Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) ☆☆☆ (3/4): The ladies carry on

We can only imagine what would follow “Black Panther” (2018) if Chadwick Boseman had not died so early, but I am happy to report that its sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is much more than a mere next chapter. Although it takes a bit too long to build its story and characters, the movie really cares about what is happening among its main characters from the beginning, and that is more than enough for me to overlook its several notable flawed aspects including its overlong climactic part.

After the prologue sequence which is poignant as one last salute to Boseman and his character, the movie moves onto what is going on around Wakanda one year after his character’s untimely death. After Wakanda fully exposed its considerable hidden power to the outside world, many countries including US become all the more eager to get any chance for the access to its precious mineral Vibranium, and Queen Ramona (Angela Bassett), who succeeded upon her dear son’s death, has defiantly been standing on their way because she knows too well the potential dangers from spreading Vibranium all over the world.

Meanwhile, Shuri (Letitia Wright), who is now the queen’s only child, is still struggling with the anger and grief from her older brother’s death. Even though she tries to look all right on the surface, her mother knows better, and we eventually get a little tender mother and daughter moment as they talk with each other a bit on their common loss and grief in private.

However, there soon comes an urgent matter which threatens not only them but also everyone else in Wakanda. A mysterious figure named Namor (Tenoch Huerta, a promising Mexican actor whom you may remember for his notable supporting turns in “Sin Nombre” (2009) and “Tigers Are Not Afraid” (2017)) suddenly breaks into Wakanda, and this dude turns out to be the powerful ruler of a hidden underwater kingdom which has been hidden from the outside world for many years just like Wakanda once was. His kingdom also depends a lot on Vibranium, and he is not so pleased when his underwater territory is being violated by the US government, which has been covertly searching for Vibranium around the world outside Wakanda.

What Namor demands involves with a young but very smart adolescent girl named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who inadvertently invented something which came to assist the underwater search for Vibranium by the US government. Namor and his mighty marine warriors, who sometimes look like the distant cousins of those alien tribe people in “Avatar” (2009), are quite willing to eliminate Williams for protecting their underwater kingdom, but Queen Ramora does not like this at all, and she naturally comes to seek for any alternative less violent than that.

Instead of promptly going for action, the screenplay by director Ryan Coolger, who has steadily impressed us since his remarkable debut feature film “Fruitvale Station” (2013), and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole, takes a considerable amount of time for character development. While Namor is presented as a reasonable antagonist driven by understandable motives, Shuri’s struggle with her grief and anger along the story is handled with care and understanding, and her relationships with several other substantial Wakanda characters including her mother are depicted well with enough human elements to engage us.

Above all, the movie feels much more distinctive than other run-of-the-mill Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) flicks in terms of mood, style, and details. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designers Hannah Beachler and Jason T. Clark are certainly having lots of fun here with mixing various cultural elements into the fantasy world of the film, and I was amused a bit by an underwater sequence showing Namor’s underwater kingdom (I notice that they can somehow speak and hear pretty well in water just like the characters of “Aquaman” (2019)).

In the end, the movie culminates to the climactic action sequence where lots of things busily happen, and that is where my attention dwindled a little. No, Coogler did a competent job of handling all those busy actions on the screen without getting lost at all, but this part is relatively less engaging than the real human moments observed from its main characters, and I do not think what is shown in the middle of the end credits fits that well with what is so powerfully shown from those brave feminist ladies of Wakanda in the film.

Anyway, the movie keeps rolling under Coogler’s deft direction, and he also draws the superlative acting from many of his main cast members. While Letitia Wright ably holds the center, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Guiria, and Dominique Thorne have each own moment to shine, and Bassett is simply indomitable during her several key scenes including one particular dramatic moment later in the story. Around these marvelous actresses, Winston Duke and Martin Freeman are solid as before, and I will let you be surprised by the crucial cameo appearance by some other certain main cast member of the previous film.

In conclusion, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” wisely takes a new direction, and the overall result is fairly compelling even though it does not surpass its predecessor, which is the best thing from MCU in my humble opinion. I have been getting tired more and more of those MCU products for the frequently glaring lack of individual personality and style, but “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” demonstrates here that there are still interesting things to watch, and I am actually having expectation for whatever may come next.

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