‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review: A satisfying sequel that falls shy of greatness

You can only let a movie studio get away with something for so long. As my son bluntly stated after leaving “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” their movies make less sense with each entry. There was a ten minute talk on the drive home about the usage of grenades and how they actually applied to the story. Suffice to say, the MCU has gotten a little sloppy after their resounding Phase (whatever) finish in “Avengers Endgame.”

One could hope that their latest entry, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” would take what they’ve collectively done in the past and enhance the stage. While “Doctor Strange and The Multiverse of Madness” was a nice B-side spin to everything produced before it, its zany and overworked brain left some to be desired in the story department. The same could be said for the partially funny yet fleeting “Thor: Love and Thunder” in May, which played like a good time live before running away from my memory.

“Wakanda Forever” carries extra weight heading in, picking up events after the sudden death of Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa. Co-writer/director Ryan Coogler and his cast had to do the same after the unfortunate death of Boseman back in 2020 from cancer. From the special opening credits to the handful of soulful sequences in the movie, the tribute to the fallen star is plentiful. One could argue that it pulls too much away from the focus of the film, which sees Wakanda and its inhabitants/allies/army move on after the loss and deal with a new foe.

The new foe in town is Namor, the serpent god of the sea that is anxious to know if Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and her nation of high tech and dangerous yet accepting nation is a threat or a teammate. The priceless vibranium, the metal that powers Wakanda’s weapons and machinery, absorbs and distributes extraordinarily amounts of energy. There’s a hook in the first act that evens the playing field a bit, but that’s not the real go-go element here. The X-factor is T’Challa’s sister and top weapons/suit maker, Shuri (Letitia Wright), someone who can access and possibly fill the Black Panther suit.

The rest doesn’t need to be spoiled and can be figured out by an eleven-year-old, something my son proved after the movie was over. How does it all come together? Does it sparkle, or just create a good movie? Marvel has chased down the highlight reels of its past successes for a long time, and that shows up in many spots here.

But every time the movie starts to slow down or stuff too much composition into its running time-hey, Namor and his family/army used to be good-it loses its momentum. Most of the time, this happens when we’re spending time with Namor or the legacy of T’Challa. Paying tribute to the man was necessary, but the basis of much of its sequel’s story was a choice that throws off the balance in the film’s agenda. Since it’s Marvel and more movies must be made, it’s world-building and next sequel formatting.

“Wakanda Forever” is at its best during its handful of thrilling action sequences. Coupled with a booming score and fine stunt work, the action is what sets this movie apart. That and Bassett’s powerful work. If there’s one compelling callback to the lost T’Challa that really works, it’s the Queen who has seemingly lost a good chunk of her family and now is faced with its greatest threat. She raises everyone’s game around her when on screen, including Wright and Danai Gurira (reprising her role as Wakanda’s fiercest General).

It’s not that the supporting cast doesn’t put in fine work. Wright, Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, and the charismatic Winston Duke put in good work, acquitted themselves well and helped the story. Tenoch Huerta has solid moments as the mighty Namor, whom the audience gets an easy read on early in the film. All of them are fine, just like the movie itself.

All things considered, “Wakanda Forever” is a success. Picking up the pieces from Boseman’s passing and putting together a sequel that was originally designed around him couldn’t have been easy. The scope and sound of the film are there. Aesthetically, the special effects and world-building elements are impressive if recycled from earlier Marvel movies.

The culprit here is the screenplay, and how it bites a lot off that it can’t really chew. This pushes into the pacing and editing of the film, which runs too long at two hours and 41 minutes. You have a good idea what’s going to happen by the midway mark, so the rest is waiting on the villains to allow the hero to get powerful and put up a good fight. The logic lost there and throughout the film-what my son pointed out afterwards-is what keeps this film from being a truly great film. A movie that you remember vividly as a whole, instead of certain pieces.

The post credits scenes equal ONE, not three as rumored. It is a fitting dessert for the film’s overpacked story, even if it doesn’t move the needle too much more for me. There are infuriating aspects of the movie that ring true in previous MCU adventures, such as a very powerful individual playing a game that makes it better for the movie and not somewhere resembling reality. The kinds of details that are also called spoilers, something Marvel hates for you to know going in. If I told you, it’d be a simple nod.

The greatness just doesn’t exist here. Before you say it doesn’t have to be great, hold on a second. These are monstrous budgets and the expectations are always high, something Kevin Feige and company did to themselves with the success and durable allure of the earlier movies. Yes, you will wonder what the movie would have looked like with Boseman, or with a better overall dynamic–one that isn’t so predictable.

That used to work for Marvel. These days, the staleness or lack of spark is more apparent than ever. “Wakanda Forever” is a satisfying action adventure that loses its luster during the slower scenes, something that wasn’t always a problem in these heightened worlds. The result is a fine movie. Nothing more. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe these movies are getting old… like me.

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