Review by Daniel Blackaby November 11, 2022
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Christian Movie Review)
Verdict: An emotional and meaningful film that struggles not to buckle under its own weight; succeeding more as a cultural moment than as an exciting or cohesive story.
About The Movie
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would have been one of the year’s most anticipated films under any circumstances, but the tragic death of actor Chadwick Boseman adds an inseparable dimension. The movie is by far the weightiest and most emotional Marvel film to date; a meaningful—sometimes beautiful—tribute to its beloved actor and cherished character. At the same time, it doesn’t always soar as high as an actual compelling or cohesive story. Wakanda Forever is far from a bad film. In fact, at times, it’s an excellent film. But it’s a busy film, and often buckles under its own weight.
The film handles the loss of its lead actor/character as well as feasibly possible. His presence is felt from start to finish, including an adjusted opening title card that essentially functions as a moment of silence. There is clear synergy between reality and fiction. For both the characters and the audience, the story unfolds almost like a guided process of cathartic mourning.
A byproduct of a Black Panther film without the Black Panther is that it is a more ensemble story. Letitia Wright as Shuri takes a more central role and gives a superb performance. Angela Bassett is also great as a grieving mother, and Lupita Nyong’o is always a welcome presence (despite limited screentime). Another standout is the newly introduced character of Namor, who is easily one of the most compelling villains in the MCU canon. Actor Tenoch Huerta doesn’t necessarily have the magnetic charisma to steal or command many scenes, but the character is so well developed, with understandable motivations and sympathetic humanity, that he is truly a character in his own right, and not just a necessarily foil for the heroes.
Despite its emotional earnestness, not everything in Wakanda Forever works. Thematically, the film is razor-focused and unified. Narratively, however, it is jumbled and convoluted. The story unfolds as a collection of scenes and moments that don’t always flow together. The story constantly jumps to new locations and introduces new characters (that don’t add much) to an already crowded cast. Even when the film hits the middle of its lengthy runtime, it still feels like it’s just revving its engine.
Although director Ryan Coogler’s fingerprints are still evident, the movie lacks the kinetic energy of the thrilling first Black Panther film. Whereas Black Panther popped with vibrant color and visceral action, its sequel feels noticeably muted. Part of this is due to the more solemn story, but much is simply the result of some uninspiring storytelling decisions. Wakanda Forever is excessively plot-heavy and filled with a barrage of exposition. The story is emotional, but never all that fun or exciting. It may be a satisfying meditation on a specific cultural moment, but there is little to compel audiences to rewatch it, and it will be interesting to see how how the film is viewed in the future.
In the end, Wakanda Forever is a unique film with a worthy message. There is lots to appreciate, and there are flashes of brilliance, but it is largely held back by a jumbled and often unexciting story. It’s an excellent tribute to both Chadwick Boseman and the Black Panther character, but not the masterful sequel to Black Panther some may be expecting or hoping for.
On the Surface
Profanity: A handful of minor profanities (mostly “sh—“).
Violence: Standard, mostly bloodless MCU action. Several times, music (a siren’s call) is used to put characters in a trance and compel them to toss themselves into the ocean (and presumably drown).
Sexuality: There is a brief scene where one woman kisses another woman on the head and calls her, “my love,” with what seems like romantic undertones, although their relationship is not explicitly stated.
Other: Pagan spirituality plays a central role in the story. Characters pray to “the gods,” or to the specific god of their people. Several funeral rituals are performed. There is frequent talk about characters joining their ancestors, or having their ancestors watch over them. A ritual transports a character to the “ancestral plane.”
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
Overcoming Grief and Finding Faith
From start to finish, Wakanda Forever is an exploration of grief. It asks difficult questions, such as, “How do we move on from tragedy?” and “How does loss shape us, for better or worse?” A strength of the film is that it allows its characters to confront these questions with raw and honest emotion. The Bible says that there is “a time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Grieving is a natural reality. The characters respond to the tragic loss of T’Challa in different ways, and the film never seems to judge them or suggest that one response is better than the others. While the story cautions against allowing grief to become all-consuming or lead to destructive anger, it also serves as a reminder that there is no one path to healing.
In the film, grief also drives characters toward faith and spirituality. While this spirituality is not presented in a strictly biblical sense (see Content to Consider above), the overarching theme is nevertheless powerful. The movie begins with a voiceover of a prayer that ultimately goes unanswered, resulting in a spiritual journey for the grieving character. There is a fascinating conversation between the Queen and Shuri, as the queen attempts to guide her daughter through a religious ritual to find peace and feel her brother’s presence. The scientifically minded Shuri dismisses the advice, asserting that the feeling is merely a mental construct, and not real. Her mother responds by challenging Shuri what “mental construct” her own brain is making, and whether it bring her peace?
Shuri retreats from her grief into her science and technology but can’t find peace in her more naturalistic worldview. On several occasions, she questions or lashes out against spiritual things and their futility to prevent her brother from dying. By the end of the film, however, she is on a path toward faith, reaching a satisfying conclusion and bookend to the opening scene. While the film’s conception of faith and spirituality does reflect biblical Christianity, the general theme is consistent with the comforting invitation by Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).