Based on the Marvel Comic series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the story of Wakandan leaders trying to move forward following the death of King T’Challa as they also deal with new threats that include an undersea nation. Directed by Ryan Coogler and screenplay by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole from a story by Coogler, the film is the sequel to the 2018 film that explore various people dealing with the aftermath of the Blip but also the unexpected death of their king as those close to T’Challa deal with the loss but also how to move forward as they deal with new threats as well as gain new allies. Starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Micaela Cole, Martin Freeman, with Angela Bassett as Queen Mother Ramonda, and Tenoch Huerta Mejia as Namor. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an enthralling and rapturous film from Ryan Coogler.
Set one year after the unexpected death of King T’Challa of Wakanda aka the Black Panther, the film follows those close to T’Challa trying to move forward as Queen Mother Ramonda assumes the throne as she and the country are aware of other countries wanting to have their vibranium yet is faced with a new threat in an underwater nation lead by a warrior named Namor. It is a film that isn’t just an exploration of grief and legacy but also a young woman coming to terms with loss as she discovers this new threat and why they’re angry at Wakanda as things eventually go into chaos with the country having lost its leader and great protector. The film’s screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole is really about the journey that T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) endures as she is wracked with guilt in not being able to save her brother as she spends a lot of time in the lab and trying to figure out things as a way to cope. Yet, she would be among the first to encounter Namor with her mother as well as other things that have put Wakanda in danger with other countries including the U.S.
The script doesn’t just play into Wakanda’s newfound vulnerability following T’Challa’s death and his own plans to open the doors for the country from its isolationist status. It also show why the country’s vulnerability also leaves this underwater nation known as Talokan becoming just as vulnerable due to the creation of a machine that detects vibranium. After attacking a base in which the Wakandans are accused of, Shuri and the Dora Milaje leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) travel to Boston to find the young scientist that created the machine in Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) who had no clue that the CIA had taken her creation as she helps them until they’re targeted by the FBI and later the Talokan in which Shuri goes to the Talokan home where she meets Namor and learns about his culture and where he and his people are from as well as his own issues with the people on the surface dating back to the 16th Century when he was a child and saw the horrors of humanity and how they saw him as it also play into Wakanda’s own disdain towards colonialism. Yet, things become complicated as it also has these big questions about imperialism where the script has a scene where Queen Ramonda is at Geneva talking to the United Nations about the reasons why Wakanda refuses to share their vibranium because of politics and how it can be used in the wrong hands. Even as the Talokan has vibranium in their world that has allow them to thrive without any threats until recently as it raises more tension with them and Wakanda.
It’s not just a lot of the thematic elements that Coogler and Cole are exploring with the script but also in the characters with Shuri being the one with a major arc while Okoye, Queen Ramonda, T’Challa’s former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and the Jabari mountain tribe leader M’Baku (Winston Duke) also go through developments as they encounter an ever-changing world with Nakia living in Haiti during the Blip while M’Baku becomes concerned for Shuri’s own issues following his own encounter with Namor and the Talokan. Okoye whose duty as the Dora Milaje leader would also endure her own arc following a fight with a Talokan general that didn’t go well but also be stripped of the identity that she has only known forcing her to take on a bigger role for its third act.
Coogler’s direction is vast in terms of not just the different locations the film is set as a lot of it is shot at the Pinewood Studios Atlanta in Duluth, GA as well as locations in Boston and Puerto Rico yet the film is set in many places including Haiti, Mexico, and Switzerland. For a film with grand set pieces on the surface and underwater, it doesn’t open with something big but rather a scene in Shuri’s lab as she and other scientists are scrambling for a solution until Queen Ramonda comes in and tells Shuri that her brother has died despite a small chance that Shuri took to create a cure. It would then be followed by a funeral ceremony that is just beautiful in its presentation as well as the scope of this ceremony with its usage of close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots in the Wakandan capital city streets where T’Challa’s casket is at the center of this set piece. The usage of the different locations including the scenes at the Talokan city underwater are among some of the finest set pieces created with unique wide and medium shots as they were shot in studio soundstages in actual underwater.
While the film has serious thematic elements as well as intense action set pieces that include some unique fight scenes that are wonderfully choreographed by Micah Karns that include Okoye’s fight on the bridge against a few Talokan warriors including Attuma (Alex Livinalli). There are a few comical moments such as Shuri and Okoye’s meet-up with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and their first meeting with Williams who would later go to Wakanda to create her own suit similar to the Ironman suit as she would become Ironheart. Coogler also play up into a lot of the suspenseful moments in how the Talokan would introduce themselves as they would attack a couple of scientists underwater while they search for vibranium as would the dark shadow of Namor would appear in the film’s first act and his first meeting with Ramonda and Shuri during a moment between the two women as it relates to grief. Coogler also play up into Shuri’s own reliance on technology and how it would force her to look inward into her mother’s idea of faith as it is something that is key to coping with grief as it is something Namor had dealt with as it relates to his own mother (Maria Mercedes Coroy). Since this is a film set in a global scale, many different languages are used in the film in not just English, Spanish, French, and various African dialects but also Mayan as it is a language that the Talokan use to communicate.
The film’s third act is definitely the most intense not just in terms of its climax but also in terms of its emotion as it relates to Shuri confronting her own grief and guilt but also take on a role that is bigger than herself. Yet, she is also troubled by the fact that she is still a young woman as Nakia, Okoye, and M’Baku are concerned knowing that their backs are against the wall with the rest of the world and the Talokans. The film’s climax is grand and intense as it forces everyone to think about their roles in the world but also lessons learned in the aftermath. Even as it all play into grief and having to move on but also make decisions for a country whose back is against the wall by other countries who are more likely to do more damage than good. Overall, Coogler crafts a majestic and visceral film about a royal family and their country in the middle of Africa dealing with new threats as well as the loss of their great protector.
Cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of low-key lighting for the underwater scenes including the shots of the Talokan city as well as a lot of naturalistic photography for the scenes in the day as well as exterior scenes at night. Editors Michael P. Shawver, Kelley Dixon, and Jennifer Lame do excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts and some stylish transitions as it is a highlight of the film. Production designer Hannah Beachler, with set decorator Lisa K. Sessions and supervising art director Brad Ricker does amazing work with the set design from the look of Shuri’s lab, M’Baku’s palace, and the home of the Talokan with a lot of attention to detail that is inspired by Mayan culture. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter does phenomenal work with the costumes from the funeral garb that Shuri and Ramonda wear for T’Challa’s funeral as well as some of the new designs that Shuri has created for Okoye and the look of the Talokan in their Mayan-inspired clothing.
Special makeup effects artists Erin Keith, Tonilee Marrone, Greg McDougall, and Mark James Ross do fantastic work with the look of the Talokan with their blue-skinned look as well as some of the makeup the Wakandans wear for battle. Special effects supervisor Daniel Sudick, along with visual effects supervisors Geoffrey Bauman and Reetu Aggarwal, does terrific work with the design of Riri’s Ironheart suit in its final form as well as some of the design of Talokan as well as the force fields from Wakanda. Sound editors Steve Boeddeker and Benjamin A. Burtt, along with sound designer David C. Hughes, do superb work with the sound in the way some of the Wakandan tech are used as well as some of Riri’s designs as well as scenes underwater at the Talokan as it is a highlight of the film.
The film’s music by Ludwig Gorransson is incredible for its bombastic score that mixes orchestral music with African percussions and woodwinds as well as old Mayan woodwinds and percussions as it is a highlight of the film while music supervisor Dave Jordan help cultivate a music soundtrack that mixes elements of hip-hop, electronic music, and pop in different arrays of style that also include African and Mayan-elements in the music features contributions from Burna Boy, Tems covering Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, Snow tha Product featuring E-40, Stormzy, Tobe Nwigwe and Fat Nwigwe, Fireboy DML, OG Day V and Future, Aleman with Rema, Bloody Civilian, and two original songs co-written and performed by Rihanna.
The casting by Sarah Halley Finn is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances as Lake Bell as a scientist trying to find vibranium only to have a bad encounter with the Talokan, Trevor Noah as the voice of Shuri’s A.I. Griot, Richard Schiff as the U.S. Secretary of State who wants access to Wakanda’s vibranium for his government, Maria Mercedes Coroy as Namor’s mother in flashbacks, Mabel Cadena as Namor’s cousin Namora who is also a warrior, Alex Livinalli as a Talokan general in Attuma whom Okoye would battle against, Connie Chiume as a royal elder stateswoman who used to be the mining tribe elder, Danny Sapani as the border tribe elder, Isaach de Bankole as the river tribe elder, and Dorothy Steel in her final film performance as the merchant tribe elder. Florence Kasumba is superb as Ayo as Okoye’s second-in-command in the Dora Milaje as she would later become its new general. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine as the new director of the CIA who helps her ex-husband in Everett K. Ross in investigating what is going with Wakanda while having motives of her own.
Micaela Cole is excellent as Akeena as a Dora Milaje warrior who is bit of a rebel in terms of the weapons she likes as she would also play a key role in the third act as it relates to a new role that Okoye would also play. Martin Freeman is terrific as Everett K. Ross as a CIA agent who helps Okoye and Shuri in finding Riri Williams while trying to keep them away from the authorities. Dominique Thorne is brilliant as Riri Williams as a MIT student who has created a machine that would help find vibranium that she didn’t realize would be used by the government as she becomes a target for the Talokans where she joins the Wakandans in dealing with them while creating a suit of her own that would become Ironheart. Winston Duke is amazing as M’Baku as the leader of the Jabari tribe who lives in the mountain as he would have some comical lines in how he would deal with the Talokan while later being aware of how powerful they are as he tries to counsel Shuri about the dangers of war. Danai Gurira is incredible as Okoye as the leader of the Dora Milaje who is devoted to her role until her encounter with the Talokan in Boston has her shaken and unsure of what to do next forcing her to take on a new role. Lupita Nyong’o is remarkable as Nakia as T’Challa’s former lover who had given up her life as a spy for a quieter life in Haiti as she is asked by Ramonda to find Shuri while being aware of the threat they’re facing as well as becoming concerned for Shuri’s emotional state.
Tenoch Huerta Mejia is phenomenal as Namor as the leader of the Talokan whom is referred to as the serpent god of K’uk’ulkan who is trying to protect his people from the surface world while also seeing Wakanda as a threat where he tries to be reasonable with Shuri only for things to go wrong prompting him to fight as Mejia’s performance is full of complexities but is also someone who makes his character an anti-hero rather than a typical villain. Angela Bassett is outstanding as Queen Ramonda as the mother of Shuri and the late T’Challa who watches over the throne as she deals with the threats of other countries as well as mourning her son where she also tries to help Shuri as well as having her own encounters with Namor as it is a performance for the ages from Bassett. Finally, there’s Letitia Wright in a sensational performance as Shuri as T’Challa’s younger sister who has a hard time coping with her loss as she is also trying to figure out what Namor wants where it is a whirlwind of a performance where Wright captures the anguish and confusion of a young woman who is still lost while also unsure of where to go as she ultimately takes on a role that her people need to play.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a tremendous film from Ryan Coogler. Featuring a great ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, intricate set and costume designs, an evocative music score and soundtrack, and its exploration of loss, identity, and grief on a world stage. It is a film that isn’t just this intense yet exhilarating action-blockbuster but also a film that tackles some serious political ideas as well as being this exploration of loss as the film is also a fitting tribute to the original Black Panther in Chadwick Boseman. In the end, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a spectacular film from Ryan Coogler.
Ryan Coogler Films: Fruitvale Station - Creed (2015 film)
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