Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Film Review

The anticipation of Wakanda Forever’s release, as the new Black Panther film, is likely to stir up many memories and emotions. Four years have indeed passed since that initial, triumphant introduction to the Black Panther and the world of Wakanda, that uniquely embraced its African American cultural heritage, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and inspired so many future generations simply through its visual representation. It was a film that empowered many children, who saw others like themselves on screen, to believe that one day they too could have similar opportunities available to them. To this day, there are even exhibits at the Science Museum in London that re-create Shuri’s lab to provide that career inspiration for young girls to enter the field of science and technology with a film set lighting technician’s role on display. We will always remember just how jubilant we felt after the ending of that Black Panther film and that collective celebration.

Since then, the tone within the world has shifted to represent a battle weary and scarred landscape with Ryan Coogler’s Wakanda Forever aptly resonating such experiences. The emotions certainly run high for Wakanda Forever and its association with that date of 28 August 2020 will forever remain embedded within the consciousness of film fans. The world awoke, on such date, to the news of the passing of lead actor Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa aka Black Panther. Wakanda Forever addresses Boseman’s passing and is that beautiful, soulful legacy providing a memorable, fitting tribute to Boseman which permits that collective mourning that we all sought.

Letitia Wright as Shuri in Wakanda Forever
Letitia Wright as Shuri in Wakanda Forever

Whilst Wakanda Forever may also signal the ending of the films featuring in the Phase 4 chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with Black Widow and included films such as Spider Man: No Way Home, it is certainly not necessary to have watched any of those films to be re-immersed in the world of Wakanda. Coogler once more delivers a nuanced film and permits the breathing space for audiences to linger within the emotional journey of its characters as Boseman’s passing is integrated in a tender, satisfying way that is bound to trigger emotional reflection.

Certainly, there are familiar elements from Black Panther to provide a degree of comfort with many characters reprising their roles such as M’Baku, Nakia and Okoye but Coogler chooses to take the audience in a different emotional direction. The spectacular, thrilling battle scenes still appear, with a new adversary for Wakanda to face, and the cultural humour also remains but Coogler senses our need collectively to mourn Boseman onscreen and delivers this. As such, the film contrasts the vibrant colour palette of Wakanda’s plentiful land and sunsets with the muted colours of the characters’ outfits and the sombre but celebratory traditional rituals observed. Wakanda Forever represents that maturity of a trauma hit nation attempting to regain its identity but retaining a modicum of isolationism and protectionism against the external world.

Winston Duke as M'Baku in Wakanda Forever
Winston Duke as M’Baku in Wakanda Forever

Coogler’s direction depicts this mourning period with subtle silences, and effective pauses in the score, but he thoroughly delves into the impact of grief on the individual characters. Wakanda Forever still provides complex, strong female characters, who have different approaches to the outpouring of grief, and Coogler expertly takes us through the five stages of grief slowly from denial to acceptance and remains there patiently whilst we also work through a sense of loss. This experience will be appreciated as Coogler continues to interweave this concept of legacy and the importance of ancestors once more, through comments uttered by T’Challa’s family or imagery of the past, which will tug at the heart strings.

Having personally experienced the loss of a sibling, Wakanda Forever sadly resonated in many ways. The sense of isolation, the anger and need for distractions that Shuri employs as coping mechanisms were instantly recognisable to Coogler’s credit and the emotional experience just felt so raw to someone who has encountered all of those stages too. The effect of grief is so unpredictable, and the pain is immense that the reluctance to experience the pain fully is often preferable, similar to Shuri’s experience. This inertia is captured perfectly by Coogler, in a humane way, which also highlights that potential to lose our humanity if we inadvertently allow ourselves to become consumed by grief. Queen Ramonda provides that impressive support system with wise advice in a regal, elegant tour de force performance from Angela Bassett, who remains compassionate but fiercely loyal to her family and is certainly a woman that many of us would wish to have fighting on our behalf. Her knowledge of grief is subtly explored by Coogler, in one of many heart wrenching moments in the film, but her character also provides that positive balance as a reminder that heartbreak can be channelled into a strength when facing adversities.

Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda in Wakanda Forever

Wakanda Forever still takes the opportunity to introduce new characters that fans of the comic series will recognise and provides an emotional arc for their backgrounds. At its heart, the film illustrates that importance of family, retaining the memories of loved ones that have passed but also emphasises the need, day by day, to enter a new chapter of life slowly, which is always daunting. All of which is fully underlined by a moving score by Ludwig Göransson which perfectly captures the emotions and battle urgency that pervade the film.

Wakanda Forever is a beautiful, moving film with highs and lows. Whilst it may feel lengthy and has striking directional choices, the care and attention that Coogler has undertaken to craft a film that equally pays homage to the spirit of the Black Panther and to the memory of Boseman is extraordinary. Coogler has once again demonstrated his superb directorial flair and created an unmissable multi-faceted film with several themes, including nature, life and death, to unpack beyond its superhero film surface; just don’t forget to bring some tissues.

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