Ludwig Göransson’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does an excellent job of building stylistically on the first film’s score with a continuation of the African-esque instrumentation for Wakanda and some new, Mayan-inspired music for the antithetic Talokans, though thematically it sadly has the same problem as the first film’s in that it just doesn’t utilise its excellent main themes enough, which is a shame as there are some genuinely fantastic new pieces in here too.
Ludwig Göransson created something pretty special with his score for the first Black Panther movie. What struck me (and I imagine most other listeners) about it more than anything else was its style; Göransson conducted extensive research into African music prior to composing, and the resulting soundtrack is not only impeccably representative of that through its extensive use of authentic instrumentation, but is also an incredibly unique superhero score as a result. Now, the album wasn’t perfect – I personally felt that the main themes could’ve been utilised a bit more, and a touch more superheroism in the music wouldn’t have gone too far amiss either – but its immense style alone made for a highly entertaining listen, and so to say then that the anticipation was high for Göransson’s sequel work for Wakanda Forever is putting it quite mildly indeed. Here we are at last though with the film now released (sadly minus the late Chadwick Boseman and his iconic T’Challa character) and with it comes an eighty three minute long score album from Göransson. So, let’s not waste any time, and dive straight in.
The score opens with “Nyana Wam”, which means “My Son” in the Xhosa language – this cue focuses quite heavily on the African-esque side of Göransson’s Black Panther style, with vocalist Baaba Maal and talking drummer Massamba Diop seemingly effortlessly chanting alongside increasingly frenetic percussion for much of the first three minutes of the piece. After that however the music then quietens, with solemn strings and morosely wistful vocals playing several pensive notes from the Black Panther theme from the first film through the cue’s final minute. “We Know What You Whisper” then moves into tenser, more dramatic-sounding territory in its opening minute with chanting vocals (by Busiswa) reprising the imposing Dora Milaje motif from the first film, with quiet strings then arriving to finish off the piece. “Sirens” then turns the tone darker and more seductive, as higher-pitched, enticing vocals build in both volume and intensity for the first three minutes of the piece until reaching a particularly emphatic crescendo with a burst of deeper, more dramatic chanting. Loud, eerie woodwinds and bursts of ominous percussion then close out the track, instrumentally representing the Talokanil people of which the film’s villain Namor is part. Göransson apparently conducted research into Mayan music for this side of the score, and its resultingly mysterious, almost shrill nature here is heavily evident that these people are, much like their leader, not to be trifled with.
Baaba Maal then returns in “Welcome Home”, sounding out the opening notes of the Wakanda theme from the first movie in a now rather melancholic manner, though this doesn’t last for long as orchestra slowly starts to build behind the vocals, with loud percussion and additional, more triumphant vocals then introducing another brand new motif; a five-note, rather hopeful piece for Shuri, which then ends the two minute track on a loudly optimistic high. Solemnity then consumes much of the minute-long “He Wasn’t There” however, with quietly morose vocals setting a downtrodden, almost mournful mood throughout the piece. “Namor” then switches things up again, establishing another brand new theme for the sequel score; a motif for the titular Sub-Mariner. Ominous, moody woodwinds and quietly bristling percussion open the piece, with Namor’s actual theme then emerging at seventy three seconds in; it’s quite a simple motif at only three notes long, but the quietly malevolent tone it establishes in just a few seconds here pretty much immediately cements the darker, protective nature of his character. Over the course of the next minute or two the theme then builds on its instrumentation, with additional, almost creepy-sounding strings joining the fray and then rising to a rather frightening crescendo to close out the thematic debut.
The next few cues then do something I really wish they’d done with “Busan Car Chase” from the first film’s soundtrack album, releasing the blends of song and Göransson’s score that play throughout the new film, starting with “They Want It, But No (Film Version)” and ending with “Con La Brisa (Film Version)”. Song and score blend together rather excellently throughout here, with Goransson’s percussive elements effortlessly mixing with the various vocalists to make for several propulsively entertaining tracks overall. “Lost To The Depths” then reprises the rather malevolent three note theme for Namor, with quietly ominous brass and moody woodwinds setting the stage for much of the just-over-a-minute long cue. Göransson then utilises some rather unique-sounding woodwinds and light percussion in “Yucatan”, hinting toward the Mayan-esque musical style of Talokan for much of the ninety second atmospheric setpiece. This mysteriousness then continues into the subsequent “Let Us Burn It Together”, with Shuri’s new theme entering the fray at the thirty second mark in unusually pensive form on solemn strings. Namor’s theme then whistles enticingly through at just under two minutes in, firstly on softly ominous woodwinds before then building on additional, more menacing-sounding Mayan-esque instrumentation. Said theme then bursts into dramatically villainous territory for “Namor’s Throne”, playing in a particularly malevolent manner throughout the two minute track on deafening brass and moody vocals.
With Namor now having set the stage, action kicks off in the subsequent seven-minute “Imperius Rex”; rapid strings kick off a rather frenetic pace in the opening minute, with the shrill vocals from “Sirens” then reprising as the enticing entities return. The Talokan side of the score then dramatically emerges after this as Göransson’s Mayan-esque instrumentation plays in menacing form, with Namor’s villainous motif then rising up alongside it on emphatic brass. The action then builds in this malevolent manner for the rest of the track, with the music becoming darker and more frantic until a crashing finishing crescendo is reached. Sorrow is then centre stage in “Mama” with quiet, pensive strings and mournful vocals, though this doesn’t last for long as darker, menacing woodwinds then enter the fray in the subsequent “Who Did You See”, crescendoing the cue out on a rather mysterious note a few seconds later. “Wakanda Forever” though is where things finally start to get going superhero-wise, with the Black Panther theme setting a quietly pensive tone initially on gentle brass before loud, thunderous synth then burst into the fray accompanied by a flurry of enthusiastic strings. After a few seconds Shuri’s new theme then steps heroically into centre stage, with the established African percussion from the Wakanda theme rising in the background to greet her, and the score finally allows itself a lengthy moment of well-earned hope. I only wish it were longer.
Shuri’s new theme quietens somewhat for the darker, more downtrodden “Blood For Blood”, before the standout cue of the album then arrives with action setpiece “Yibambe!”. As the name suggests this is where Göransson finally lets rip with his new motifs, with the percussive side of the Wakanda theme opening the piece alongside hopeful brass and vocals. The tone then becomes much tenser in the second minute as the shrill vocals from “Sirens” briefly reprise with the emphatic Dora Milaje theme then rising dramatically to meet them in musical battle, until Shuri’s now heroically synthy theme bursts into the fray and turns the tide toward the heroes for a few brief, delectably optimistic moments. Namor’s ominous motif however then puts a quick stop to this, with the Mayan-esque instrumentation and menacing vocals for the Talokan’s then following their leader into loudly emphatic war for a few frantic minutes, with both Shuri and the Dora Milaje’s now rather worrisome themes infrequently reprising in-between until the cue crashes to a dramatic finish a few minutes later.
“It Could Have Been Different” then brings Shuri’s theme to the forefront on its loudly bombastic synth, frenetic strings and increasingly oppressive percussion for two explosively fast-paced minutes, before “Vengeance Has Consumed Us” then breaks the action with slower, more thoughtful strings and almost morose vocals. Shuri’s theme plays centre stage for the first few minutes here on the aforementioned solemn strings before the Black Panther theme then boldly emerges on triumphant brass and vocals, closing the cue out on pretty much as victorious a musical note as you can get. With the album overall now starting to draw to a close, “Alliance” takes one last look at the Talokan side of the soundtrack as the mysterious, Mayan-esque woodwinds reprise, hinting firstly toward the motif for the Talokanil people before then moving into Namor’s more ominous motif for one final, somewhat eerie playthrough. Final track “T’Challa” then closes the score on a rather wistful note, with the titular character’s theme getting one last, send-off-esque track, playing first on quietly pensive strings before then moving up into more hopeful territory as the African-style percussion and vocals from the Wakanda theme then burst through to end the track.
Overall, Ludwig Göransson’s score for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has some serious style to it, though this does get in the way sometimes of its true strength – its themes – really shining through. The composer has, much like with the first film’s score, clearly done a great deal of musical research here, with the exquisite, African-esque instrumentation for Wakanda reprising alongside a newer, apparently Mayan-inspired sound for the Talokan people which also takes a main position here on the sequel soundtrack stage. With this though as I say, I do feel the album has kind of the same problem as the first film’s in regard to its main themes, in that it just doesn’t use them enough. The aforementioned African and Mayan-inspired instrumentation does the bulk of the work and takes up the majority of the runtime here with the themes sort of just slotted in-between in short, controlled bursts, which overall doesn’t really give them a whole lot of time to shine or build (especially given the general lack of dedicated theme cues) which is a shame as the themes themselves are genuinely great (both old and new!). They do get their moments sometimes – like with Shuri’s new theme in “It Could Have Been Different” for example – but not often enough to be truly satisfying, at least for me. The Black Panther/Wakanda themes for example appear even less in Wakanda Forever than they did in the first film’s score, and they weren’t really in the first one all that much to begin with.
That’s not to say the score as a collective whole is bad though, as it really isn’t. Positively, across the album we have a continuation of the extraordinary musical style of the first film’s score in combination with an exquisitely Mayan new side, with some excellent (though short) thematic renditions dotted throughout which all-in does result in some pretty spectacular tracks in places – see standout action setpiece “Yimbambe!” as chief example of this, as well as the more villainy-focused “Imperius Rex”, or the proudly victorious “Wakanda Forever” – so there is genuinely a whole lot to like here. In essence, if you enjoyed the instrumental complexities of the first score then you will certainly enjoy this one too, but it might leave you a little wanting in the theme department.
Standout Cue: 21. Yibambe!
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