Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) is a beautifully poignant, character-focused sequel

The final film in the MCU’s Phase 4 is here, and it’s one of the best chapters since Avengers: Endgame (2019), if not in the MCU’s entirety. This poignant sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever follows the people of Wakanda as they strive to protect their nation from a new world power in the wake of King T’Challa’s death.

Following the emotional gut-punch that is the death of King T’Challa and of course, Chadwick Boseman, the tone is set for a deeply emotional narrative where loss and grief are its central themes. The entire film, right down to individual character arcs, is driven by this deeply emotional blending of real-world and in-universe events. It’s all written and directed beautifully well by Ryan Coogler, who has very clearly put his heart into this project. It all results in one of the best-written character-centric narratives of the MCU. I’d go so far as to say you could even make a claim for it to be the most well-written MCU film thanks to the brilliant dialogue, strong characters and how it’s the character arcs that push the story forward, rather than the hero-villain conflict.

It’s a captivating character study, not only delving deep into the character of Shuri (Letitia Wright), but also looking at how this loss has affected an entire nation of people, regardless of any personal relation to King T’Challa. It’s an approach that transcends being ‘just a movie’ and speaks to fans on a personal level. There’s certainly still an engaging hero vs villain backdrop, but it’s refreshing to see it take a backseat for most of the film.

Speaking on the hero vs villain story, it’s a lot more layered than what we typically get in MCU entries. As much as this feels like a Black Panther film, so much time is spent on introducing and developing Namor’s backstory (Tenoch Huerta) that it could just as easily be his film. The reason why Namor is instantly one of my favourite MCU villains is because he’s fleshed out as a layered character first and foremost, before being treated like a ‘villain’. His backstory and motivations are extensively explored to where not only do you understand what his drives are, but there’s points in which is easy to agree with his sentiments. Sometimes sympathetic, sometimes terrifyingly violent, this is the making of an awesome villain.

Stretching beyond the narrative, this is an objectively beautiful film – and it’s not just down to the visual effects. Yes, the visuals are awesome – every single shot (except for one) is stunning to look at – but it’s the costuming that really excels for me. Ruth E. Carter won her first and only Oscar for her work on Black Panther (2018), and it’s almost a guarantee that she wins in again for this film. The costuming across the board is absolutely exquisite, with every character both in and out of Wakanda turning heads when they walk on screen.

Cast-wise, there are some incredibly powerful performances in this film. Both Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett (Queen Ramonda) stand out with two mesmerising displays. Bassett especially has a few key scenes in here where she digs deep and delivers some riveting speeches, really enhancing the already-great dialogue she’s given. Letitia Wright delivers an emotionally-charged performance that’s beautifully authentic and touching, while also effectively showing off a little edginess. Then there’s Danai Gurira (Okoye) and Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), who may be limited to supporting roles, but they make a huge impact on both the story and its emotional weight. I mentioned Namor as a great character, but Tenoch Huerta’s alluring and at-times intimidating performance only elevates the character further.

In the end, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a triumph, especially considering it had to overcome the hurdle of losing the element which made the character of Black Panther so beloved. Ryan Coogler has crafted a touching narrative that honours the memory of Chadwick Boseman and King T’Challa, using them to drive the story forward and further flesh out characters like Shuri. Complete with a top-notch villain, stunning costumes and a slew of powerful performances, this is an MCU entry more than worthy of your attention.

9/10

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