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Movie Review: 'Wakanda Forever'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Actor Chadwick Boseman brought such warmth, intelligence and style to the Marvel blockbuster "Black Panther" that when he died of cancer two years ago, Marvel Studios faced a dilemma. The first film had made more than a billion dollars, so there would definitely be another one. But how? Start the story over, recast the role and move on? Critic Bob Mondello says that, unlike other superhero epics, in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," the death of the film's title character is acknowledged from the start.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The images come fast and painful, Shuri reading the anguish in the Queen Mother's eyes before she can even speak the words, your brother is with the ancestors, a funeral procession, frenetic, mournful, all in blazing white, even the Marvel logo, usually teeming with superheroes, this time filled exclusively with images of Chadwick Boseman's King T'Challa. The grief is inescapable, Wakanda brought low, but hardly bowed (ph). An attack on an outreach facility, tactical weapons? No match for Wakanda's tactics...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

DANAI GURIRA: (As Okoye) Where is your spear?

MICHAELA COEL: (As Aneka) Shuri gave me these to try.

MONDELLO: ...Glowing daggers....

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

COEL: (As Aneka) You know, I like them better.

GURIRA: (As Okoye) Our foremothers gave us a spear because it is precise, elegant and deadly.

MONDELLO: ...General Okoye of the Dora Milaje.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

GURIRA: (As Okoye) It will not change under my watch.

MONDELLO: Other things that will not change, at least on writer-director Ryan Coogler's watch - "Black Panther's" futuristic take on real-world history in which a proud African nation resists industrial powers that want to strip it of natural resources. This particular attack was an attempt to steal vibranium, the meteor-borne substance that gives Wakanda its power. When the queen addresses the U.N., it's to warn the world's colonialists to back off.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

ANGELA BASSETT: (As Ramonda) Further attempts on our resources will be considered an act of aggression and met with a much steeper response.

MONDELLO: Coogler amplifies the argument by bringing another long-hidden civilization into the mix this time, an underwater kingdom called Taloqan, descended from the ancient Mayans, and led by a ruler who surprises Angela Bassett's grieving queen and Letitia Wright's despondent Shuri by approaching them on a Wakandan riverside.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

BASSETT: (As Ramonda) Who are you? And how did you get in here?

MONDELLO: From the water.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

TENOCH HUERTA: (As Namor) This place is amazing. My mother told stories about a place like this, a protected land with people that never had to change who they were.

BASSETT: (As Ramonda) I am not a woman who enjoys repeating herself. Who are you?

HUERTA: (As Namor) I have many names. My people call me Kukulkan (ph). But my enemies call me Namor.

MONDELLO: Played by Tenoch Huerta, this guy has wings on his ankles and a chip on his shoulder, one that goes back centuries. He's come because he's looking for partners in a plan the world powers aren't going to like much.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

HUERTA: (As Namor) I need to know if Wakanda is an ally or an enemy.

MONDELLO: I'll leave you to find that out. But his presence means that when this film starts globe hopping James Bond style, it skips the usual world capitals for spots like Haiti and the Yucatan Peninsula. Also, that the undersea camerawork is stellar, even if the Wakandans are slow to take this new guy seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We should find the fish man and kill him.

MONDELLO: Never mind, with superhuman strength and those wings on his ankles to let him zip around with little regard for physics, he's certainly diverting. As you'll have gathered, "Wakanda Forever" isn't just an exercise in mourning. In 2 hours and 40 minutes, it finds plenty of time for whale riding and fierce battles with all manner of spear handling. It is still, in other words, a Marvel movie, though a somber and at times a quite resonant one. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.