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Spirited fun: BRIAN VINER reviews Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

A fair amount of spirited fun, but too thinly stretched by a running-time that left me weary… BRIAN VINER reviews Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (12A, 161 mins)

Rating:

The 2018 superhero film Black Panther became a financial behemoth, taking £1.12billion at the box office and leaving many other Marvel movies in the shade.

So despite the terribly sad death in August 2020 of actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the title character first time round, a sequel was as inevitable as the African sunrise.

Nonetheless, writer-director Ryan Coogler had to tear up his script and start again following the untimely demise, at the age of just 43, of his leading man. The result is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and for cynics the key word in that title is ‘Forever’.

Directors of superhero movies are inclined to confuse themselves with the likes of David Lean, who made sweeping historical epics the length of short holidays. Coogler is no exception. The Chelsea and England footballer Mason Mount was sitting just in front of me at last week’s London premiere, and grew conspicuously restless as the film moved towards a third period of extra time. If only we could have decided the plot on penalties.

Still, for the less cynical, the key words are again ‘Black Panther’. That exciting character, superhero alter ego of T’Challa, ruler of the rich and secretive African country of Wakanda, was to have loomed large in the new film.

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is the sequel to the 2018 superhero film ‘Black Panther’, which became a box-office behemoth, thumping even most other Marvel movies into the middle-distance

Danai Gurira (left) as Okoye and Angela Bassett (right) as Queen Ramonda in Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Actor Winston Duke (pictured) returns to his role as chieftain M’Baku in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Instead of re-casting him, however, Coogler has killed him off. He insists this is his tribute to Boseman, but it makes narrative sense, too, and sets up a funeral sequence that is almost as spectacular as the coronation in the first film.

With T’Challa gone, having evidently succumbed to a sudden, mysterious illness, his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) assumes the throne.

She is no pushover either, turning up at a United Nations assembly to reject growing international pressure on Wakanda to share its unique resources of the hallowed metal vibranium.

The Queen tells the UN unequivocally to shove its claims on Wakanda’s vibranium deposits. ‘I am not a woman who enjoys repeating herself,’ she adds firmly, which is merciful news for those of us already baulking at the running time of two hours 41 minutes.

Alas, feisty diplomacy alone will not keep the predators away. Certain Western countries (hang your heads, France… shame on you, America) are quite prepared to use military might to steal Wakanda’s vibranium deposits, a not-so-subtle nod to the same forces of imperialism that the Prime Minister of Barbados referenced during the Cop27 climate talks earlier this week when she talked about rich countries historically exploiting the poor.

For rich, read white. For poor, read black. It might be mostly accidental, but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is nothing if not topical.

Anyway, while Wakandans are protecting themselves from the greedy West and grieving the abrupt loss of their beloved T’Challa, a more existential threat arrives in the singular form of underwater king Namor (played by the Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta).

‘With T’Challa gone, his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) assumes the throne. She is no pushover either’

As Wakanda grieves the abrupt loss of their beloved T’Challa, a more existential threat arrives in the singular form of underwater king Namor (played by the Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta)

It’s the women who give Namor a run for his money, T’Challa’s resourceful sister Shuri played by actress Letitia Wright (right) and Okoye, leader of the royal guards, played by Danai Gurira (left)

Not only is Namor at home beneath the waves, he can also fly, thanks to a cute little pair of wings attached to his heels. Some baddies have all the luck. And if that were not enough, he has, at his winged heels, a devoted army of female warriors, all of them wearing strange masks over their mouths and noses, as if in thrall to Covid-19 protocols.

But it’s the women on the other side who give Namor a run for his money, not so much Ramonda as T’Challa’s resourceful sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), and formidable girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).

Moreover, there’s a precociously brilliant student, Riri (Dominique Thorne), plucked from college in Massachusetts to help the Wakandan cause.

It’s hardly a spoiler to let on that, as the confrontation builds with Namor, a fresh manifestation of the titular panther rises.

Yet this is a film less about black power than girl power. Even the Wakandans’ ally in the CIA (Martin Freeman) has a new female boss (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

All of which adds up to a fair amount of spirited fun – but, frankly, it is too thinly stretched by a running time that left me as weary as if I had gone head to head with Namor myself.

  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in cinemas on Friday

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