REVIEW: Black Panther Wakanda Forever should win Marvel its first acting Oscar
Our spoiler-free review ahead of the blockbuster's release in Irish cinemas this week.
Now that we've reached the 30th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – which has been filled with some properly terrific performances to date – it is a little surprising that not one acting Oscar nomination has been awarded to the MCU to date. In fact, there have only been three Oscar wins across the movies so far, and all three of those are from the first Black Panther movie.
Four years on from that film, a lot has changed – both within the MCU and the real world. Thanos' decimation of half of the universe's population, for example, and the subsequent undoing of those actions, which killed off Tony Stark and sent Steve Rogers to his happily-ever-after.
It also brought the tragic real-life exit of actor Chadwick Boseman, who provided the role of T'Challa with such gravitas, charisma and physicality that it seemed impossible to simply replace him.
Smartly, Marvel and the movie's director and co-writer Ryan Coogler don't even try to, opting instead to place us in the centre of the shared grief of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Here, T'Challa has passed away from an illness, and the entire nation of Wakanda is in mourning.
Sensing this as a moment of weakness, leaders around the world begin planning ways to swipe Wakanda's deposits of vibranium while their defences are distracted by the loss of their leader. When this doesn't go according to plan, they begin scouring the planet for potential alternative sources of the priceless metal, which causes humanity to stumble upon the ancient undersea nation of Talokan.
Talokan's leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), basically blames Wakanda for the intrusion, with the nation now finding itself under threat from all sides.
It is a tremendously complicated in a good way central premise, one that takes the first Black Panther's sociopolitical plot to another level entirely, all while never forgetting to be, y'know, a fun Marvel blockbuster filled with huge action set pieces.
But the biggest takeaway from all of this is that Wakanda Forever probably deserves to land Marvel's first acting Oscar win.
As mentioned, while there is plenty of world-building and universe moving plot threads throughout the movie, including the introduction of Riri Williams aka Ironheart (a scene-stealing Dominique Thorne), some more background information on Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), and a few more arrivals we won't spoil here, the big thumping heart of this movie is the reaction to the death of T'Challa.
In what must be a perfect mirror for all of those taking part in the production, Boseman's presence can be felt throughout this movie, from the near-silent and massively emotional opening credits sequence, to narrative nods towards his character all the way through.
The character's loss is perfectly portrayed by the four most important women in his life. Shuri (Letitia Wright) loses herself in her technology to distract from her older brother's passing; Nakia (Lupitia Nyong'o) decided that some physical distance from Wakanda was the best way for her to mourn; and Okoye (Danai Gurira) reveals some tremendous hidden depths to her Dora Milaje leader.
All three of these actresses bring their absolute A-game to their roles, but all eyes will be on Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, and Disney and Marvel should put all of their weight behind a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her. Having recently lost her husband, and now her son, both of them kings, and incensed that the world wants to take advantage of these losses, she is all righteous fury in public, but displays necessary vulnerability with her family and friends. Seriously, this isn't just a reminder of how great Bassett is, but how – when done right – these movies can be the perfect platform to deliver nuanced, emotional performances.
There are some minor quibbles, including a curious lack of major action set pieces in the middle third, and the soundtrack never once comes near reaching the modern masterpiece that Kendrick Lamar curated for the first movie.
But mostly you'll walk away with memories of one of the best Marvel movies to date, one of the most emotionally-resonating blockbusters of recent years, and one of the greatest performances of 2022.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives in Irish cinemas on Friday, 11 November.