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'Black Panther 2' review: 'Wakanda Forever' is a profound, action-packed take on life and legacy

USA TODAY 11/11/2022 Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

The face of the late Chadwick Boseman – and his beloved character T’Challa – appears early in the sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” on memorial murals and that nifty Marvel Studios intro. But his presence and legacy is profoundly felt throughout the film, as various characters (and the audience) deal with grief and move on with their lives in the face of adversity – personal and superheroic.

Director Ryan Coogler delivers a powerful follow-up to the phenomenal 2018 “Black Panther” that’s funny, clever and heartbreaking, impressive in its world-building, honest in its view of world politics and naturally packed with huge action sequences. (If you’ve been missing the “Iron Man” movies, this has your fill of folks in armored supersuits.)

At its emotional core, though, “Wakanda Forever” (★★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters now) is also a film about the ways people protect their family and heritage, and – like T’Challa’s path in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – figure out where they stand and follow those who came before them.

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A new hero emerges in the Marvel sequel "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." © MARVEL STUDIOS A new hero emerges in the Marvel sequel "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

As art imitating life, the movie begins with loss: T’Challa has died and his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), now rules Wakanda. But while T’Challa was more diplomatic, seeking to share his African nation 's valuable vibranium with the world, Ramonda doesn’t comply after her son’s death. Instead, she takes fellow world leaders to task who are hungry to use this natural resource and attacking her people to get it. 

America has gotten its hands on technology that detects vibranium – apparently it’s not just in Wakanda – and that advancement brings to the surface another hidden kingdom: Talokan, made up of underwater Mesoamerican people led by the mysterious Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). A man with actual superpowers rather than high-tech might, he threatens Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), the 19-year-old MIT student who developed the new device. Wakandan princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Dora Milaje leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) hit the road to protect her.

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Okoye (Danai Gurira, left) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) go undercover to protect a teenage tech prodigy in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." © ELI ADE Okoye (Danai Gurira, left) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) go undercover to protect a teenage tech prodigy in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Eventually, Namor and Shuri have a heart-to-heart about their sides of this brewing war, though betrayal leads to bad blood, Wakandan superspy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) enters the fray, and somebody new wears the Black Panther mantle in a film that accomplishes quite a bit in two hours and 41 minutes without overstaying its welcome.

“Wakanda Forever” weaves in real-world geopolitical thriller elements better than any Marvel film since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” With a screenplay from original “Panther” co-writers Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, the film examines the effects of isolationism and the greed of global superpowers while also delving into the history of Mayan culture with the Talokan people. The first “Black Panther” stunningly revealed the world of Wakanda, and the sequel realizes another community with intriguing traditions and tragic backstory that, for good reason, doesn’t want to show itself to the rest of civilization.

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Mayan and Mesoamerican culture and references are included in the look of Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and the Talokan people in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." © ELI ADE Mayan and Mesoamerican culture and references are included in the look of Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and the Talokan people in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Thoughtfully and dynamically played by Mejía, Namor is a hot-tempered foe who, like Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the first “Panther,” fosters antagonism from an understandable place. And as the youthful new Riri (who's kind of a teenaged Tony Stark), Thorne lends a lighthearted spirit to the serious goings-on. 

The returning Wakandan cast receives the most important bits of character development. Some personalities, such as Winston Duke’s lovably fearsome M’Baku, settle into new roles, while others (especially Wright and Bassett’s daughter-and-mom duo) have transformative arcs that test their beliefs. Wakanda is filled with compelling women who come into their own here: They question each other, make hard decisions and wrestle with complications in ways that make them a joy to watch.

“Wakanda Forever” doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, a remarkable effort that brought together Boseman’s gravitas and masterful performance with Coogler’s gift for worldly narrative. But the sequel offers a similar technical achievement – the costumes and production design are simply awesome – and plot points in the original movie pay off and have consequences in the latest film, which also handles T'Challa's death in a very real and authentic fashion.

The new “Black Panther” celebrates and honors its fallen hero, at the same time showing that this corner of the MCU remains in extremely capable hands.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Black Panther 2' review: 'Wakanda Forever' is a profound, action-packed take on life and legacy

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