geezer cinema/african-american directors series: black panther: wakanda forever (ryan coogler, 2022)
The problem for every sequel not named The Godfather: Part II is that the excellence of the original leads to negative comparisons with what comes after. Wakanda Forever is not as good as Black Panther. That does not mean it's a bad movie. In fact, Wakanda Forever is a fine film that is an honorable continuation of the story. To return (for the last time, I promise) to my earlier statement, Wakanda Forever may not be as good as The Godfather: Part II, but it's better than The Godfather: Part III, and any attempts to claim otherwise are nonsense.
Much has been made of the absence of Chadwick Boseman, rightfully so. His loss is deeply felt, and Wakanda Forever suffers from that loss. But a lot of people return for the sequel, including most of the great cast, and, importantly, Ryan Coogler. Coogler has now directed four features, and there isn't a dud among them. He has become one of our finest film makers. And the diversity we see on the screen is extended behind the camera with Coogler: he has used women as cinematographers and editors in all his features (in this case, Autumn Durald as cinematographer, and Jennifer Lame and Kelley Dixon as editors). And Michael B. Jordan has been in all of Coogler's films ... as I have said before, their pairing compares to the icons like Scorsese/De Niro.
I could say some negative things about Wakanda Forever. It's too long (you could watch Fruitvale Station twice in about the time it would take to watch Wakanda Forever once). What made Black Panther the best-ever Marvel movie was partly that it wasn't just a Marvel movie, and while Wakanda Forever is OK in this regard, there are some action scenes in the middle of the film that are more Marvel than anything else, and not that good besides. (In fairness, the climactic battle is excellent.)
And then there's what Coogler and company do about Chadwick Boseman. At the beginning of the film, I thought they were tugging our heartstrings excessively, demanding that we play silent tribute to Boseman as we watched (I resisted, but of course, the tears came to me like they did to everyone). Overall, I think Wakanda Forever more than overcomes that opening. The loss of Boseman/T'Challa is deep, but by the end of the film, that loss is integrated into the movie as a whole, and it's the right call.
The cast? I won't single anyone out, but if you look at the cast list, take my word for it, they are all at the top of their games. (OK, I wasn't gonna single anyone out, but in the tradition of "Hey, it's that guy!", give it up for Lake Bell.) Newcomer Tenoch Huerta makes a good, complex villain, although I liked one comment that said he's 41 years old and now he's signed on to act in a Speedo for the next ten years. (His trainer told him, "Okay, man, now you can rest, you can chill and take your time. But not too much, because if you have to play Namor one more time, you need to go through the same process all over again. So it’s better you take care of yourself and don’t get crazy with tacos.")
Wakanda Forever isn't just a tolerable sequel to a great movie. It's good in its own right, even as it owes so much to the original.