Film Reviews

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever IMAX review: Dir. Ryan Coogler (2022)

When the tragic news of Chadwick Boseman’s death broke, the question quickly arose of what would happen to any sequel to Black Panther. As part of the behemoth that is the MCU, the film was never going to get cancelled (This is Disney, and there’s money to be made) but the question remained of just how successfully the studio could handle the absence of it’s principal actor. Thankfully director Ryan Coogler handles the loss of Boseman just about as sensitively and tastefully as possible. He deserves credit for showing restraint, making what could be mawkish or tasteless into something that is often profoundly moving. It’s a sign of great respect to Boseman, who brought an irreplaceable mixture of vulnerability dignity and inner strength to his character.

As Wakanda mourns the loss of T’Challa (Boseman), rival nations attempt to obtain a new-found source of Vibranium at any cost. After foiling an unsuccessful attempt to mine the substance from under the sea, the ruthless Namor (Tenoch Huerta) demands that Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and her daughter Shuri (Letitia Wright) join forces with him against the rest of the world, or face his wrath.

Where the film works best is in the characterization of the Wakandan characters, all of whom are given the space to show how they are processing the loss of their leader. All the returning actors do great work with their roles in this respect – Dani Gurira is brilliant as the Dora Milaje General Okoye, bringing added layers and depth to her previous appearance, along with a brittle relationship with Ramonda that pays off in an explosive scene. Winston Duke’s M’Baku is more mature, more measured than he was in the previous film, taking on a more protective role in his relationship with Shuri; Lupita Nyong’o also gives a nicely understated turn as Nakia, who has retreated completely from Wakanda to bury her grief. Nyong’o doesn’t have any big emotional moments, but her pain at losing T’Challa is evident in every scene.

Towering above all though, are Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett. Bassett in particular practically carries the first half of the film. She gives a powerhouse performance, full of warmth and passion, all the while simmering with barely suppressed righteous fury. Letitia Wright is also brilliant, absolutely nailing her characters vulnerability and grief, while retaining at least some of her impish charm. Where her characterization falters is in the film’s final third, where her hunger for vengeance isn’t handled particularly well, and her inevitable return to the light never feels earned. That being said, the closing scene on the beach is just perfect. It’s a breathtaking, genuinely poignant end to the film, providing closure for Shuri, and a heartfelt farewell to T’Challa.

Namor makes an interesting villain, cut from the same cloth as Killmonger although altogether less villainous – He’s only involved in the story due to the perceived threat to his people, which makes for a neat inversion of the “Baddie wants to take over the world” cliche. For the most part Namor is shown as reasonable if ruthless (something that Huerta performs perfectly) so when we finally see him unleashed on Wakanda it’s a devastating sight. The conceptually silly idea of him having wings on his ankles is rendered legitimately threatening as he flits about, out-maneuvering the cities defenses. Also it has to be said that the assault on the mining facility is a wonderfully eerie sequence, with the siren song a particularly creepy touch.

The problems emerge in the film’s second half, when it turns into a much more conventional superhero film, returning to the more formulaic mold of film-making, with some uninspired fight scenes and a predictable finale. At 161 minutes long it’s the longest MCU film to date, and unfortunately feels it. Whenever the film makes concessions to the fact that this is still a franchise film, the plot momentum grinds to a halt, with filler scenes featuring Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) and the underwritten character of Ironheart (Dominique Thorne) who feels crowbarred in to raise the character’s profile for her upcoming TV series.

Shot with Sony Venice IMAX-certified cameras and designed to be viewed on as big a screen as possible, watching the film in IMAX really is the best way to experience it- giving the audience 26% more picture with the expanded aspect ratio. It’s immersive and truly breathtaking, although the 3D experience is a bit of a double edged sword. The epic wide shots of Wakanda and the underwater vistas of Talokan look stunning, but the frenetic, scrappy fight scenes are rendered almost incomprehensible. It’s also a shame that the colours aren’t a bit more interesting – compared to this year’s more audacious MCU offerings the visual effects are often murky and a little bland.

Wakanda Forever is messy, overlong and disappointingly rote, with a conventional plot and cliched final battle that offers little in the way of surprises. However this never diminishes the pathos that fuels the entire film, or of Bassett and Wright’s emotionally charged performances. The story is flawed, but it’s also a sensitively handled, incredibly moving tribute to Chadwick Boseman, that beautifully and meaningfully honors him and his contribution to the film series.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is out now at IMAX cinemas.

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