Grief is not to be trifled with. It’s a difficult, strange beast. Necessary and uncomfortable all at once. It’s hard to encounter and put into words, which is why it’s so impressive when Ryan Coogler and the incredible cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever manage to embody the emotion with such grace and understanding. It’s important to face the challenges of life with honesty and progression, something Wakanda Forever accepts wholeheartedly. If superhero films are to be the voice of a generation, then they should also be willing to speak in languages sometimes foreign to the genre. They should reach to tell stories that impact their viewers and move them forward. Pain, humanity, and healing flow through every crease of this project as it unfolds, and the entertainment landscape is ultimately better for it.
One likely expected Wakanda Forever to be emotional, considering the circumstances of the past few years, and it absolutely is. Of course, the movie is rife with tears. It’s forced to deal with something nobody ever imagined it would need to. Yet, it also accomplishes something else between the moments of heartbreak and loss. It alleviates a pressure viewers might not have known was still there, and does its best to close the mourning process on a chapter most would like to have forgotten. It’s a cathartic movie in the way it allows it’s characters to react, letting their feelings guide its plot instead of the other way around. The audience feels as they do, and by the time their arcs reach a natural conclusion, the viewer might also have found some semblance of closure. Stories are beautiful because of their power to help people comprehend their own emotions, and Coogler seems to know this better than anyone. Wakanda Forever is a blockbuster film, yes, but it’s also a message about surviving and moving on.
Astonishingly, it also works as a near-perfect sequel to its predecessor. The themes of loss, identity, and perseverance are not new to the Black Panther franchise. Although stemming from a less-than-ideal state of affairs, Wakanda Forever is able to pick up almost exactly where Black Panther left off. It’s a full, complete movie, with expertly crafted storylines and character development. Every move made by Coogler makes perfect sense in the context of both Marvel’s fictional world and the real one from which it draws inspiration. Even the film’s new characters, specifically Tenoch Huerta‘s immaculately complex antagonist Namor, fit into Black Panther‘s corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as though they were designed for it from the start. Namor and his people – the Talokan – are magnificent foils for Letitia Wright‘s Shuri, Angela Bassett‘s Queen Ramonda, and the people of Wakanda. Huerta‘s performance in particular is sure to stay with fans for quite some time, molding Namor into a distinguished force in the MCU going forward.
If one were to strip the project of all its comic-based origins, it would still be a masterclass in filmmaking. It’s gorgeous from top-to-bottom, with several stunning set pieces and consistently wonderful design. Coogler has made it clear that his films mean much more than adapting stories. They exist to push the boundaries of what cinema can do. Not just visually, but at their thematic centers. Wakanda Forever has raised the bar for what Marvel Studios, and the industry at large, should be capable of producing when the occasion calls for it. Seeing this one on the biggest screen possible is highly recommended. Sobbing throughout is not required, but it will probably happen anyway.