Tom's Guide Verdict
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever breathes life back into Marvel after a stumbling Phase 4 in the theaters and at home. Strong performances from the whole cast keep you focused on the raw emotions of a kingdom without its king. Oh, and we won't spoil anything, but the movie sets up some excellent things ahead in the MCU.
Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright deliver amazing performances
RiRi Williams is our new favorite Marvel character
Still some bad CGI
Namor's motivations feel under-developed
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
We don't know if Ryan Coogler loves a challenge, but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever proves that he thrives under the worst scenarios. The latest Marvel movie arrives at a tenuous time, standing on shoulders larger than the glistening Wakandan cityscapes.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe's theatrical arms have been cramping up while swinging ever erratically at the theaters. Yes, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was great, but it also benefitted from comparisons to the lumbering Black Widow. Thor: Love and Thunder was tonally chaotic. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness loved to do cool stuff before it told you "that doesn't matter." Eternals is a movie we don't talk about. Admittedly, Spider-Man: No Way Home (which is also a Sony Spider-verse movie) was great. Meanwhile, at home, for every visionary WandaVision, it felt like there were at least two faulty Moon Knights.
So, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, arrives to close out Phase 4 of the MCU, before the next upcoming Marvel movie — Ant-Man and the Wasp in Quantumania — kicks things into full gear with Kang the Conqueror, the heir apparent to Thanos' big baddie throne. And it's been given an uphill battle.
Not only do Marvel movies seem more skippable than ever — or at the very least, something you can wait until they hit Disney Plus to watch — the loss of Chadwick Boseman created a hole that might be impossible to patch in the hearts of Marvel fans and the scripts of future Marvel movies. Speaking of Disney Plus, we've got all the insight on when to expect Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on Disney Plus.
Fortunately, Coogler and company knocked it out of the park. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is one of the best Marvel movies in ages, if not ever. And it earns that praise by way of emotionally charged performances, Coogler's effortless cool cinematic chops and two new MCU characters you'll love.
So grab your Kimoyo beads, this spoiler-free Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review will break down why you'll leave the theater feeling truly emotionally charged up.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review — a cast at their finest
Making a Black Panther movie without Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa is the kind of challenge that few would accept, but the Wakanda Forever cast stepped up in a huge way. Primarily a film about how we handle mourning — and where it can push us — Wakanda Forever sees Angela Bassett guide the ship with a phenomenal performance as Queen Ramonda.
Without her son, and in a situation where her trust in the world is thin, Ramonda has her guard up at almost all times. But Bassett is such a pro that she knows how to show that her defenses are up because of feeling wounded by life. This is why you hire some of the best actors on Earth to lead your blockbusters — to make sure the audience feels something.
And then there is Letitia Wright's Shuri, who stands in stark contrast to her mother's brave front. Often succumbing to her anxiety and frustration, Wakanda's Disney Princess becomes a leading lady in this movie.
Often times, this gives Wright the tear-jerking moments — which she nails incredibly naturally. This may be due to how the cast all seems to be, deservedly, in mourning of the loss of their brother. But the sadness of Wakanda Forever isn't the only card Wright is dealt. Fortunately, Shuri's sense of humor, which made the first Black Panther feel so alive, is still intact when the film gives it a chance to breathe. Her newfound rage, though, is possibly one of the film's most surprising weapons — and one it thankfully doesn't overdo.
An increased amount of Shuri isn't the only change brought about by T'Challa's absence. Wakanda Forever gives a lot of time to Danai Gurira's Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje guard. And she gets some of the absolutely coolest moments in the whole film. The whole charm of Black Panther is firmly rooted in Black excellence, and Okoye's confidence often drives that through. That's not to say that Okoye doesn't have her own tears to shed, but her most memorable moments are not sad ones.
If I had to say one thing was a little bit of a let-down, I expected more of Winston Duke's M'Baku, per reports that he was to have an expanded role in the film. That said, some of the best effortless comedy in the film comes from the veggie-loving leader of the Jabari tribe, who also delivers in one of its most tender emotional moments.
Wakanda Forever also gives us two major newcomers who make the most of their scenes. We don't know when Marvel decided that Dominique Thorne's RiRi Williams would get her own Disney Plus series in Ironheart, but I was practically demanding to see the first episode the second I left the theater.
From Thorne's first moments on screen, she gives off a confident energy that is a lovely change of pace from the rest of the new class of potential Avengers. (I can already imagine the amazing chemistry that Ms. Thorne, Hailee Steinfeld, Florence Pugh and Iman Vellani will have).
As for Tenoch Huerta Mejía's Namor, the character's motivations may not feel strongly-developed enough, but his performance is strong and charismatic enough to keep you hanging on every word.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review — Coogler's awesome visuals keep the MCU CGI to a minimum
After having been so frustrated by the reliance on green screen in the early fight sequence in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I'm now always on edge waiting for these moments in subsequent Marvel projects. Thankfully, Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler does a fine job of reducing the moments where the seams in the CGI are obvious.
These incidents where you can visually sense something is off — such as when Namor dives into the water mid-action scene, or when Shuri's underwater in a diving suit — aren't jarring enough to pull you out of the moment.
And that's a very important trick for Wakanda Forever, as such an emotional film would lose a lot of its impact when it accidentally breaks the fourth wall. Instead of thinking about the nits one can pick, you'll probably be thinking about the movie's awesome visuals, such as a throne room consumed by flames, and the amazing explosions of water.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review: Verdict
I didn't plan to write this Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review back when I bought my ticket to the opener later this week. But now that I've actually seen Wakanda Forever? I'm more eager to go back and watch it again.
Watching the amazing performances in Wakanda Forever made me yearn to see the film in a room with fans who go through the emotions with the characters on screen. Thanks to a fast-paced script that knows when to give its characters moments to breathe — as well as scream, mourn and crack jokes — Black Panther: Wakanda Forever provided a sterling reminder of how good Marvel movies can be.
You may spend moments thinking about how one character could impact the rest in future MCU movies, but I found myself more ensconced in the people of Wakanda Forever than I have any recent Marvel movie. Arguably, this is the latest example (following Avengers: Endgame) that Marvel movies are very great at grief. But when Ryan Coogler's film also delivers plenty of "oohs" and "ahhs," as well as surprises and chuckles? It's proof that the MCU can still deliver an amazing night out at the movies.
Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.