Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in Marvel Studios' "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" Source: Eli Adé/Marvel Studios

Review: 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Packs a Punch, Raises the Stakes

JC Alvarez READ TIME: 3 MIN.

When the announcement came that actor Chadwick Boseman had lost his battle with cancer, fans feared the "Black Panther" franchise had come to an endgame after only one movie. The head of the studio, Kevin Feige decided not to recast the hero, a role that Boseman had made entirely iconic. In the MCU, every actor that has headlined their own movie has embodied the spirit of the Marvel Comics character they brought to life – but Chadwick Boseman was different.

In fact, the phenomenon of director Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" was truly unprecedented. The film touched everyone on a very deep level, and it elevated Chadwick Boseman to a whole new level in Hollywood. With the actor's sad passing, everyone wondered where that left the next installment which had already begun pre-production when Boseman passed.

Marvel Comics already had a solution. In a popular storyline, T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, is wounded and while he heals, his sister, Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), dons the title and serves as her nation's protector. The film follows a similar path, acknowledging the character's death and allowing the audience, along with the citizens of Wakanda, to mourn the fallen hero. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) reminds her daughter that in their tradition death is not an ending, but the natural next step. Shuri has a very difficult time dealing with her brother's death, and throws herself mostly into her work and maintaining the technological advances that remind the world that Wakanda is a super power.

Vibranium, the natural resource that powers Wakanda, has become a sought-after prize, with the rest of the world blaming the Wakandans for hoarding the element and not living up to T'Challa's promise to share their knowledge. Ramonda is quite certain that if the United States, or any other super power, got their hands on Vibranium it would lead to annihilation. In fact, the U.S. has appropriated sensor technology that detects the presence of Vibranium anywhere in the world.

The new technology is the work of an MIT student named RiRi Williams (portrayed by Dominique Thorne). When RiRi becomes the target of Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the leader of the Talokan – a hidden underwater civilization – it's up to Shuri and General Okoye (Danai Gurira) to safeguard the asset.

The Wakandans, and the world, are unaware of Talokan, and Namor. The "mutant" leader of the centuries-old Mesopotamian civilization has evolved to survive in the depths of the ocean. The society has also cultivated a culture around their own mining of Vibranium. Namor, the Submariner, makes his MCU debut in "Wakanda Forever." As the monarch and protector of his people, and gifted with incredible strength and endurance, flight and unmatched charisma, Namor will stop at nothing to destroy the surface world in defense of his people. If that means going to war with Wakanda, then so be it. Huerta's portrayal of Namor is very much in-world with the MCU, and fans of the character will not be disappointed by the beautifully crafted origins applied to the cinematic version.

The connections established between Namor and Shuri are brilliantly poetic, especially in matters of protecting their resources and preventing outsiders from acquiring Vibranium. Unfortunately, hard decisions must be made, and inevitably, the Wakandans and Talokans find themselves on opposite sides, with U.S. government agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) caught in the middle of the political tensions. Shuri must make some difficult decisions, her choices contributing to the future of her people, as well as the rest of the planet. She finds comfort in familiar faces when Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and M'Baku (Winston Duke) offer their advice in defense of the Wakanda throne, as Shuri confronts her destiny and that mantle of Black Panther.

"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is every bit the sequel that audiences were promised. Coogler has reunited his impressive cast in a fantasy adventure tale that is full of heart and imagination, and still is very much rooted and resonates with themes about the love of family, the honor of traditions, and the hope that comes with having faith in yourself. Letitia Wright emerges as the lightning rod at the center of this blockbuster, surrounded by a cast dedicated and supportive of keeping the momentum Boseman established when he was alive.

In the interlocking narrative that Marvel Studios continues to weave, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" will emerge as one of the most beautiful and lavish of films, which audiences will want to revisit again and again.

"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" opens in theaters on November 11, 2022.

by JC Alvarez

Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".

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