Review by Luke Bradley
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Ryan Coogler, 2022) has every reason not to exist. The tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman in 2020 threw the future of his character into doubt. Well-founded concerns that Disney would go down the route of CGI renderings or tasteless recasting took hold. It’s a great relief that this sequel pays tribute to Boseman’s short yet sensational superhero tenure with appropriate subtlety, sensitivity, and emotion, even if it’s wrapped in an unfortunately homogenous Marvel package.
The film launches straight into addressing the implications of Boseman’s death on his character, and in so doing sets the stage for an excellent performance from Letitia Wright as Shuri. Wright, herself bereaved from her co-star, gives her all in this performance, which sees the character appropriately divorced from her witty debut appearance in the original Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018). Shuri’s preoccupation with her scientific mind presents a compelling clash with the established spirituality of Wakandan culture, alleviating any fears of a less compelling lead character in T’Challa’s absence. While Wright carries the film, fantastic performances from Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett and Lupita Nyong’o round out the raw heart at the narrative’s centre. They carry the film, where other narrative elements – half-baked side-plots and a searingly drab villain – faulter.
Coogler’s direction is assured, presiding over a return to an Oscar-winning formula in world-building. Ruth E. Carter’s costumes are again inspired, Hannah Beachler’s production design mesmerising, Ludwig Göransson’s score bombastically beautiful. It’s a welcome return to such a visually unique corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – yet it doesn’t fully escape the MCU’s increasingly painful trappings. At odds with these gorgeous elements are the typically inconsistent visual effects, a product of both their overuse and of Marvel’s infamously dreadful treatment of VFX artists. So many promising sequences land flat due to noticeably flawed compositions and the obvious use of green screen. Several night-time sequences are borderline incoherent, lost in sloppy VFX and poor editing. It’s a frustrating return of one of the original’s few flaws, exasperated by its service to an even more visually uninteresting climax.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had every right to be a mess, but Coogler and co. deliver a solid experience that pays admirable respect to Boseman and explores the loss of his character in an organic and emotive manner. Regrettably, it veers once again into the inevitable trademark faults of the MCU, faults that grow less tolerable with every instalment. Still, the film is an enjoyable return to Wakanda that does right by Boseman’s legacy.