‘Wakanda Forever’ attempts to balance touching tribute and Marvel action

One of the big questions in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is how the Marvel Cinematic Universe would deal with the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who brought T’Challa the Black Panther to the screen. Wakanda Forever addresses Boseman’s death by attempting to combine a moving tribute to the late actor with the action-packed spectacle one has come to expect from the MCU.

The result is a bit of a Frankenstein monster of a movie that doesn’t scratch the comic action itch but emotionally concludes Boseman’s journey in the MCU.

“Wakanda Forever” finds that the small but mighty nation is still recovering from the loss of King T’Challa. Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s sister, is struggling more than most.

When Wakanda comes into conflict with the underwater nation of Talokan and their leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) over the fate of Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), an MIT student who invented a machine that can detect vibranium. As war looms between Wakanda and Talokan, Shuri must contend with her family drama and her own emotional struggles to save her homeland.

Boseman’s spirit hangs like an ethereal mist over Wakanda Forever. The film spends a lot of time dealing with T’Challa’s death and the impact it has on Shuri and Wakanda. Most of the film’s main characters are haunted by his memory. Shuri has a great scene with her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), in which the two talk about their pain and the most effective way to process it. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) gets a subplot centered around her absence from T’Challa’s funeral.

Handling this kind of emotional material takes a good job from the actors and Wakanda Forever delivers. Wright does a great job of supporting the film’s weight. She convincingly portrays the spectrum of feelings, from heartbreak to anger, experienced by someone who has lost a loved one. Bassett and Nyong’o also add emotional weight to the story. Danai Gurira shows a bit of vulnerability as her role as Okoye involves a quest for redemption.

When Wakanda Forever focuses on emotional themes, it’s quite satisfying. When it focuses its attention on the action and comic story, it’s not quite as engaging. The conflict between Wakanda and Talokan boils down to a bruised butt guy with a lot of power who wants to take his grievances out on the world. Huerta Mejia does a good job as Namor, but that’s not the strongest motivation.

The fight scenes aren’t the most creative scenes ever either. It’s mostly car chases or sequences of people brandishing pointed sticks at each other. The final conflict between Shuri and Namor hits pretty hard, but the larger scenes aren’t that impressive. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen so many similar action scenes from Marvel movies over the years, but the big, CGI-inspired brawls don’t impress as much as they used to.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever could use some tighter, more imaginative action scenes and some really impressive cinematography. But it also gives us a chance to reflect on Chadwick Boseman’s legacy within the MCU, and provides emotional release and some closure for fans. It might not be the Marvel movie of all time, but thanks to some good actors and emotional resonance, it might as well be the Marvel movie we need right now.

4 Indy Fedoras of 5

MPAA rating: PG-13

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