It’s very hard to imagine anybody else being the Black Panther other than Chadwick Boseman. He was a rare bona fide star because of his Marvel career, with arguably only him and Chris Hemsworth becoming cultural icons in the modern American zeitgeist, among a select few others. However, with the way that Marvel produces their movies almost decades in advance, having a tragedy such as this take place really puts a wrench in the gears of this machine. Especially when you lose an actor whose performance carried a film as hard as one did in the original “Black Panther.” Fortunately for the rest of us down here, I think that the “Black Panther” brand especially is in better hands than most.
In the wake of King T’Challa’s death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) are left to pick up the pieces. With the U.S. and France breathing down their necks about Vibranium distribution, and without the Black Panther as an asset on the world stage, Wakanda is in rough shape, relatively speaking. This situation goes pear-shaped even faster after a U.S. vibranium scanning vessel gets attacked by people coming up from the sea, speaking in ancient tongues. Ramonda and Shuri are visited one night by a man flying out of the river with winged ankles and pointed ears, Namor (Tenoch Huerta). He has a simple proposition: help his underwater empire strike back against the surface world for putting their noses where they shouldn’t. Sure, the world is in diplomatic arms against Wakanda but is it worth handing over American student Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) to Namor to begin his revenge tour?
Chadwick’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the very soul of this film, and they aren’t afraid to acknowledge that fact. It is very much felt, but eventually the pieces that are left over slowly but surely begin to fill in those gaps. I think these gaps are filled because the first film was not only on the shoulders of Boseman, but also on director Ryan Coogler. Coogler’s sure hand steadies this film out and finds a way to make those pieces work, much like the characters in this film. Speaking of characters, I knew that the main cast was going to be good, but I had my socks blown way off by Tenoch Huerta’s Namor. There’s been this issue with Marvel films where most of the main cast is pretty good, but the villain usually remains the weakest link. Heroes are all well and good but without a solid foil, the hero formula can tend to get dull. This is not the case here. Namor is Shuri’s foil in a way that I find quite interesting, almost drawing parallels to Erik Killmonger’s brief reign in Wakanda in the first “Black Panther.” Whenever Namor is present in a scene, he can be both domineering and warm in equal amounts. His capability to dominate a scene in a film that is generally on the more fantastical side is quite impressive. I would most certainly put Namor toward the top of the Marvel villain echelon, and I think this film feels the same way.
Sure, the film is almost three hours long. I will admit that the film is filled to the brim with plot points, but I will also admit that this is certainly the best Marvel outing in phase four. It’s not a high bar to clear, I know. I’ll say this much: if you like Marvel movies, then you’ll find this outing most enjoyable. If not, then you don’t really need to go out of your way to see this one.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will be available to stream on Disney+ on Feb. 1.