A healthy dose of fiery fun, BRIAN VINER reviews Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (12A, 161 mins)

Evaluation:

The 2018 superhero film Black Panther became a financial monster, taking £1.12 billion at the box office and leaving many other Marvel films in the shadows.

So despite the terribly sad death in August 2020 of actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the title character for the first time, a sequel was as inevitable as the African sunrise.

Nonetheless, writer-director Ryan Coogler had to tear up his script and start over after the untimely demise, at just 43, of his leading man. The result is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and for the cynics, the keyword in that title is “Forever.”

Superhero movie directors tend to get confused with the likes of David Lean, who made great historical epics on a short vacation. Coogler is no exception. Chelsea and England footballer Mason Mount sat directly in front of me at the London premiere last week and became visibly agitated as the film progressed into a third period of extra time. If only we could have decided on the penalty shootout plot.

Still, for the less cynical, the key words are again “Black Panther”. This exciting character, superhero alter ego of T’Challa, ruler of the wealthy and secretive African country of Wakanda, was to feature prominently in the new film.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the sequel to the 2018 superhero film “Black Panther,” which became a box office giant, even pushing most other Marvel movies halfway.

Danai Gurira (left) as Okoye and Angela Bassett (right) as Queen Ramonda in

Danai Gurira (left) as Okoye and Angela Bassett (right) as Queen Ramonda in Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Actor Winston Duke (pictured) returns to his role as Chief M'Baku in

Actor Winston Duke (pictured) returns to his role as Chief M’Baku in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Instead of recasting it, however, Coogler killed it. He insists it’s his homage to Boseman, but it also makes narrative sense and sets up a funeral sequence almost as spectacular as the coronation in the first film.

With T’Challa gone, having evidently succumbed to a sudden and mysterious illness, his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), takes the throne.

She’s no pushover either, showing up at a United Nations assembly to spurn mounting international pressure on Wakanda to share her unique resources of the sacred metallic vibranium.

The Queen is unequivocally telling the UN to push its claims on Wakanda’s vibranium deposits. “I’m not a woman who likes to repeat herself,” she adds firmly, which is good news for those of us who already balk at the two hour 41 minute runtime.

Alas, fiery diplomacy will not be enough to ward off the predators. Some Western countries (look down, France…shame on you, America) are quite prepared to use military might to steal Wakanda’s vibranium deposits, a not-so-subtle nod to the same forces of the world. imperialism that the Prime Minister of Barbados referenced during the Cop27 climate talks earlier this week when she spoke of rich countries historically exploiting the poor.

For rich, read white. For the poor, read black. It may be mostly accidental, but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is nothing if not topical.

Either way, as the Wakandans shield themselves from the greedy West and mourn the brutal loss of their beloved T’Challa, a more existential threat arrives in the singular form of the Undersea King Namor (played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta).

‘With T’Challa gone, his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) assumes the throne. She’s no pushover either’

As Wakanda mourns the sudden loss of their beloved T¿Challa, a more existential threat arrives in the singular form of the Undersea King Namor (played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta)

As Wakanda mourns the sudden loss of their beloved T’Challa, a more existential threat arrives in the singular form of the Undersea King Namor (played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta)

It's the women who give a hard time to Namor, T¿Challa's resourceful sister Shuri, played by actress Letitia Wright (right) and Okoye, leader of the royal guards, played by Danai Gurira (left) .

It’s the women who give a hard time to Namor, T’Challa’s resourceful sister Shuri, played by actress Letitia Wright (right) and Okoye, leader of the royal guards, played by Danai Gurira (left)

Not only is Namor at home under the waves, but he can also fly, thanks to a cute little pair of wings attached to his heels. Some villains are all lucky. And as if that weren’t enough, he has, at his winged heels, a devoted army of female warriors, all wearing strange masks over their mouths and noses, as if under the sway of Covid-19 protocols.

But it’s the women on the other side who give Namor a hard time, not so much Ramonda as T’Challa’s resourceful sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and formidable girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).

Plus, there’s a precociously brilliant student, Riri (Dominique Thorne), snatched away from the University of Massachusetts to help the Wakandan cause.

It’s not a spoiler to say on this, as the showdown builds with Namor, a new manifestation of the titular panther rises.

However, it is less a film about black power than about girl power. Even the Wakandans’ ally at the CIA (Martin Freeman) has a new boss (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

It all adds up to a healthy dose of feisty fun – but, frankly, it’s stretched too thin by a racing time that left me as tired as if I had faced Namor myself.

  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters Friday

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