Wakanda Forever: Honor the Past, Embrace a New Future


Ryan Coogler reaches for the impossible in Wakanda Forever. Back in 2020, the loss of Chadwick Boseman sent waves of despair over fans waiting for a follow up sequel to Black Panther. How could anyone hope to carry the crown worthy of Boseman's legacy? Add to this Kevin Feige's controversial decision not to recast T'Challa and you get maelstrom of unhappiness set to detonate at the slightest salty social media post.

Truth be told, my hopes for Wakanda Forever didn't amount to much. MCU fatigue is real, and the phase 4 films elicited reactions from me ranging from meh to good-not-great. But as the end of phase 4 draws near, with only the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special coming to limp across the finish line, Coogler manages the unthinkable and produces the best MCU film since Avengers: Endgame. The cynicism we feel at never finding that Marvel magic again becomes the perfect parallel to the Wakandans' doubt that their kingdom can ever recover after the loss of T'Challa. Wakanda Forever is directed by Ryan Coogler, with screenplay co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. 

[L-R]: Dorothy Steel as MERCHANT TRIBE ELDER, Florence Kasumba as AYO, Angela Bassett as RAMONDA, Danai Guirira as OKOYE in WAKANDA FOREVER

The movie opens mid-action just moments before T'Challa passes into the ancestral plane, leaving his family and countrymen in tatters. That business out of the way, the rest of the story focuses on the ones left behind and their attempts to move on. Queen Ramonda (a chiseled Angela Bassett) steps in as monarch, trying to follow the wish of her son to share Wakanda's resources with the world. Meanwhile, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) buries herself in her lab and the development of new technology. Ramonda senses that Shuri hasn't properly healed from her brother's death and invites her to a grieving ceremony. Namor (Tenoch Heurta), the leader of a mysterious new underwater kingdom named Talokan, interrupts their private moment to introduces himself and propose an alliance, proving that the borders of Wakanda are less secure then they believed. Now the Wakandans must decide what to do about this new kingdom -- should they be foes or allies? 

The story manages to balance several plots within its almost three-hour runtime. First and foremost, Wakanda mourns for both T'Challa and the protective presence of the Black Panther. Killmonger's (Michael B. Jordan) hateful decision to burn all the remaining heart-shaped herbs means that no one can ingest the plant and take on the mantle. The world feels less safe. T'Challa's decision to share Wakanda's knowledge opens the door for greedy nations and scavengers who want the vibranium for themselves. Queen Ramonda does her best to maintain a regal presence amongst political powers and let the world know that Wakanda will not be bullied, but she's a woman who has endured much loss. Bassett commands the stage whenever she graces one, but she's the very portrait of a Queen in Wakanda Forever. Her mere presence terrifies me. 

[L-R]: Danai Gurira as OKOYE, Letitia Wright as SHURI in WAKANDA FOREVER

Wakanda Forever includes many stunning performances, but none more so than Letitia Wright as Shuri. She's always been the nerdy and quick-witted scientist who prefers to play a supporting role outside the limelight. T'Challa's death leaves her feeling untethered and unsure of her purpose. She also carries a fair load of survivor's guilt. Out of all the characters in Wakanda Forever, Shuri evolves the most and transforms before our eyes, giving a fascinating and complex portrait a second-born child. 

Then there's the external conflict of Wakanda needing to protect their home from these new invaders. Namor, the leader of the Talokan people introduces the Wakandans and us to a captivating underwater kingdom that resembles Wakanda in many ways. Like Wakanda, the Talokan people stay hidden from sight, protective of their resources. Namor proves to be a dynamic antagonist who defies expectations.


The production design team, fronted by Hannah Beachler (who won an Oscar for Black Panther) creates impressive and rich set pieces that continue and build upon the world we know. The first film stayed mainly in the city center of Wakanda, with all of the luxury of the castle and the ceremonial grounds. In Wakanda Forever, we visit other locales where the citizens live, as well as rustic beaches. Shuri has a new lab and technology, including an AI companion. And then there's the kingdom of Talokan, descended from the Mayan people. Beachler and team build a breathtaking civilization that show up lavishly on the big screen. Talokan is a place we want to linger.  

All of these different plot threads take time to reveal well. Coogler takes his time building the narrative, allowing for quieter moments, as well as pulse-pounding action scenes. Wakanda Forever doesn't rush to get to the point, which may frustrate some viewers, but the movie explores grief and loss like none other in the MCU. This is an epic tale of a family and people in recovery. It's a weightier film overall. 

Lupita Nyong'o as NAKIA in WAKANDA FOREVER

But don't be fooled into thinking it's boring. There's still much to enjoy, and the time never feels long. New technology, surprises, and magnificent costumes await, as well as appearances of favorites like Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Okoye (Dai Gurira), M'Baku (Winston Duke), and Ayo (Florence Kasumba). Most importantly, the film honors Boseman, while paving way for new heroes to arise.  

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the musical score, courtesy of  Ludwig Goransson (Mandalorian, Tenet). Goransson always gives 100% to any assignment, and in Wakanda Forever, he creates music inspired by the cultures celebrated. The score heightens every moment of runtime.  

More than any film since Endgame, Wakanda Forever comes the closest to capturing what it was like to attend an MCU film pre-Endgame. Full of highs and lows, tragedy and celebration, Wakanda Forever is a celebration of life and leaves us hopeful for the future, if not for the MCU as a whole. 

Release info: In theaters November 11, 2022

Final score: 4.5 out of 5