Photo courtesy Mavel Studios

The death of actor Chadwick Boseman in 2020 was shocking not only because he was a relatively young man, but also because he kept his illness a secret from most of the world.

Boseman’s death also left a void in regards to his most iconic performance, that of King T’Challa, the Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Black Panther” was one of the highest-grossing Marvel movies not to have “Avengers” in the title and when the creative decision was made not to recast the role of T’Challa, the question then became: what would become of this burgeoning, billion-dollar-franchise?

That question is somewhat answered in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” although the loss of Boseman is almost too much to overcome.

Writer/director Ryan Coogler returns and spends the bulk of the movie having the supporting cast grappling with the death of their leader, respectably making “Wakanda Forever” the first $200 million movie about grief.

Picking up the pieces are T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Basset, giving the movie’s most heartfelt performance), T’Challa’s tech-whiz sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), General Okoye (Danai Guria), super-spy and love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and rival-turned-friend M’Baku (Winston Duke).

The movie has an energy and vibrancy when we are within the borders of Wakanda, but things get a bit sidetracked with the introduction of an underwater race of mer-people led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), an embittered protector of his people who can also fly.

Determine your own level of believability when it comes to fish-people, but I actually dug the whole Mesoamerican origin story of Namor and his clan. Unfortunately, it was a bit much here and they either needed to be in their own movie or dialed way back so we can spend more time in Wakanda and less time under the sea.

In fact, the biggest problems with “Wakanda Forever” are less about this specific movie and more about Marvel in general, post-“Endgame.”

What made Marvel’s decade of dominance possible was that they made movies built around charismatic heroes and filled with an urgency that made each film feel like it was building into the next all the way up to “Avengers: Endgame.”

Currently, the movies don’t seem to be building towards much of anything and “Wakanda Forever” spends most of its energy crying out for the loss of its charismatic hero while the uneven efforts of the television series’ on Disney+ are spent passing time with less-than-stellar supporting characters.

The Marvel machine has become a corporate beast that must be fed, and while things remain on the positive side of the ledger, the seams are starting to show. If we are going to continue to get superhero movie after superhero movie without the creative spark and direction that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so beloved in the first place, Marvel fatigue may start to set in.

“Wakanda Forever” does its job of keeping Marvel afloat while it tries to get its legs back under itself, but if things continue at this rate, forever might get here sooner than we think.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language.

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