Angela Bassett in 'Black Panther:

Angela Bassett in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ opened in theaters nationwide on November 11, 2022. Earning an estimated $180 million domestically, the film holds the new record for the highest grossing November debut in box office history.

“Wakanda forever” was introduced as a salutation in Black Panther, the box-office shattering 2018 film that transcended to cultural phenomenon status. Much like the movie, the greeting took on a life of its own and became interchangeable in real life with all that is Black and good – Black love, Black solidarity, Black power, and most of all Black achievement.

It is a fitting sequel title for director Ryan Coogler’s follow up to the unapologetic display of Black excellence within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And like its predecessor, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever broke records when it arrived in theaters this week. With an estimated $180 million in domestic box office receipts alone, the film had the biggest November film debut in cinematic history. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever made a concerted effort to check every box on the list of fan expectations. The first task at hand for the film was a monumental one – navigating the untimely passing of its original lead Chadwick Boseman, who passed away from colon cancer in 2020. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole wasted no time diving into the raw emotion of a community and culture in mourning. Both the T’Challa character and the actor who embodied him are given a hero king’s farewell in the opening scenes of “Wakanda Forever.”

But the loss of T’Challa means that the sequel storyline teased in the original film gives way to a new reality. Women assume the position of protecting the nation and its most prized natural resource. With the loss of her son, who inherited the throne from his father, Queen Ramonda must step forward for Wakanda. She, Princess Shuri, Okoye, and her Dora Milaje women warriors face threats from every angle from the nations determined to acquire their vibranium by any means necessary in the absence of The Black Panther. Their attempt at hostile acquisition inadvertently awakens an under the radar foe that puts the entire globe at risk.

Black women step up to protect the future of Wakanda, using their intellect and physical strength to protect Wakanda from foreseeable doom. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever serves up a taste of an Afrofuturistic Hidden Figures as Shuri finds an unlikely new partner in science. Familiar faces – and a few fresh ones – are effective in giving portrayals that continue the legacy of Black excellence and Black power that drew fans to the original Black Panther.

Angela Bassett is in good form as she leads the cast with her Queen Ramonda. While grieving the loss of her son Wakanda’s beloved king, she maintains her strength as opposing forces assume she is at her most vulnerable. She and Letitia Wright as Shuri are a dynamically matched pair as a metaphor for the generational disconnect that comes when the pursuit and practice of technology is favored over wisdom, spiritual and cultural principles. Danai Gurira efficiently reprises her role of Okoye. And Winston Duke once again steals more than one scene with his brief but brooding – and hilarious – presence as M’Baku. Also returning is Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, though her return feels more like an afterthought than a central element of the story. Michaela Coel, and Dominique Thorne and Julia Louis Dreyfuss make their franchise debut. As does Tenoch Huerta, who ushers in a cultural sidebar for the Latinx community.

At nearly two hours and 45 minutes in duration, “Wakanda Forever” works with intention and diligence – nearly to exhaustion – to give anticipating audiences the film they feel they deserve. True to form with Marvel films is the pitfall of trying to please everybody., which means periods of wading through seemingly aimless subplots and backstory.

But a few things set “Wakanda Forever” apart to compel their undivided attention. The first is the breathtaking imagery. The aesthetic of Africa was as critical to the film as any character in the original Black Panther. Ruth E. Carter’s Academy Award-winning costumes, Hannah Beachler’s production design and Rachel Morrison’s cinematography are a love letter to the continent. Carter and Beachler return in all their glory with “Wakanda Forever,” while Autumn Durald Arkapwaw impressively takes the baton from Morrison.

And like Killmonger in the original, “Wakanda Forever” also presents Marvel fans with an adversary that is not evil just for evil’s sake. Namor is the king of an ancient civilization who – like the people of Wakanda – resorted to drastic measures to protect their people from the terror of colonization.

Certain elements become convoluted, and the story drags a bit as Wakanda powers through crises that put the fate of the nation at risk. However, the central theme of the film is crystal clear –and especially timely considering the current political climate. The true power lies not in Wakanda’s vibranium, but in the brilliant minds and moral compass of the women who harness their resources for the greater good.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is currently in theatres nationwide. The film is rated PG-13 with a running time of 161 minutes.

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