2018's Black Panther is one of the most beloved of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and the only one to garner a Best Picture Oscar nomination. A sequel was always assured, but whatever plans they had in mind had to be drastically altered when the actor behind the title character, Chadwick Boseman, suddenly died in 2020 after suffering privately from cancer.
The Marvel brains trust decided against re-casting the role, and have instead structured the sequel around the deep supporting cast, using it as an opportunity to both honour its fallen star, and introduce one of the oldest Marvel Comics characters of all, Namor the Sub-Mariner, played here by Mexican actor Tenoch Heurta Mejia.
The result is very respectful towards Boseman and offers up plenty of the now-expected high-tech Marvel bombast, but can't ever shake the sense that in the scramble to reconfigure the film after the death of its leading man, it doesn't have an especially vital story to tell.
The Marvel faithful will lap it up, but those of us growing tired of the industry-dominating studio's increasingly familiar carry-on may struggle with the 2 hours and 41 minutes run-time.
Boseman's death is immediately dealt with in shockingly explicit terms – we open with the (off-screen) death of Black Panther (aka King T'Challa) from an illness. As his sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), and mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), struggle to move forward, they are thrust into a rapidly-escalating quagmire involving the emergence of Namor, king of a race of sea-dwelling humanoids.
The most interesting creative choice here is Namor's overhauled backstory, which moves him away from his Aquaman-ish comic book origins and embraces Mayan culture and history. His altered genesis also allows the film to comment on the savagery of colonialism in a manner that aligns with its predecessor's thematic intentions.
Heurta is an appreciably atypical Marvel lead, and his story takes up a surprisingly large chunk of the movie, but this also introduces Riri Williams (Dominique Thorn), a brilliant young inventor with a knack for Iron Man-esque tech, who is the subject of an upcoming Marvel TV series, Ironheart. Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita N'yongo) also have key roles to play, but this ultimately proves to be Shuri's story.
It's difficult to think of another instance of an actor's death impacting a movie's plot to this degree, and you can't deny that the film is at its most powerful when it stops to honour Boseman.
Few films have ever found themselves in the position that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever did, so I'm hesitant to criticise it for how it contended with an unprecedented set of hurdles, but either way, this story could easily have been told in less than two hours.
Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira
Director: Ryan Coogler
Running time: 161 minutes
Verdict: A respectful, if overlong, action spectacle-packed tribute to a fallen star.