It’s impossible to come into this movie without being immediately reminded of the loss of Chadwick Boseman in the years since the original’s release and so returning writer / director Ryan Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole wisely deal with it immediately, opening with a sequence that sees Shuri (Letitia Wright) trying to formulate a cure for the unknown ailment affecting her brother. Her A.I. tries to get her to go spend time with T’Challa (Boseman) as his condition worsens but she instead stays in her lab toiling away, only to be informed by her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett, impressive as always) that it’s too late, and all of this before the Marvel Studios title sequence appears on screen, filled with images of the late actor in his most-beloved role.
That pretty much sets the tone for much of the rest of the movie, which sets about trying to honor that tragic loss while also examining grief and the ways in which we cope with it, an unusually heady topic for a Marvel movie that it mostly handles with a surprisingly deft touch. But this is still a superhero story, and so there has to be an action plot as well. One year after T’Challa’s death, much of the world is trying to get Wakanda to share their vibranium, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. As a result, the United States has built a device that allows them to search the planet for a possible second source. When they finally find one, a mysterious race of aquatic people attacks their vessel and kills everyone on board. After the attack, the leader of this hitherto unknown race sneaks into Wakanda and introduces himself as Namor (Tenoch Huerta), leader of Talokan. He tells the Wakandans that he plans to fight the nations of the surface world and would like their help, and that if they refuse they will also be considered an enemy before he disappears back into the depths. As the powerful but isolated African nation ponders their next move in secret, the US begins to suspect they were behind the attack on the exploration vessel and contemplates taking further action as well.
There is a lot to love in the more unique parts of this movie, but it’s in the more traditional MCU plotline that it falters a bit. Adding a new, underwater kingdom like Talokan provided an opportunity to instill fresh awe in the viewer, but it’s a rather uninspired design that is held back by occasionally dodgy effects and only pales in comparison to the still stunning Afrofuturist vision of Wakanda. Likewise, the way that nation still struggles with the loss of T’Challa and increasing outside threats is exponentially more compelling than Namor’s half-baked and poorly-thought-out plan to “protect” his people, though he is at least given an interesting backstory. The action sequences are fairly impressive, but are sometimes marred by weird physics effects, a problem that has carried over from the first movie. It’s still a joy to watch this cast in action however, with nicely expanded roles for Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Danai Gurira’s Okoye, Florence Kasumba’s Ayo, and Winston Duke’s M’Baku. New character Riri (Dominique Thorne) will undoubtedly matter more in the future, but was mostly unnecessary here, likewise with Martin Freeman’s return as Everett Ross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina. There is a really good movie in here about accepting and moving on from great loss that evokes more than a few well-earned tears, but it’s buried in an unfortunately ordinary Marvel movie. ★★★
rated pg-13 for sequences of strong violence, action, and some language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor