Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 15, 2023)
Back in 2018, Black Panther delivered a major success, as it turned into a cultural touchstone. Fans needed to more than four and a half years due to a tragic circumstance: the untimely death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman.
Which the film addresses in its own way, as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever begins with the loss of the title character, King T’Challa. This shatters the kingdom of Wakanda and leaves his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), genius sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and others to recoup.
They find challenges before long. Outside parties actively attempt to infiltrate Wakanda so they can obtain Vibranium, a miraculous metal that only exists in that country.
Or maybe not, as the Wakandans learn of the existence of Talokan, an underwater realm led by Prince Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). This leads to a mix of conflicts, especially between Wakanda and Talokan, all while a new person takes over the mantle as Black Panther.
Eventually. A massive chunk of Forever passes before the title character actually materializes on screen.
This seems like a ballsy move, as one expects a Black Panther movie to actually feature Black Panther. However, the filmmakers found themselves in an intensely difficult position, as they encountered a massive challenge when it came to how they could explain the absence of T’Challa.
I give those involved credit for their willingness to confront the ghost in the room. They couldn’t recast another actor as T’Challa, for that would seem like an insult to Bosewick’s memory to too many people.
They could’ve come up with some contrived way to keep T’Challa alive but simply no longer Black Panther. That probably would’ve been the safe route, but they decided to integrate real-life tragedy with fictional trauma.
As such, Forever comes with much more gravity and sorrow than one expects from a supposedly frivolous genre like superhero movies. One doesn’t expect a $250 million tentpole film to open with the demise of its title character, so that becomes a positive here.
After this dramatic and emotional beginning, however, Forever offers less impressive pleasures. It becomes a reasonably entertaining adventure but never anything scintillating.
Which echoes how I felt about the first movie, honestly. The 2018 film earned major praise – and became the first-ever superhero movie to earn an Oscar Best Picture nomination – but it didn’t click with me at a level above “pretty good”.
That remains the case here. Would I like Forever more if I loved the 2018 flick?
Almost certainly. I just don't have a strong enough connection to any of the characters for them to thrill me.
That said, Forever comes with issues that don’t connect to my semi-lukewarm view of the first flick. For one, the film seems too long and can feel redundant at times.
An entire subplot that involves American agencies goes next to nowhere - for now, at least. Maybe this'll pay off in another movie - or a TV show - but in terms of Forever, it largely seems irrelevant to me.
In general, Forever just feels overstuffed and like it could become simplified. The movie runs a whopping 161 minutes, which makes it the longest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie after 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
That one offered an epic wrap-up to more than a decade’s worth of “backstory”, however, so it needed its length. Forever doesn’t present nearly as “large” a tale and thus comes across as bloated.
Of course, Forever presents a rare sequel that also needs to act as an origin story since it must introduce a new Black Panther. However, because the first movie got all the basics out of the way, this one doesn't require much in that regard beyond the introduction of a handful of new characters.
While I do think Forever runs too long, it does move at a pretty good pace, at least. It doesn't feel like a 161-minute movie, as it pushes along well.
Still, the end product leaves me vaguely underwhelmed. Forever feels moderately engaging and hits most of the right notes but as with the 2018 film, it ends without a lot of real emotion in any direction. This becomes a good sequel but not one among the MCU’s best.
Footnote: as usual, we find a tag scene during the end credits. Nothing appears post-credits, however.