Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


We haven't reviewed a title from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a while, so let's check in with the residents of the fictional African kingdom, Wakanda. In a deeply emotional opening scene, leader T'Challa dies, echoing the too-soon loss of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman. The unfillable void left by the beloved thespian puts this much-anticipated sequel in something of no-win scenario, a superhero flick with no central champion, instead drowning in a sea of supporting characters and subplots that feel like a Thanksgiving dinner that's no meat and all side dishes... and the stuffing is dry and the mashed potatoes are lumpy, too.

Letitia Wright is a capable enough actress but lacks the charisma to embody an enhanced, nation-ruling uber-warrior. Unfortunately, her character Shuri is next in line for the mantle of the Black Panther and she hasn't inherited much of a hero's journey, instead spending much of her time here grieving and in fact requiring rescue herself by far more capable fighters. In the post-Endgame era, the outside world is closing in on Wakanda even as an undersea realm is preparing for war with us air-breathers, and only a new Panther can save the day, but will she rise to the occasion?

The Ultra HD presentation of Wakanda Forever benefits from a true 4K master, with an appreciable step up in clarity and nuance versus the compressed streaming version on Disney+, although that digital option offers Dolby Vision HDR, and reframed IMAX sequences not found on the disc. There are many nighttime and underwater scenes, so optimal contrast is essential (I was planning to watch this on a new OLED but Amazon missed three consecutive delivery dates), with the use of sharp focus and bold colors shining through.

The Dolby Atmos audio is not reference-caliber, but it's more immersive than some other high-profile Disney releases of the past few years. (Atmos is only available on the 4K disc, the HD BD tops out at DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1.) Dialogue is dependably legible, and the soundstage comes alive during moments of bigger-than-life combat, with the directional swooshing of swimmers and airships, but I wish there was more overhead activity. The aqua-people use these funky-sounding water grenades that wreak all manner of havoc, although the bass is lacking.

There are no extras on the 4K disc, however the Blu-ray provides an always-welcome audio commentary from director Ryan Coogler, joined by his co-writer and director of photography, along with deleted scenes, a mood-lightening gag reel, and two featurettes, a portion of which is devoted to the spectacular production design.

Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray
STUDIO: Walt Disney, 2022
AUDIO FORMATS: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
LENGTH: 161 mins.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
STARRING: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta Mejía