With one exception, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," the sequel to 2018's "Black Panther" -- aka the greatest Marvel epic ever made -- is all you could wish for.
What's missing is Chadwick Boseman whose T'Challa, the king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, was a superhero for the ages.
Boseman's death from cancer in 2020 was a tragic loss. Director-cowriter Ryan Coogler honors him by not casting another actor in the role. Boseman is irreplaceable and the funeral of T'Challa that opens the film is Boseman's as well. The grief the actors are feeling is palpable. You'll feel it, too.
What Coogler knows in his heart is that "Black Panther," the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to show a racial conscience and the first to be Oscar nominated as Best Picture, is too important to abandon. After years of diversity neglect, Hollywood finally gave children and adults of color a hero who looked like them. Wakanda really needs to be forever.
Nice job to all for putting women in charge this time, though their grief is reflected in the murals of T'Challa that cover the walls of Wakanda. Still, anguish can't stop these female warriors. The great Angela Bassett ups her commanding star presence to return as T'Challa's mother, Queen Ramonda, and take the throne like the no-bull lady boss she is.
Greedy global superpowers lust to weaponize vibranium, Wakanda's natural resource. But they'll have to get past Ramonda, not to mention her daughter Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), superspy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Dora Milaje leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) and new recruit Aneka (a fab Michaela Coel). They're back and they're badass. Mess with them at your peril.
Doing most of the messing is Namor (Tenoch Huerta) who has wings on his ankles and the superpower to live on land and sea. Namor rules his indigenous people from the underwater kingdom of Talokan, which also has vibranium and glows with its own jaw-dropping look and culture. Beat that, "Avatar: The Way of Water."
Namor must still reckon with Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a 19-year-old MIT student who invented a game-changing vibranium detector and tosses mean quips like a young Tony Stark.
When the geopolitics get too much, it's fun to have Thorne around as the life of this MCU party. Ditto Winston Duke as teddybear terror M'Baku. Like Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger in the first film, Huerta is blazingly good as an adversary too smart to dismiss as a cardboard villain.
After a failed try at peace, Wakanda and Talokan go to war, resulting in the death of a major character that will change the course of future events.
At 161 minutes, this epic feels loooong, with dragged out battle scenes, excessive computer effects and way too much franchise building. You will find out who's the next Black Panther and the new ruler of Wakanda, just not from spoiler-averse me.
What I will say is that "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" springs surprises you won't see coming. It also gives Wright and newcomer Thorne the juiciest roles of their careers to date. You can't take your eyes off them or the queen that is Angela Bassett.