As 2018’s Black Panther remains one of the most popular films in the MCU, the expectations for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever were always going to be high. However, the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman and the significant obstacle it created for the sequel lowered the bar somewhat. The difficulties in reworking the film to incorporate the actor’s absence were compounded by the real-life production concerns of the pandemic, all of which made for a long road to the much-awaited sequel.

It’s only fair to begin this review by stating the obvious: Chadwick Boseman’s death created an impossible situation for Marvel. Recasting the role of T’Challa would have been met with furor from grieving fans, but replacing such a popular hero with a successor without having properly laid any foundation for doing so was an equally large problem. There was really no good way to proceed with the sequel, but a path needed to be forged to keep the character (and Boseman’s MCU legacy) alive.

In the absence of any suitable male contenders to assume the traditionally male mantle of the Black Panther, Marvel turned to some of Black Panther‘s interesting female leads. Beginning with T’Challa’s off-screen death, Wakanda Forever begins to examine the grief of his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), as well as other Wakandans who were featured prominently in Black Panther (such as Okoye and Nakia, played by Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o respectively). in the midst of their grief, Wakanda is approached by Namor, the mutant leader of an underwater nation, sparking the start of a war that spurs Wakanda back into action.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Delivers No More Than Tribute And Exposition

Chadwick Boseman tribute mural in Black Panther Wakanda Forever

Of course, the sequel needed to explain and explore the absence of T’Challa. Unfortunately, it spends a little too long wallowing in its grief, with characters lamenting his passing rather than actively honoring his legacy. Shuri in particular is guilty of this, and she’s written to be struggling with her grief and new responsibilities even while she’s being set up as a new MCU hero. It’s a transition that feels undeserved and unceremonious, foisted upon the audience for the sake of convenience rather than actual creative sense.

Though Letitia Wright delivers a solid emotional performance, she lacks the action chops to carry the leading role through to a satisfying conclusion. Instead, Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o boast the most impressive action sequences, although neither of them is used to any great effect, wasting their huge potential. Okoye is given screen time in the first act, Nakia in the second, and Shuri is set up as the next Black Panther despite the fact that she acts more petulant than heroic at any given opportunity.

The introduction of Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) as Ironheart seemed promising, but it’s yet another hollow MCU series set-up. She’s given a few moments of comedy and a little CGI action in what essentially amounts to a brief teaser reel for the Ironheart series. The film is no better for her inclusion, but she jumbles the story, having no real place within the narrative. Instead, she’s shoehorned in for a little bit of exposition ahead of her actual debut in her eponymous series.

Wakanda Forever Fails To Capture The Imagination Of The Original

Danai Gurira as Okoye and Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The inclusion of Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mej√≠a) is the film’s saving grace; if only because he’s the only character able to balance emotional depth with on-screen charisma, screen time, and superhero action. It’s particularly galling that it’s only Wakanda Forever‘s villain that actually strikes the right balance on this key formula, especially because it’s missing from every heroic figure in the movie. This makes for an ending that’s unsatisfying and anti-climactic, with the stakes feeling decidedly lower than they should have been.

Over-use of CGI characters makes the film’s final act feel particularly nonsensical, and the avoidance of significant action featuring the new Black Panther makes it all too clear that she was only written as a stand-in. This is essentially confirmed by the film’s mid-credits scene, which hints at the hero’s future. This is yet another way that Wakanda Forever is a significant step down from the original, failing to recapture the balance of cultural representation, superhero action, and emotional weight. Instead, Wakanda Forever rests on the laurels of its predecessor, which in turn makes it come off as a cheap imitation thrown together out of desperation.

It’s one of the MCU’s most over-stuffed and ill-considered movies to date, and save for Namor and Ironheart’s introductions, it would have no real bearing on the franchise as a whole. It’s not a film that offers any genuine excitement, nor is it one that carries any real emotional narrative. Instead, it echoes more as the grieved wailings of a studio unsure how to replace an irreplaceable actor, fumbling their attempt while sobbing into their ludicrous piles of cash. The flashy CGI might look impressive but it’s blatantly hollow, making Black Panther: Wakanda Forever one of the most superficial, unexciting, and unimaginative efforts of the franchise so far.

Rating: 45%

Summary: A tediously-written tribute stretched out over almost 3 hours overstuffed with ideas and characters that were surplus to requirements, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever embodies the MCU’s biggest issues. It relies more on formula than on charm, and shoehorning new characters into the franchise does not a good movie make. It’s not without its redeeming qualities, but it’s a big step down in terms of the MCU’s general quality.

Highlights: Danai Gurira’s action scenes and dour-faced deadpan comedy stand out, even if she was criminally underused.