Black Panther: Wakanda Forever falls noticeably short of its ground-breaking predecessor
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (12A, 161 mins) Action/Adventure/Fantasy. Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Danai Gurira, Dominique Thorne, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Director: Ryan Coogler.
Released: November 11
SUPERHEROES in the Marvel Cinematic Universe wrestle with an invisible enemy each time they head into battle: mortality.
They valiantly fight for us, and occasionally they die for us.
In phases three and four of the MCU including Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers Endgame, Doctor Strange In The Multi-verse Of Madness and Thor: Love And Thunder, some of Earth's greatest protectors made the ultimate sacrifice to maintain the fragile illusion of peace.
That sense of loss is felt most profoundly – and explicitly honoured on screen – in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Lead actor Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in August 2020 as returning writer-director Ryan Coogler was polishing a script with Joe Robert Cole, delicately shrouding the sequel to one of the highest grossing films of all time in grief and uncertainty.
Coogler and an army of collaborators behind and in front of the camera pay rousing tribute to Boseman in heartfelt and deeply moving sequences that bookend this muscular blockbuster, echoed by the soothing words of Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett): "T'Challa is dead but that doesn't mean he's gone."
It's a visually stunning and sporadically thrilling memorial to the South Carolina-born actor that allows a diverse cast to express their loss in exchanges sodden with real, cascading tears.
Putting aside raw emotion, as difficult as that may be, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever falls noticeably short of its ground-breaking predecessor except for an unnecessarily bloated 161-minute running time that merits a few slashes of the title character's vibranium-enriched claws.
Coogler's second chapter is dramatically underwhelming, anchored to a curiously unsympathetic narrative arc for one key protagonist, and bombastic action sequences never approach the turbo-charged exhilaration of the night-time car chase through the streets of Busan in South Korea in the original film.
Despite Ramonda's assertion, the emotional power behind the Wakandan throne has gone.
The Queen Mother of Wakanda leads her grief-stricken nation in remembering the life of its king and her beloved son, T'Challa.
His coffin is carried aloft through thronged streets by the Dora Milaje, proudly captained by Okoye (Danai Gurira), in the presence of Jabari tribe leader M'Baku (Winston Duke) and princess Shuri (Letitia Wright).
Other nations mistakenly believe Wakanda's defences will be weakened during this period of mourning and they intensify efforts to acquire the rare metallic ore vibranium, which supposedly arrived on Earth in a crashed meteorite.
Unwelcome incursions threaten to expose the ancient underwater civilisation of Talokan, which has been concealed from greedy eyes for centuries.
Talokan king Namor (Tenoch Huerta) vows to protect his people by forcefully demanding an alliance with Wakanda.
"I have more soldiers than this land has blades of grass," he warns Ramonda. "I would hate to come back under different circumstances."
To avert a catastrophic showdown, Shuri and Okoye seek out gifted MIT student Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who has built a machine that detects vibranium, while CIA agent Everett K Ross (Martin Freeman) shares classified information with Wakanda behind the back of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is technically dazzling, showcasing Hannah Beachler's epic production design and Ruth Carter's costumes in perfect harmony with Autumn Durald Arkapaw's lustrous cinematography and the haunting melodies of returning composer Ludwig Goransson.
Feisty, intelligent female characters are more pronounced, although not all are handsomely served by the script.
Admiration and affection for Boseman may carry the sequel past its predecessor in terms of worldwide box office takings but beyond the aching sentiment, the first Black Panther is still the big cat's whiskers.