Letitia Wright as Shuri in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Image courtesy Marvel Studios)

Letitia Wright as Shuri in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Image courtesy Marvel Studios)

On the Screen: ‘Wakanda Forever’ picks up the pieces

“Black Panther” sequel grapples with grief and hope after franchise loses its star

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a little overlong, overstuffed and overburdened. That it is an impactful film — one worth seeing — is a true testament to the deep heart of the film and the excellent performances of the actors tasked with realizing it.

This film is an introspection on loss, grief and anger. This is perhaps obvious given it was rewritten following the tragic passing of original star Chadwick Boseman in 2020 from colon cancer — a real world event with ripples plainly felt in the fiction.

The film centers on Letitia Wright’s Shuri, sister to Boseman’s T’Challa.

In 2018’s “Black Panther,” she was a comedic character; a genius who cracked jokes and kept her king big brother in line. In “Wakanda Forever,” she is left grieving in the aftermath of his death — the first problem she couldn’t fix — one painfully realized in a showstopping opening sequence that left my relatively packed opening night showing wholly silent.

Shuri’s emotional arc could have felt rushed, but at every turn her feelings are given time to breathe. An exciting third act twist really drove it home and entirely brought me on board for her version of the character not just in this film, but also in the greater franchise.

There is a surprising amount of time spent with Shuri and other characters dealing with their hurt — quiet moments far from the exciting action set-pieces. These moments shine in the portrayals by both Wright’s Shuri and Angela Bassett’s as her mother — the recently re-coronated Queen Ramonda.

In addition to Shuri, the film also follows the newly introduced Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta, leader of a secret undersea civilization of Mayan refugees. He drives much of the plot and serves as its antagonist. Namor and Shuri are similar characters, both driven by their pain throughout the film in their actions and their convictions.

Perhaps the biggest triumph of “Wakanda Forever” is making Namor cool. Taking Marvel’s version of Aquaman, a dude from the ocean who wears green short shorts and has wings on his feet, then making him an exciting and compelling character is a tall order. Huerta makes it look easy with a performance that is equal parts menacing and charismatic. The character is clearly poised for further MCU appearances.

Any film would be hard pressed to balance this much emotional baggage and genuine heart while also introducing new superheroes like Namor and Ironheart, a new secret underwater civilization and also taking weird tangents with two American spies — all clearly setting up future projects — but for the most part, it works.

This is a film about picking up the pieces. It closes with a message of hope — and an almost comically long series of new beginnings. For all of the anger and the sadness the characters are put through, that grief is shown to be just a part of the journey.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is an imperfect film with themes and characters that shine through and make it something more.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will be playing this weekend at Kenai Cinemas, Orca Theater, and Homer Theatre. Check showtimes and get tickets at catheaters.com, orcatheater.com or homertheatre.com

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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