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Review: ‘Wakanda Forever’ is a compelling and poignant tribute

Photo courtesy Marvel Studios

By Saswat Pati     11/15/22 11:29pm

Rating: ★★★★½

“In my culture, death is only the beginning.” King T’Challa, or Black Panther, says this after the death of his father in “Captain America: Civil War,” and in many ways “Wakanda Forever” is a film that embodies that saying from start to finish. Though likely not the box-office sensation that “Black Panther” was, “Wakanda Forever” still meets its predecessor in story, quality and acting, and even exceeds it in other areas. 

Any discussion of this movie must include an homage to the late Chadwick Boseman, whose performance as the Black Panther resonated with many. Given his tragic and untimely passing in late 2020, it was difficult to see how any sequel could live up to that mantle while addressing such a great loss, but “Wakanda Forever” is able to do this with grace.

The movie opens with T’Challa’s funeral. Though the tragedy is palpable, the depiction of his funeral as both a moment of mourning and a celebration of both the character and the actor’s lives may be one of the most touching film moments in recent memory.

After this, “Wakanda Forever” continues to be a much more personal film than its predecessor. While the main conflict is between Wakanda and Talokan, an Atlantean-like civilization near the Yucatan, the heart of the film focuses on T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri’s journey through grief over her brother’s loss. Letitia Wright’s performance in this role is spectacular, and sometimes it was easy to forget that she is acting. By the end of the film, the audience will feel as if they have gone through a small part of this journey themselves.

In addition to Letitia Wright’s standout performance, Tenoch Huerta also impresses. His performance as the antagonist Namor makes for one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. and a much different character than “Black Panther”’s villain Killmonger. While Killmonger is one of the most compelling villains the MCU has ever had, Namor fits a more traditional comic book villain archetype. Though there are some political undertones in his motivations, they are not as pronounced, and I doubt that his motivations will draw the same amount of discussion and debate that Killmonger’s did. This is not to say that Namor is an underdeveloped villain — in fact, in terms of pure danger, he is one of the best that the MCU has had. From his introduction, the antagonist always feels deadly, and at points it is difficult to see how Shuri and the Wakandans can overcome this threat. Huerta’s performance is arresting and  helps carry the film.

Aside from great acting, “Wakanda Forever” is visually one of the best films of the year with excellent directing from Ryan Coogler. The visual design of Wakanda remains strong, and new locations like the underwater Talokan feel like their own separate worlds. The film’s soundtrack and set design are also impressive, and the  costume design should be contending for an Oscar come February.

I wholeheartedly recommend this movie which is the best Marvel movie since “Avengers: Endgame.” A spectacle from start to finish, the film is a compelling tribute to Boseman, one of the most influential actors of his generation, while giving us a well-developed story with an excellent antagonist. There is no sophomore slump here — audiences should be delighted by “Wakanda Forever.”

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