Chadwick Boseman’s death shocked the world in 2020 and created a vacuum in many lives. Not only was he set up to be a flagship character for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his impact culturally for kids and families across the world made this loss devastating. Director Ryan Coogler had a seemingly impossible task at hand with having to push the story of Wakanda and the larger MCU forward, while also paying tribute to an iconic character and also a close personal friend. Coogler exceeds exceptionally in this task, providing a compelling story that focuses on the grief and emotions of the characters rather than on large world annihiliating events. It pays tribute to Boseman in multiple different ways and wisely opts to take the audience on a similar emotional journey as its central characters. While the film does struggle in certain areas given everything he has to balance, this is undoubtedly one of Marvel’s most mature and poignant films to date.
Wakanda Forever follows Queen Ramonda, Shuri, M’Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje in the wake of King T’Challa’s death as each struggles to manage their grief and move forward as world nations infringe on Wakanda’s resources. A new threat, Namor from the nation of Talokan, emerges and threatens the stability the peace nation of Wakanda now is trying to have. The heroes must band together to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom and protect those they hold dear.
What is immediately refreshing and warranted about Wakanda Forever’s story is that it is primarily character driven as opposed to event driven. The characters have encumbered a devastating loss as they have not only lost a friend and their king, but also the Black Panther who is the protector of their nation. While there are political implications to this, the movie focuses on how each character processes theses events and where that intersects with the larger narrative. Ramonda has now stepped into the position of Queen as she battles off other nations scheming to steal Wakanda’s resources, Shuri throws herself into building new technology to help fortify and defend Wakanda, and Okoye’s sense of duty to Wakanda challenges her positions of defense. Each character’s arc in the story has drastic implications for the plot, as opposed to threats coming on screen for the sake of it. While there are catalysts to move the plot along, the motivations and journeys of the characters is what is at the heart of this film, something that Phase 4 of Marvel hasn’t always been able to capture.
No character benefits and is exalted more than Shuri, and Leticia Wright delivers a phenomenal performance. There are many different emotions that Shuri must balance as her technology and resourcefulness starts to come into conflict with her spiritual pain from losing her brother. The loss of T’Challa has brought her to a powerful breaking, and the way the film navigates her grief, pain, and loss is at the the heart and emotional crux of this movie. I have got to give so much credit to Wright for her performance. She went from being one of the comic relief characters in the first film to the emotional fulcrum and star of the second film, a role she clearly did not sign up for. Yet, she rose to the challenge and every scene she is in is magnificent whether its her quirky humor, her technological intellect, her emotional journey, or how those three all intersect together, she has become one of my absolute favorite characters in the MCU.
Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’O, and Winston Duke as Queen Ramonda, Okoye, Nakia, and M’Baku respectfully all rise up to the challenge of having more to do in this story as well. Each character offers their own blend of inner pain and processing with moments of growth and power. Hearing each character process through the loss of T’Challa allows for a blend of seeing the characters process the character of T’Challa but also the actor in Chadwick Boseman. It’s done gracefully well in a way that doesn’t compromise the story but allows the audience to feel the grief and emotions of its characters as they process through a loss that was unexpected to them in the same way it was unexpected to the rest of the real world. The characters definitely make you feel the range of emotions which just showed me how attached I was to this world.
The villain in Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta, is a great villain for this story that has the appropriate amount of depth and pain to make him standout. While I did not feel he had the sophistication and charisma that Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger did, there is easily a pain to Namor that makes him sympathetic and understandable for his motivations in the story. He never feels too contrived or generic, and the rationale for his actions are understandable given his experience and views on the power structures that currently exist. His scenes with Shuri also help to paint a powerful antithesis on the process of grief and what that can motivate people to do both in a noble and heroic sense but also in a dangerous and vile aspect. The people of Talokan that Namor leads also inject a sense of fear and ferocity to a generic faced army that I appreciated. While some of the effects may not be as polished as the upcoming Avatar will be, I did appreciate the cultural exploration of the people even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights and power of what we feel towards Wakanda.
The film does falter a little in terms of juggling a lot of moving parts, and could easily have trimmed 20 minutes off the runtime by taking out certain plot threads and characters. Namely Everett Ross and Riri Williams, while enjoyable and have ties to the plot, didn’t need as much focus and time as I felt they did. Their inclusion just inject some life and humor into the film that could have otherwise been morose and dreary, but I feel if they were excluded the focus could have been a little narrowed for the characters of Wakanda. It was nothing that drastically took away from my experience of the film, but there is a delicate balance of telling a good standalone story and introducing new characters to push the overall narrative forward that did hinder the movie briefly at times.
This movie can definitely feel slow at times, but in the way that the beginning of Avengers: Endgame is slow due to character building moments. While I will say the action is quite strong and exciting in this film, especially the third act showdown, it never is truly about getting to these moments. It’s all about the characters, their journeys, their grief, their pain, and their emotional arcs that is the crux of this story. Marvel made the wise decision to not cash in for another effects heavy blockbuster, but honor the memory of Boseman through its characters. I will take slow, thoughtful, and character driven pieces over big action set pieces any day of the week.
The themes of grief and loss are what carry this movie and I cannot give more respect to Ryan Coogler and the rest of the team for pulling off what they did. They were dealt an impossible hand and they rose to the challenge exceedingly well. The use of silence to mourn for Boseman is a small yet powerful detail in the film that brings all the right feelings and emotions that we all certainly feel. Watching this film certainly makes me miss Boseman a lot, and the impact he had on our culture today through his silent yet powerful demeanor as T’Challa. Wakanda Forever is a bold and powerful film that closes out Phase 4 of Marvel with a nuanced and mature story. I definitely recommend checking this one out in the theaters. WAKANDA FOREVER!!!!
(A-) Emotionally Powerful