Release Date(s)2022 (February 7, 2023)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: The film review is by Stephen Bjork. The 4K disc A/V and extras comments are by Bill Hunt.]
Making a satisfying sequel is always challenging, especially when the first film was an enormous critical and commercial success, but Wakanda Forever faced an uphill battle greater than most. Black Panther had been a record-breaking runaway smash, as it became the highest-grossing solo film in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up to that point (a title that it held until the improbable pandemic-era sensation that was Spider-Man: No Way Home). Yet its true success couldn’t be measured by box office alone, since it also became a cultural touchstone in a way that few blockbusters do—not quite to the level of landmarks like Star Wars or Jaws, of course, but still in that same general category. It was certainly a landmark for franchise filmmaking in terms of representation on both sides of the camera, with its glorious Afrofuturist visions being brought to life by a diverse crew led by writer/director Ryan Coogler. Thankfully, Coogler returned for the sequel, bringing along co-writer Joe Robert Cole and many of the same crew members, so the project seemed to be in very good hands. Unfortunately, before the film could even go into production, fate intervened in a way that no one could have possibly anticipated.
Chadwick Boseman’s unexpected death from colon cancer in 2020 left a pall over the future of the Black Panther franchise, putting its very existence into question. Boseman’s understated dignity had been essential in bringing T’Challa to life, and his monumental presence both on and off screen became indelibly associated with the role. While other actors in the MCU have been quietly replaced without any negative consequences (like Terrance Howard and Edward Norton), there was never any question about recasting the role of T’Challa. The character had to pass away along with the man who had embodied him. Of course, comics being comics, there are always alternatives, and other characters in the books have taken on the mantle of the Black Panther since T’Challa’s original appearance in 1966—including a key character who had already appeared in the first film. That didn’t change the fact that Boseman’s death still needed to be addressed.
Wakanda Forever wastes no time in doing just that, with the entire pre-credit sequence being used to establish what happened to T’Challa in-universe, and to bid him a rueful and heartfelt farewell. There’s never been anything else quite like it in the history of cinema: while the characters are mourning the loss of T’Challa, the actors who play them are mourning the loss of Boseman. It’s not so much a funeral as a celebration of life, and it simultaneously honors both the character and the actor. It’s an emotionally powerful opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film, on every possible level. Even the Marvel logos are used to commemorate how much that Boseman meant to the studio, and they’re difficult to watch without shedding a tear not just for Boseman, but also for everyone who loved and admired him.
The rest of Wakanda Forever ups the representational game from Black Panther by centering on T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), his loyal protector Okoye (Danai Gurira), and his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett). M’Baku (Winston Duke) also plays a more important role here than he did in Black Panther, but it’s no accident that four of the top five billed Wakandans are all women. Wakanda Forever expands on that representational element by introducing Tenoch Huerta into the MCU as Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor is ostensibly the villain in the plot, but true to his comic book origins, he’s really more of an anti-hero. One of the greatest strengths of the first film was the way that it handled its own villain Killmonger, by giving him sympathetic motivations. The methods that he used to achieve his ends may have been wrong, but his reasons for doing so were sound (a lesson that T’Challa finally learns at the end of the film). Killmonger wasn’t so much evil as he was wrong-headed, and Namor in Wakanda Forever shares that same defining characteristic. His desire to protect his people in the undersea kingdom of Talokan is a noble one; it’s only the means by which he does so that are questionable.
Namor’s single-minded determination sets events into motion that result in Wakanda Forever appearing to devolve into the typical epic CGI-laden battle that concludes far too many Marvel films, but in this case, the battle is necessary to show the consequences of decisions made by the leaders of the rival nations involved. Their refusal to compromise with each other makes conflict inevitable, and to resolve it, those leaders need to resolve their own personal differences. They’ve both been seeking vengeance for legitimate reasons, but that’s a quest that always results in collateral damage and the loss of innocent lives. The only way to stop it is to show real personal strength by finally being able to let go of the past. It’s an appropriate way to end Wakanda Forever, because it brings T’Challa’s journey full circle. When he originally appeared in Captain America: Civil War, he was seeking revenge for the death of his father King T’Chaka, first against a person who was wrongly accused of the crime, but eventually against the person who was truly responsible. Yet at the last moment, he stays his own hand, because he finally recognizes what his quest for revenge has done to him:
“Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them. I am done letting it consume me.”
T’Challa’s own family needs to learn that lesson the hard way in Wakanda Forever. The only way to genuinely honor a person’s memory is by honoring what they stood for, and it’s only after accepting that fact that the mantle of the Black Panther can truly be passed on to another.
Cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw (Loki) captured Black Panther: Wakanda Forever digitally at 3.4 and 6K resolution using IMAX-certified Sony Venice cameras with customized Panavision T Series and Ultra Panatar anamorphic lenses. The film was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate, but while some scenes were specifically framed for 1.90:1 IMAX presentation, the Blu-ray and 4K editions offer the film in the wide theatrical release’s 2.39:1 scope ratio only. (The 1.90 version is available exclusively on Disney+). The use of anamorphic lenses for this film was suggested by Arkapaw and represents a first for Coogler, who ultimately decided that their unique visual characteristics fit well with the notion that one sees the world differently after a profound loss. This choice does indeed serve the film well, as it lends a heightened sense of depth to the imagery that enhances faces, emotions, and foreground objects, even as the edges of the frame and deep backgrounds fall into softness and bokeh. Detail is clean and well refined—strikingly so in the IMAX sequences—which highlights the rich and varied textures of the film’s Wakandan settings, not to mention its intricate costume designs.
Wakanda Forever truly shines in High Dynamic Range (per Disney’s usual, it’s HDR10 only), exhibiting a wonderfully broad range of contrast, with deep shadows that retain plenty of detail and bold, natural highlights. The image frequently exhibits a moody and evocative quality, yet at no time is detail ever lost in the faces of the film’s largely black cast members. (This is a slightly darker grade on average than other MCU films—not quite as dark as Arrival or Solo: A Star Wars Story in 4K UHD, but in that direction.) The deep ocean settings benefit too, with pleasing detail visible even in Talokan’s authentically dark and atmospheric environments. Colors are richly saturated and nuanced, from Wakanda’s tapestry of earth tones to the aqua blues and greens of Namor’s realm. Metal and glass have a brilliant and realistic sheen, exemplified by Queen Ramonda’s golden royal accoutrements, as well as the blue-black sheen of T’Challa’s casket in the film’s opening sequence. From start to finish, this is a gorgeous and highly cinematic 4K image.
Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. As was the case with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder, Wakanda Forever’s Atmos track is mastered at a lower than optimal level on disc, but raising the volume to reference level restores some (if not all) of the original dynamics experienced in theaters. All of the channels are energized, including the overheads, and there’s plenty of movement and creativity in the mix’s immersive effects. The overall tonal quality is modestly full sounding, and the bass does get a bit more muscular in set-pieces (if not as much as you’ll experience on other action film Atmos mixes), particularly Shuri’s descent into the depths with Namor, his subsequent attack on Wakanda, and the film’s climactic ocean battle. Dialogue is clear throughout and Ludwig Göransson’s meticulously curated score (which features a mix of vocal performances and organic instruments, as well as hip-hop/pop tracks by Amaarae, Rihanna, and others) sounds terrific. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus.
Marvel and Disney’s 4K disc contains no special features, however you also get the film in 1080p HD Blu-ray in the package. That disc includes the following, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole, and Autumn Durald Arkapaw
- Envisioning Two Worlds (10:55)
- Passing the Mantle (5:50)
- Gag Reel (2:28)
- Deleted Scenes (4 scenes – 10:11 in all)
Unfortunately, this content material is so light on substance that it’s hard to imagine how the Cinematic Universe Edition label really matters.
Envisioning Two Worlds examines the production design of the expanded world of Wakanda, including places like North Triangle, the Wakandan Navy, the Jabari tribe, Shuri’s laboratory, and obviously Namor’s Mayan-influenced aquatic kingdom of Talokan.
Passing the Mantle focuses on the relationship between T’Challa and Shuri, and the ways in which that informed Shuri’s journey in this sequel. The piece also examines Shuri’s other key relationships. Wright, Bassett, Dominique Thorne, and Coogler all weigh in with their thoughts.
There’s also a Gag Reel with a few funny moments and a collection of four Deleted Scenes. We see Okoye attempting to go after Shuri, Ross impersonating an MI6 officer, Okoye speaking with M’Kathu (the leader of Wakanda’s Border Tribe), and a brief moment between Shuri and Okoye in Haiti. None are significant enough to suggest they shouldn’t have been deleted, but the final scene does hint at a future for the Midnight Angels in the MCU.
The audio commentary features the director, co-writer, and cinematographer in a low-key running conversation about what’s happening on screen. There are moments in which the trio touches on genuinely meaningful topics, but they’re brief early on—too often they simply watch the film and share details about how each scene was shot, etc. The death of Chadwick Boseman is addressed only peripherally, which on one hand feels like a lost opportunity. But on the other, having addressed the topic often in other venues, it’s not hard to understand why Coogler might prefer to focus on the filmmaking. The commentary gets stronger and more lively with time, as the participants begin to find their groove. Production anecdotes abound, and Coogler’s personality and intelligence shine through—he and his team have an easy rapport that makes for an engaging listening experience.
Finally, you get a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.
The theme of letting go has been prevalent in recent Marvel films, especially in Thor: Love and Thunder, but Wakanda Forever takes a different approach. In this case, it’s not really about letting go of a loved one, but rather about embracing one who has already been lost by letting go of hatred, fear, and the desire for vengeance. That’s not just the best way to honor T’Challa; it’s a damned fine way to commemorate Chadwick Boseman as well. And there’s no better way to view Wakanda Forever at home—its scope-only aspect ratio notwithstanding—than on physical 4K Ultra HD.
- Stephen Bjork (with Bill Hunt)