Marvel Studios’ latest, much-anticipated sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has arrived in theatres. Our resident film buffs Stefan Bradley and Tom Parry went to check it out.

SB: The original Black Panther (2018) is one of the most successful blockbusters ever made, and as many of us know, its star Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa/Black Panther, died in 2020. So there was a lot riding on Wakanda Forever with, I’m sure, a lot of pressure and emotions for all involved in its production, and I think they pulled it off admirably. What do you think, Tom?

TP: I believe exactly the same, Stefan. The first Black Panther was not only a huge success, but a surprise success, and given the overwhelmingly positive reception it received, it would appear that Marvel’s producers have given returning director Ryan Coogler more or less full creative control here. Obviously, it’s still within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so you get crossovers with certain characters and the setting-up of certain future projects, but it is indisputably Coogler’s movie – his story, his message, and his tribute to Boseman.

SB: This is a lengthy movie at 161 minutes, it’s longer than Avengers: Infinity War, but shorter than the three-hour Avengers: Endgame. I was emotionally invested, so that probably helps, but I didn’t think Wakanda Forever overstayed its welcome. You can argue that certain characters that didn’t do much could have been written out, but that’s a minor criticism.

TP: From my perspective, it did drag at times, but only very occasionally and briefly. Overall, it was very well-paced, and I felt like it earned that runtime. To tell this kind of story, you need that 161 minutes.

SB: One of the newcomers to the cast is Dominique Thorne; she plays Riri Williams, who will be starring in a series coming up called Ironheart, so I was expecting that she’d be shoe-horned into the story to set up that show, but thankfully they didn’t.

TP: Quite right! They did a really thorough job of establishing her character, giving her a personality and having her make an active contribution to the story, which is more or less how they introduced T’Challa, the original Black Panther way back in Captain America: Civil War.

SB: All the main cast members are excellent. The star of the show is T’Challa’s sister Shuri – played by Letitia Wright – who in the original was that fun, excited, enthusiastic scientist, and now in this one, she’s grieving her brother, and now Wright has to step-up to a leading role.

TP: It feels like a maturing of Shuri, because in the first movie she had that youthful energy, an innocence about the world; and now, we’re seeing her develop into a leader of her people.

SB: As for the villain – it’s a bit of a coin-flip with superhero movies on whether they give us a decent villain or not. With Namor, they made him an actual character, not just placing him there to get in the protagonists’ way; he’s got his own motivations and it feels like it’s almost about him and his underwater city of Talokan, just as much as it is Wakanda’s movie. I thought Namor and his people were powerful antagonists.

TP: He’s not the best MCU villain, but he’s definitely one of the better MCU villains. As for the narrative, it got quite dark and unpredictable, and for that reason, I was very invested – I almost had no idea where this movie was going. That’s rare in a Marvel movie, because we’re told they fit to a formula, so it’s great that they had some deviation in there.

SB: And despite this, they still had enough time for world-building. This is what I felt was missing from Jurassic World: Dominion, which came out earlier this year and didn’t have that sense of discovery the original Jurassic Park had. In Wakanda Forever, you continue to spend time in the incredible fictitious African country of Wakanda, but you also get to discover Namor’s Talokan and its inhabitants. The wonder and awe that was so compelling in the first Black Panther is still here.

TP: I agree. And that actually, genuinely surprised me. We’ve seen underwater worlds in Aquaman and The Little Mermaid.

SB: We’ll see another one in Avatar: The Way of Water next month with its underwater motion-capture.

TP: We will, that’s true; but I was thinking, ‘How can I possibly be astonished by a series of computer-generated images depicting this underwater world?’ And surprisingly I was! Credit to Ryan Coogler, the production and effects team, and also Ludwig Göransson who composed the soundtrack – he’s made a score that really draws you into this world.

SB: The score definitely stands out because it’s not always sitting in the background to set the mood subtlety; instead, Coogler wants the musical beats and the songs front and centre, so you know you’re watching a Black Panther movie. As for the action scenes, they were typical Marvel. They were fast-paced and well-choreographed, and conveyed the sheer power of Namor and his people.

TP: It’s not the most exciting action, but not the most boring, either. There is another thing that irks me, and that’s the performances. I felt at times that the actors were trying too hard. I mean, there are monologues where I could practically see the words ‘Oscars Clip’ plastered across the screen. If they had toned down their acting a little bit, I think I would have been more receptive towards their characters, and towards the movie more generally. But overall, it’s a solid Marvel blockbuster. I would go as far to say that Wakanda Forever is better than its predecessor.

SB: I think it’s the best MCU project since Spider-Man: No Way Home, although that Halloween special Werewolf By Night comes pretty close. I’ll agree with you and say that Wakanda Forever is better than the first movie. So, a complete contrast to our review of Black Adam in that we’re agreeing on pretty much everything.

TP: Yes, we’re back to our old ways! It’s fantastic to see.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is rated M for Mature themes and violence, and is currently screening at Sale Cinema.