There’s no getting around the fact that the original film “Black Panther” was a smash hit when released in 2018, earning $1.3 billion across the world and earning numerous award nominations, including a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. Four years later and the second installment “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which opened globally Nov. 11, has dived headfirst into introducing us to a new world that’s hidden and as powerful as Wakanda. 

Director Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” opens with great respect being shown by the citizens of Wakanda for the death of  King T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman). Meanwhile the world waits and plots because their nation is the most powerful nation on earth, because of its reserves of vibranium, native to their country, a purple-glowing metal that’s the source of its immense power. 

The thirst for power consumes the nations of the world, especially America, and in act one, mercenaries break into Wakanda’s technological nerve center attempting to steal vibranium by bloody force. Naturally, they are stopped and captured and in a scene that highlights and perfectly reflects how the real world works. These. paid assassins (thieves) are dragged into the United Nations where King T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), the queen of Wakanda, is cautioning the greedy world leaders and dressing them down for their (now) transparent lies. 

The twist in the story is that there’s another nation that also has vibranium and the U.S., in secret, sends an exploratory vessel into the ocean and before they can report their findings to the world, the operatives are killed by the supernatural, otherworldly power of Talokan, an aquatic, ancient civilization (underwater ) that is ruled by Namor (Tenoch Huerta) known to his people as a god who can live in the water and who is able to fly because of the wings attached to his ankles. 

M’Baku (Winston Duke), the sharped-tongue leader of the mountain tribe, tells the truth plainly saying: “His people do not call him general or king. They call him K’ukulkan. The feather serpent god. Killing him will risk eternal war.”

Namor understands the motivation of the surface world much better than the Wakandans. In fact, he tries to warn them not to ever trust white people and he requests that the Talokans work with the Wakandans and extends an invitation to Shuri to help him burn the whole surface world.

The power of women pulsates in this second installment in a way that creeps into your very bones. The story’s focus is on Shuri as she tries to manage her deep grief, which is tinged with guilt for not being able to use her scientific abilities to save her brother. Coogler (smartly, and slyly) infuses the opposite side with woman power as well, casting comedic actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the head of the CIA, who is many steps in front of her ex-husband, Agent Ross (Martin Freeman), and openly ruthless as a representation of today’s America.  

The other role that hits home is the development of M’Baku—all hail to Hanuman, whose wise council is always delicately laced with wit. 

What hits hardest is watching Africans and Mexicans fight each other when we all know (and this is history, not opinion) the real enemies are the white/European nations that think nothing of genocide and enslaving our people. So to watch the heroes of Wakanda fight for their lives against evenly matched opponents of color (blue hue, to be exact) is heart-breaking, but the masterful storytelling of Coogler saves the day and without sharing any spoilers, he shows the world clearly that he “understood the assignment.”

In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” Coogler teamed again with co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole where the team expanded on key characters, layering their grief in the appropriate places and adding dynamic new characters that crack up the viewers’ imagination. 

Coogler pulls of debuting a brand-new underwater empire that’s like experiencing a fever dream while still exploring the characters of Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of Wakanda’s all-female special forces, War Dog Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and introducing us to Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), an MIT prodigy, and the underwater Talokans’ warriors/protectors Attuma (Alex Livinalli) and Namora (Mabel Cadena) who are just as effective, motivated and fierce as the Dora Milaje.

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