TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It's disappointing, if unsurprising, that "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" buckles under the shadow of its own expectations.
The first film, released in 2018, was powered by Chadwick Boseman at the peak of his star power, and the rock-solid, visionary superhero story rocketed to a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
Boseman died in 2020, and the production — like Wakanda in the plot — is left with a gaping hole and lack of overarching purpose or direction. Many members of the star-studded cast returned, but with no Boseman and no one able to replicate his charisma, the sequel is muddled and creaky.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler's sequel is still good-looking and bolstered with some exciting action sequences, but its mournful tone has a way of wearing you down over nearly three hours of screentime. With little pep or vivacity, watching often feels more like a chore than the exhilarating experience of the first film.
The story in the second outing focuses on Shuri (Letitia Wright), the little sister of Boseman's T'Challa. The previously hidden technotopia realm of Wakanda — newly discovered on the global scene — is struggling to maintain its distance from global powers while being entangled in international bickering over use of Wakanda's precious vibranium supply.
A new threat arises when another hidden, vibranium-rich country emerges, led by the ruthless Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), who demands that Wakanda either ally with his forces or face oblivion.
Enlisting the aid of Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Shuri seeks out American tech genius Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) and attempts to keep Wakanda safe and find a way to re-light the fire dimmed by T'Challa's death.
This is all heavy stuff, and the movie sometimes creaks under its somber weight. A new Black Panther is destined to emerge, and when the moment comes it bursts with such majesty that it nearly makes up for the slow moments. But Black Panther's performance after the reveal is something of an oddity, peppered with a false death that induces eye-rolls rather than inspiration.
Namor — known int he comics as Sub-Mariner — is also an odd duck of a villain, with goofy powers that seem to be unlikely to be able to stand up to Wakandan technology. Black Panther should be able to brush off a dork like this with ease, but the trouble he presents is more confounding than menacing.
While "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" has some moments that rise to the towering level set by its predecessor, by and large it feels like an unnecessary, overbearing follow-up that lumbers when it could leap. Even with a new Black Panther, Wakanda still feels lost and hollow.
RATING: 2 STARS OUT OF 4
Watched Thursday at Harkins Tucson Spectrum.
Phil Villarreal is the senior real-time editor for KGUN 9. He is also a digital producer and host of "Phil on Film" seen weekly on Good Morning Tucson, Phil moved to KGUN after 17 years with the Arizona Daily Star. He is married and has four children. Share your story ideas and important issues with Phil by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.