, particularly on a big screen with a great sound system. You’ll have a blast.