Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

A Marvel franchise keeps rollin’ despite the death of its charismatic star, Chadwick Boseman, with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a different kind of movie in the Marvel canon. It’s somber and sometimes slow—but ultimately uplifting.

Director Ryan Coogler puts a lot of the action underwater as Wakanda, and the world, are threatened by an ancient civilization that’s a mix of a creepy Atlantis and Avatar’s Pandora. The plot has a lot to do with vibranium and trying to keep the potentially dangerous resource out of the hands of countries like the good old USA. (The fictional metal is sort of a stand-in for nuclear weapons.)

Another big aspect of the plot is, of course, who will become the new Black Panther. On the outside chance that you are the one individual among 587,945 people who doesn’t know, I won’t say here, but the choice is not a surprise, and it’s a good one. 

The film is at its best when dealing with the creepy underwater army. (Marvel does much better than DC with underwater shenanigans … Aquaman sucks.) Some of the action scenes come off as a bit haphazard and hard to follow, especially some of the fight scenes, but the final battle aboard a large seafaring vessel is solid work. It takes a long time getting to that final battle—the film clocks in at 161 minutes—but it’s worth the wait.

There are some nice nods and tributes to Boseman. While his presence is missed, the likes of Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett and Martin Freeman do well in continuing the adventure. Tenoch Huerta is especially good as Namor, leader of the underwater civilization—and a great, conflicted villain. He’s very interesting, and very scary.

This Marvel installment is a little headier, and a little darker, than previous entries. While it’s not one of the better Marvel movies, it does have the distinction of being one of the more unique films, and it works as a standalone movie.

Is it as good as the first Black Panther? In some ways, no. The first film was a lot more fun and rip-roaring right out of the gate—and, of course, it had Boseman at its center. This one is far more meditative, and it gives itself a lot of space to breathe at a deliberate (and sometimes gloomy) pace. It is a good sequel that sufficiently handles some of the problems facing the franchise, and it definitely sets the stage for future fun. To its credit, it is not a rehash of the first film.

Stay for the credits (of course) for a taste of what will be happening in Wakanda in future chapters. Come on, folks; stop leaving during the credits! It’s a Marvel movie!

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