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Back in Black

‘The Black Panther’ find its superhero footing after Chadwick Boseman

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Starring Letita Wright, Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o & Angela Bassett
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Rated PG-13

Angela Bassett reprises her role as Queen Mother Ramonda.

See it: In theaters Friday, Nov. 11

The specter of Chadwick Boseman looms large over this highly anticipated superhero sequel to the 2018 blockbuster.

Boseman, who starred in Black Panther as the first Black comic-book character to get a Marvel movie, died in 2020 of colon cancer. But his legacy endures, in more ways than one.

Wakanda Forever opens with the funeral of his character, the beloved King T’Challa, who became the crusading, wrong-righting Black Panther, the champion of his people, donning a sleek black bodysuit super-powered by a rare metal called vibranium.

T’Challa’s death is an emotional, gut-punch wallop to his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and his scientist sister, Princess Shuri (Letita Wright). It also creates a power vacuum in the isolated kingdom, which has become a global superpower. The rest of the world wants what it’s got—the unique metal that’s made Wakanda the most technologically advanced place on the planet. Just think what other countries—and their military programs—could do with the wide-ranging wonders of vibranium.

And without the Black Panther to protect it, how can Wakanda defend itself?

That’s a question the movie takes nearly three hours to answer, as it constantly reminds us that Boseman’s T’Challa isn’t around anymore. The arrival of a strange visitor (Tenoch Huerta), a “merman” mutant who can zip through the air like a bug and live underwater like a fish, poses a new, existential threat: What it vibranium exists elsewhere, other powers use it for less-than-noble purposes, and Wakanda gets blamed for it?

Can the women of Wakanda rise to the challenge? Oh, yeah.

Director Ryan Coogler, who also wrote the story, returns to his role after the 2018 film, which was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture (losing, if you’re keeping score, to Green Book). Coogler seems to understand that the absence of Boseman, the franchise star, requires something else to fill the void, something big and substantial. And he pours it on.

Wakanda Forever is a spectacle, for sure, a sprawling, visually sumptuous, epic-sized moviescape itself superpowered with high-tech FX and eye-popping gee-whizzery. It’s big and bulky and sometimes beautiful, almost enough for two full movies packed into one. It has a major theme of Black female empowerment, of course, but also builds on the importance of global allies, the evils of colonization and the interface between ancient tradition, primal ritual and modern invention. Wakanda’s fierce female warriors still throw spears, but they also fly around in an arsenal of battlecraft, and inside armored suits.

The movie melds African culture, Pacific lore and Black experience into a tapestry of wide-ranging action and adventure.

It’s a good time to be “young, gifted and Black,” says Riri, a young college-student genius (Dominique Thorne) who becomes a new central character.     

You’ll plunge underneath the ocean to see the amazing sights of a vast aqua kingdom (it reminded me a bit of the fabulous wonder world touted in comic books advertising Sea Monkeys). There’s a warrior king with wings on his feet, and an aqua army riding around on whales—and wait until you see them swarm up the sides of a battleship and over it like ants on an anthill. The costumes are over-the-top fantabulous. A beloved character dies. And I won’t spoil it, but there’s at least one other golly-whopper of a surprise, too.

Key players from the original cast return: Martin Freeman as Wakanda’s CIA ally; Winston Duke as the mountainous warrior leader M’Baku; Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s former lover, now running a Wakanda “outreach” program in Haiti.

But the central character of this tale remains the one played by Boseman, who may not be around anymore, but his influence casts a long, deep shadow. The movie has the muscle and heft of a comic-book blockbuster, but it also reflects profoundly on the human resonance of ancestry, remembering and moving on.

Can the Black Panther move on without Boseman, and without T’Challa? You’ll have to watch—all two hours and 45 minutes—to find out. But “forever” is in the title for a reason (and it’s not just how long the movie feels). And Wakanda Forever suggests that the kingdom, and the franchise, are in good hands.

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