FEATURED MOVIE REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
By John Mulderig/CATHOLIC REVIEW MEDIA
Angela Bassett as Ramonda in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
NEW YORK. The untimely 2020 death of gifted actor Chadwick Boseman, aged only 43, was a blow to Hollywood in general and to the future of a potential “Black Panther” franchise in particular. As fans of that 2018 action adventure will recall, Boseman played its protagonist — so that his absence would necessarily require a significant shift of focus in any sequel.
It’s appropriate, then, that the follow-up “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (PG-13, Disney) — like its predecessor, a Marvel Comics-derived epic — opens with a farewell to Boseman’s King T’Challa, sovereign of the imaginary African nation of the title, before continuing the story of other important characters from the kick-off. The film also introduces a new adversary into the mix.
Now at center stage are two of the powerful women in T’Challa’s life: his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who has succeeded him on the throne of Wakanda, and his scientist sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright). Tension arises between them, though, since Ramonda uses the prescribed rituals of the country’s traditional religion to ease her grief but cannot urge convinced materialist Shuri to do the same.
Even as the two grapple with their bereavement, they’re confronted by the aforementioned antagonist, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the leader of a race of deep-sea-dwelling descendants of the Maya. Like the Wakandans, his followers, the inhabitants of Talokan, have access to vibranium, an element that gives its possessors prosperity, technological advancement and superior weaponry.
Also like the subjects of Queen Ramonda, Namor’s people have clashed with ordinary humans desperate to get their hands on vibranium. Namor, it turns out, is not so much an outright villain as a ruler determined to safeguard Talokan by any means necessary.
As Ramonda and Shuri try to decide whether to ally themselves with Namor or oppose him, director and co-writer Ryan Coogler explores how a sense of solidarity can steer people away from aggression and the desire for vengeance and point them toward peaceable cooperation. His script — penned with Joe Robert Cole — also upholds, at least implicitly, a spiritual outlook on life as well as the immortality of the soul.
The inclusion of a vague form of ancestor worship into the proceedings, however, makes the movie unfit for the impressionable. Grown viewers equipped to place this aspect of Wakandan culture in context, by contrast, will be treated to another rousing visit to that realm’s inviting precincts and to the tumultuous, but ultimately pleasing, alternative reality that prevails there.
Look for: Themes of mercy and human dignity. Look out for: Frequent stylized violence, nonscriptural beliefs and practices, glimpses of partial nudity, a couple of mild oaths, at least one rough term and several uses of crude or crass language.
The Catholic Moviegoer’s guidance is M — suitable for mature viewers.
Formerly a staff member for Catholic News Service, John Mulderig has been reviewing visual media from a Catholic perspective for 15 years. His column is syndicated by Catholic Review Media.