By Lynn Venhaus
Visually engaging and girl-power savvy, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is at its most heartfelt grieving for its king, and the larger-than-life actor whose absence is deeply felt.
After the untimely death of King T’Challa’s death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers and a hidden undersea nation. They work on forging a new path for the future of Wakanda.
There is so much goodwill for the cultural phenomenon that is Marvel’s first black superhero and the groundbreaking big, bold spectacle released in 2018 to universal acclaim, that it’s unfortunate the sequel suffers from sensory overload.
Technically, it’s dazzling, and the same elements that were so noteworthy in the first – seamless state-of-the-art visual effects, the cultural rhythms in Ludwig Goransson’s score, breathtaking production design by Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s striking looks retain their grandeur.
New cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, an Emmy nominee for Marvel’s “Loki,” showcases fictional Wakanda’s natural beauty and makes the panoramic vistas shimmer.
At the 2019 Academy Awards, “Black Panther” won three Oscars – first ever for Marvel Studios — and also made history for Carter becoming the first African American woman to win in costume design, and Beachler, who was the first woman of color to not only win for production design but to be nominated. Goransson won for his score.
With his keen eye for nature and scientific wonder, director Ryan Coogler is also mindful of presenting Wakanda’s customs and heritage as something very special.
Because the original was a game-changer, it was such a joyous experience along with other awed moviegoers. But now, after Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death from colon cancer in August 2020, the void is overwhelming and casts a large shadow over the film.
Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay (and original) with Joe Robert Cole, offers a fitting tribute to Chadwick as T’Challa throughout the film, using footage of the actor in all his regal glory. That loss is inescapable – and the sadness is conveyed in the film’s characters, the actors playing the roles, and touching the audience.
It’s as if the film has the weight of the world on its shoulders and can’t transcend the reality that they were faced with in making the follow-up.
Then, there is the mammoth plot Coogler and Cole have crafted, turning the sequel into a very busy geopolitical thriller. To preserve their nation’s currency that is Vibranium, the royal family and warriors go to great lengths to protect their country. They must deal with shady U.S. operatives and a hidden under-the-sea nation not unlike the Aquaman lair.
As the enemies and conflicts become very complicated, it’s a chore to watch massive CGI battles with only perfunctory character interaction and only a smidgen of humor, especially for its 2 hours, 41 minutes runtime.
Nevertheless, the cast is strong top to bottom, with the spotlight on the extraordinary women. In fact, it might be the greatest advertisement for women to pursue STEM careers ever, showcasing their big brains using technology to solve problems and advance heroism.
In a much larger role, Angela Bassett is superb as smart and strong Queen Ramonda, with fearless Letitia Wright meeting her moment as brilliant scientist Shuri, a very different kind of princess.
Other forces to be reckoned with include fierce Danai Gurira as Okoye, resilient Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia and the new character, Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, an MIT math whiz and innovative inventor.
Also impressive is Tenoch Huerta as Namor, the underwater kingdom ruler.
It goes without saying that you must stay for the additional scene after the first batch of credits, and yes, there are some surprising twists revealed throughout.
While the sequel seems to be more of everything, including its overstuffed plot that has three separate storylines colliding in messy fashion, it is still riveting.
Being an action-adventure based on a Marvel comic book has formula limitations, but “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” surmounted the challenges faced by Boseman’s death as best it could. It’s just facing the harsh reality of T’Challa’s demise that brings it crashing down to earth.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a 2022 fantasy action-sci-fi-adventure directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Dominique Thorne and Winston Duke. Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language, and 2 hours, 41 minutes’ long. It opens in theatres on Nov. 11. Lynn’s Grade: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.