Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

One year after the death of T'Challa with Shuri (Letitia Wright) struggling to find her place after failing to save her brother, Namor (Tenoch Huerta, "The Forever Purge") the king of a hidden undersea nation with a second vibranium source, arrives to propose Wakanda team up with them against a western world intent on stealing it.  But Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is disturbed by his plans and allows Okoye (Danai Gurira) to take Shuri into the  field to rescue the M.I.T. student, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne, "If Beale Street Could Talk"), who created the vibranium detector which threatened Namor’s Talokan in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Laura's Review: B

Cowriter (with "Black Panther's" Joe Robert Cole)/director Ryan Coogler was wise to people his Wakanda with so many powerful women and while two of their fates are surprising, the stage is solidly set to continue the African nation’s saga with them in charge. In the film’s opening minutes, Shuri races against the clock searching for her brother, T’Challa’s, unnamed illness until her mother enters the lab with heartbreaking news.  A funeral of epic proportions ensues, Wakandans all attired in white, dancers performing in the procession which takes T’Challa’s coffin to be lifted into the sky.  Marvel’s opening credit sequence follows, a near silent tribute to Chad Boseman’s Black Panther.          

One year later, a commanding Queen Ramonda appears before a UN, France in particular, determined to meddle in securing her vibranium, but she turns the tables by marching in the squad of ‘a member nation,’ just captured breaking into a Wakandan Field Outpost by Okoye, Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and Aneka (Michaela Coel, HBO's 'I May Destroy You'), proving that not only can Wakanda take care of itself but UN hypocrisy.  The latter is underlined when we’re given a brief introduction to Talokanil, a people born of exploitation, before the Wakandans learn of their existence, when a U.S. mission to procure underwater vibranium fails spectacularly under their attack, its mission director’s (Lake Bell) helicopter sucked into the sea.

Meanwhile, Okoye and Shuri arrive at M.I.T. and after some good natured fashion sparring, Shuri finds Riri and gains enough trust to be taken to the garage work space to see her machine.  But before they can depart, the F.B.I. surrounds the building and a 3-way chase scene ensues, culminating in fiery car crashes and Shuri’s abduction by Talokanil arriving on whales in the Charles River.  Ramonda, despondent over losing another family member after being reluctant to grant Okoye’s request, strips the general of her military duties and travels to Haiti, where she convinces War Dog Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) to infiltrate Talokan and rescue Shuri.

And so “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” delves into “Aquaman/Avatar” territory with its underwater kingdom while Shuri is faced with a big decision, one which, once made, forces her to confront what type of leader she will be.  It is a tale of two bracelets, Shuri’s found on the Mass. Ave. bridge by ‘colonizer’ ally Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) after her abduction while Namor presents her with a 16th century Mayan one worn by his mother. 

Like all MCU movies, the film eventually wears out its welcome with ceaseless battles and an extensive running time (2 hours and 41 minutes), but the film’s set up is undeniably exciting and its cast exceptional.  Angela Bassett excels as the strong, fierce queen carrying a weighty burden of grief while Letitia Wright steps up to the challenge of becoming a leader.  Gurira nails another emotional journey but newcomer Coel seems out of step.  Tenoch Huerta, with his blue skin, pointed ears and winged ankles is a worthy, exotic opponent, both villain and possibly duplicitous ally.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus adds spiky humor as a foil to her ex, Everett.

The most notable aspect of the production is Ruth Carter's jaw-dropping costume design, which surpasses her work on the first film.  Others are hit and miss, Wakanda introduced in a murky haze, the underwater nation failing to stand out, a Wakandan war ship oddly designed.  Ludwig Göransson’s score has power, but Rhianna’s original song, ‘Lift Me Up,’ left me shrugging.

While there is a credulity-stretching coda shortly after the closing credits begin and an additional memoriam to Chadwick Boseman, those waiting through the entire end credits will be disappointed to find no stinger.  “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s” momentum ebbs and flows, but its powerful females move the franchise forward.

Disney's Marvel Studios opens "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" in theaters on 11/11/22.