Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Black Panther. Though it was erroneously celebrated as the first black superhero ever to hit the mainstream market, it still entranced audiences by introducing one of the first major African superheroes. It allowed some devotion to the superhero in focus while emphasizing the cultural roots that he shared along with the other characters who shared his goals.
I was familiar with black superheroes before, like Cyborg from Teen Titans and Frozone from The Incredibles. But Black Panther presented a new angle of superhero cinema, whether with a black superhero or other means. Black Panther ignited a legacy as one of the greatest superhero movies of all time and another game-changing chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And this was before Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame came along. So after I saw it, I became more excited for a sequel to Black Panther.
Unfortunately, this was before the shocking and devastating news of Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer. By age 43, he touched many viewers’ hearts with his complexion and sensitivity and became an enduring icon to countless audiences. And now, he died off just like that. Part of that may be because he fought against his cancer for years but didn’t want the public to know or worry about it because he loved acting that much.
I knew that Chadwick Boseman was a fantastic actor already when he was alive. For one thing, I’ve seen him play T’Challa in all four movies in which he played that role. But now? Whenever I look at Chadwick Boseman nowadays, I can’t help but look at him the same way we look at actors like James Dean, John Candy, or John Belushi. You know who I’m talking about. They’re the kind of actors who were talented enough on their own when they were alive, were thought to have died too early, and each carried a certain je ne sais quoi that made them feel more special as actors and people regardless of their stages in life.
How does that factor in the sequel that did come forth of Black Panther when it came out? What would it have done in the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s death?
For starters, the film opened with, surprisingly, the death of T’Challa. His younger sister, Shuri, desperately tried to re-create the Black Panther herb through mechanical means so that she could revive him with it. Unfortunately, it was too late, and T’Challa died from his illness. Shuri, Ramonda, and the rest of Wakanda were devastated by his death and prepared funereal negotiations for him, especially Shuri. She was probably the most brokenhearted by this as she spent most of the movie trying to figure out her life and what steps to take next after losing her brother. However, that’s not the only thing she and her fellow Wakandans had to worry about. Elsewhere, a group of mysterious beings was out for the most valuable mineral the Wakandans had in their arsenal: vibranium. Because they were hunting down random people in their pursuit of vibranium, the global market, especially America, became wary of Wakanda’s reputation concerning the mineral. It was especially tragic, considering that T’Challa initially meant to share their source of vibranium with the world at the end of the last film. Now, the foreign market grew suspicious of Wakanda’s handling of the vibranium, especially after the string of murders that went down in pursuit of that mineral. With Everett K. Ross’ help, Shuri and her bodyguard, Okoye, tracked down a genius college student named Riri Williams, who was hot on the trails of developing complex machinery. They tagged her along because she was involved in creating complex machinery that could’ve detected the vibranium.
Later, in Shuri’s pursuits, she crossed paths with the band of warriors led by a man named Namor. He grew up in the Mayan regions of Mexico, along with his people. Where they lived, they had access to vibranium, too, and, like Wakanda, they harvested off the powers of vibranium to a point where their skin gradually became blue. In addition, they allowed them to breathe underwater but not for long on dry land, for they developed gills in their throats. After showing Shuri his kingdom, how it functioned, and why he and his people wanted the vibranium, Shuri was conflicted after witnessing what she did with Namor as her guide. Shuri knew that Namor was going to proceed against Wakanda for the vibranium, but at the same time, she sympathized with Namor’s dilemmas and pursuits to keep his people safe. With this problem going on, plus international queasiness regarding the vibranium and Wakanda in a state of mourning after T’Challa passed away, where does the future lie for Wakanda?
As a sequel to one of the biggest superhero movies in recent years, I appreciate how the sequel tried to move on without T’Challa after his death and remained natural in its narrative progressions as the characters mourned his death. It is usually tricky for a movie sequel to move forth without the main lead at the helm. The only other time I recall seeing this was with Game of Thrones with Ned Stark, but now, I think it’s because it had multiple main characters that had an equal amount of attention devoted to them. Here, the movie is all about Wakanda and the characters’ responses to T’Challa’s unexpected death and how best to move forward in light of it. Shuri was especially not in a peaceful state of mind, not helped by putting up with Namor and his people sneaking into Wakanda and attacking them from within. This action led to the drowning and death of Romanda, her mother, which left the Wakandan throne in the air. And sheesh! First, T’Challa, now, Romanda? It must be unbearable to watch so many close relatives die in front of you in such a short amount of time!
Speaking of international distrust, there were discussions about how the countries responded to Wakanda’s initial proposition to share their vibranium minerals with the rest of the world. Some countries, like France and the USA, feared that vibranium could be used as a weapon, and a weapon that could be undetected by airline security at that. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen with Everett Ross, some people like Julia Louis Dreyfus’s character, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, wanted to turn the tables on Wakanda so that she could seize the opportunities such pinning as this would’ve opened up.
The connections between Wakanda and Namor’s home country, Talokan, also invited plenty of intriguing connections, as they both had access to vibranium in the Earth’s crust but used it for different purposes. For example, Wakanda used vibranium for its weapons, while Talokan used vibranium as a life source. Parallels like this demonstrate Ryan Coogler’s creativity as he allowed the more imaginative world-building elements to shine through in both Wakanda and Talokan. And, as the movie established, their difference in maintaining and using the vibranium led to continuous quarrels, which ultimately would’ve led to war. What made it more suspenseful was that Wakanda was already vulnerable due to T’Challa’s death, so they had to act fast and be on alert when not in a despondent mood.
The characters throughout this movie were generally fascinating. Everett Ross, at first, felt like he didn’t play a significant role in the film. However, as soon as he ran into Valentina, her questions about his commitments tested him further and further about his allegiances with Wakanda and his home country, especially when he had to evaluate how he helped them out ever since the last film. So, his confrontations and investigations were quite fascinating to watch.
But that’s not the only thing I found hook-worthy about this moment. As a new character within the MCU, Valentina became as fascinating as she was cunning. She’s already appeared twice, once in the end-credits scene of Black Widow, where she approached Natasha’s sister, Yelena, and planted in her the story of how Natasha died in Endgame because of her close buddy, Clint ’Hawkeye’ Barton. And she appeared again throughout The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, questioning plenty of politicians about their values in the rising superheroes, including Captain-America-wannabe John Walker.
Here, she pressed onto Everett for the same purposes, this time with Wakanda as her primary objective. Some extra spiciness was thrown onto both her character and their chemistry, however, when she and Everett mentioned how they both used to be married but later divorced.
With this kind of involvement and connections, I’m convinced she’s part of something larger and equally nasty down the road. But until we get to that point, I’ll be interested to see what kind of threat she poses against the Marvel superheroes.
I was in awe of how Okoye was established in this movie. For as long as I’ve known her, she felt like a fierce and determined warrior who was willing to do whatever it took in the name of the Wakandan throne and whoever sat upon it. However, she showed that she was not without some tenderness and personal commitments. For example, she felt guilty for not protecting Shuri when Namor and his people apprehended her. She was then stripped of her role as a guard by Ramonda, who was angry at her for not saving her when she was already grieving T’Challa’s death. As a result, it made some of the scenes where she was out of her outfit and looking like any other Wakandan very fascinating, as it just showed her as a regular, easy-going gal before she found herself in a predicament where her calling would have decided for her who she was most faithful to and what her commitments in life really were.
Ramonda herself probably didn’t do much in this movie outside of grieving the death of T’Challa. However, the way she responded against certain characters as they argued with her about Wakanda’s values or her friends and family after T’Challa’s funeral tested her resilience as a mother and queen of Wakanda. It showed her in a swirling, confused state of emotions as she tried to wrap her head around the circumstances in which she was involved when she wasn’t busy grieving her son’s death.
At one point in the movie, T’Challa’s ex-wife, Nakia, appeared in this movie, this time living as a native in Haiti. She lived there and was oblivious to T’Chala’s death until she was told about it by Okoye, who came to visit her in secret. Some elements of her character were clear, like her commitment to Wakanda and willingness to rise and defend Wakanda in the face of catastrophe. Still, her oblivion on T’Challa’s death and refusal to attend his funeral aroused some interesting yet confusing aspects of her character, as if she had unfocused dedications to her native country. However, if you see this movie, I recommend you stick around for the end-credit scenes when you do. Once you reach them, they will all shed light on Nakia’s background behind the scenes and explain everything. And in my opinion, they did it spectacularly.
Another character in this movie that I thought was engaging this time was M’Baku. In the last film, he was the head of the Jabari tribe and held a long-time grudge against T’Challa and the Wakandan throne. However, after T’Challa died, he lunged into action with the Wakandans’ best interests at heart, including watching over Shuri at Ramonda’s request. Of course, M’Baku still had his goofy nature to him, but the fact that he, one of Wakanda’s biggest rivals, opened up and wanted to support them in any way he could made me look at him more respectably.
The villain, Namor, was a slightly generic but no less inventive or exciting guy. He showed up as the ruler of another unusual tribe on Earth, threw out some witty jokes sometimes, and was out for Wakanda because of the supply of the vibranium that both kingdoms shared. However, he was committed to keeping his people safe and expressed vitriol against Wakanda as he thought their ways of handling vibranium or the outside world differed from how he would’ve done so. It all led to compelling debates about which way forward was the right way to go, similar to what T’Challa and Killmonger quarreled over in the last film.
And finally, you have Shuri herself. She was already an exquisite character in the last film, with her lively and quirky nature complimenting her more proficient technician skills. It made her a charming, likable character who became more awe-inspiring once you saw her in action. In this movie, however, you see her go through many personal traumatic experiences and an existential crisis as she wondered what would have been next for her following her brother’s passing. For most of the movie, she sulked about in despair over T’Challa’s death since she was so close to him when he was alive, and she’s still trying to get a firm hand and grasp on some of the encroaching elements that were sneaking into her life and Wakandan society. It tested her more and more to see if she was willing to do what it took to be the next queen of Wakanda. But it made her contemplate whether she would be the next in line for the Black Panther title or even if it was possible to do so after what she tried and failed to do with T’Challa at the beginning of the film.
To veer off-topic here for a minute, the latest phase in the MCU had all kinds of new superheroes cropping up everywhere, primarily as the next generation of individuals willing to pass on the legacy of their forbearers and carry them on with their own spins. It’s nothing like Teen Titans or Young Justice, where the following line of superheroes arrived randomly to carry on their mentors’ legacies. This phase introduced so many such superheroes for the Marvel superheroes surprisingly quickly. What do I find so intriguing about this wave of introductions to the MCU lineup? Well, without treading on political waters, let’s say that what I am witnessing here in this phase is no different from what I’ve seen with, say, Batgirl for Batman or Supergirl for Superman. Heck, even John Stewart as another top-ranking Green Lantern alongside Hal Jordan. Don’t get me wrong; I wholeheartedly welcome diversity—the more adequate, natural representations that can be introduced, the better. But I can’t help but notice a peculiar pattern with these characters as they all made their introductions alongside the MCU’s legacy superheroes. What I found peculiar about it is that I sensed a slight…overcompensation occurring with it.
However, with Shuri, many things went on with her that would make you sympathize with her and genuinely cheer for her when you see her don the Black Panther outfit. What I love about this succession is that Shuri narratively wasn’t made to become the next Black Panther because she was female or black or because she upheld some real-life agenda. No, Shuri became the next Black Panther because she cared about Wakanda and her people, and most of all, she decided to be the next Black Panther as her way of honoring T’Challa.
Frankly, these elements in her character only gave her more substance as the movie went on. And because of those attributes, plus the turmoils Shuri endured beforehand, it got to a point where, when I finally saw her in the famed Black Panther outfit, I felt like she deserved to be the next Black Panther. Why? Because she proved herself resilient and worthy of the mantle after T’Challa demonstrated his prowess as the Black Panther.
Also, is it just me, or does Shuri donning the outfit emphasize its feline features?
The only character in the movie whose involvement I found hard to follow was Riri Williams. Besides being a top-ranking technician, she tagged along with Shuri because she was linked in the political battles Wakanda dealt with concerning the detectability of the vibranium weaponry once it could be shared throughout the rest of the world. And Riri’s machinery would’ve allowed the mineral to be less conspicuous upon detection. And, later in the movie, during the climactic battle, she arrived in one of her chief creations: an Iron Man-inspired outfit with an iron-shaped heart as its power source. Hence, this made her become the superhero Ironheart. However, besides just expressing her need to have her father’s car repaired, she didn’t display a thorough enough role in the story outside of just displaying her talents and who she would have become. I’ll believe it when I see it, but a part of me suspects that perhaps Black Panther: Wakanda Forever should’ve come after the upcoming series called Ironheart. That way, I would’ve been more accustomed to her character by the time the Black Panther sequel came out. Because then, Ironheart would’ve felt like a more elaborate way of introducing her character before she was asked to play a much more significant role in some other social conundrum. Either that, or it’s hard for me to follow since I don’t engage much in politics or science.
And I’m just going to throw this out: what connections could she have had with Tony Stark before crossing paths with Shuri and the Wakandans? The closest character I can think of that Tony Stark had for a protégé was Peter Parker, and more than once throughout the franchise, Peter embellished his Spider-Man outfit with Tony’s gadgetry. So, what propelled Riri Williams to model her superhero outfit after Tony Stark? What made her want to follow in his footsteps? Perhaps that’s another question I’m sure the Ironheart TV show will answer once it arrives.
Outside of that, the other element of the movie that continued to take my breath away was the settings. Namor’s kingdom, Talokan, felt like a genuinely exotic and unusual kingdom that could operate on Earth or underwater. Its locations were stylish, its functionality was unique, the visuals were stunning, and it introduced an elaborate new kingdom that would easily fit within the ethics and styles of Marvel’s superhero world. However, there were some elements to this world and its inhabitants that I can’t help but feel were a little too derivative. For example, the idea of a fully functional kingdom operating underwater has famously evoked comparisons to Atlantis. But I find it apparent in the characters, too. There’s something about the natives’ elegant blue skin and jewelry that reminds me too much of the Indian characters from stories like Ramayana. Also, when Namor and his people went to action with winged feet, their functionalities called me back too much to how Greek gods flew about, like Hermes.
Regardless, once again, Wakanda still functioned off an African-inspired background and functionality that felt completely legible, on top of being very inventive, fictionally speaking. Ever since the first Black Panther came out, I always looked at Wakanda as if it was what Africa could’ve been like if it had access to the same resources and education that some of the other more prosperous continents had, like the Americas, Europe, or Asia. Just this functionality to Wakanda and the way residents did their own thing always sparked my imagination, as I wondered what could be done to current African societies that would help them down the right path. But getting back to Wakanda, this world still felt inventive with its usually closed-off elements, self-reliant traditions and technologies, and what the Wakandans benefited from to help them stand out from the rest of Africa. I believe it’s this unique embellishment of African customs while lending themselves to superhero ethics that made the first film so celebrated in the first place. The movie also showed a particular communal element to Wakanda because the entire city and nation were devastated by T’Challa’s death, like they relied on him for his leadership and prowess in the face of insurmountable challenges that lay ahead for them all.
The music by Ludwig Göransson continued to contribute to Black Panther’s sense of identity. With the beating drums, exotic chanting, and pure Africana, the music blazed forth in all its glory, paying tribute to the African origins while also attributing enough elements and crescendos to help it stand out from most other African-inspired music. It allowed the first movie to stand out from the crowd a great deal, and the music continued to do right by Wakanda and its characters in its follow-up.
As expected in a Marvel film, the action scenes were incredible. Whenever the good guys fought against the bad guys or American soldiers, each actor’s stunt work as they fought their opponents felt nicely choreographed and almost fine-tuned. So, each fight scene felt essential to watch and stylish on its own. It only got better once more people were roped into the crossfire, culminating in the climactic battle. That felt like a natural detour from the climactic battle scenes that occurred in the last film while still being epic and large enough in the number of warriors involved and a potential number of casualties, which gave the action scenes more weight.
The acting is one element of the movie that I cannot help but look back on with fondness. Every actor excelled in translating their characters with deep, visible inflections that only added a greater scope of characterization to each individual than meets the eye. It was how the actors brought the characters to life in the first Black Panther, and now, because of the sad events that occurred with Chadwick Boseman, there’s an extra level of grieving to be applied to the performances here as well. I was especially amazed by Letitia Wright’s performance in the movie as Shuri. I can tell that she was going through a lot in this challenging phase in her life, what with T’Challa’s passing and the amount of heartbreak and scorn she expressed as she attempted not to be weighed down by them. Watching it was slightly unbearable; it made me want to hug her tight, I felt so sorry for her. But it’s not just her. Danai Gurira conveyed Okoye with the same conviction and fierce determination, and Lupita Nyong’o portrayed Nakia with a natural yet perplexed state of mind after hearing of T’Challa’s death.
Among those actors, however, the one who surprisingly got some love and attention was Angela Bassett as Ramonda. Because of her son’s death, Ramonda expressed many conflicting emotions as her newfound role as the Queen of Wakanda sent her into an emotional whirlwind. She tried to balance her grief over her son’s death with her new responsibilities and how she had to tend to them to benefit her people, especially her family. It was all demonstrated best when Ramonda tried to reassure the international leaders at the United Nations conference about the liability of vibranium through international trade, given the new challenges she had to face. And when she accused Okoye of losing Shuri to Namor and his people while she was still mourning the loss of T’Challa, Ramonda laid out all the pain she felt onto Okoye with intimidating force. These powerhouse displays of emotion and prowess felt so multifaceted, hard-hitting, and full of pure anguish that some people argued that they might have earned Bassett a shot at the Oscars to get a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I would honestly be impressed if her devastated inflections throughout her journey as Queen of Wakanda were enough to give her this kind of recognition.
I think these performances touched me so deeply because it felt like everything the actors expressed through their characters in the movie regarding T’Challa’s death may have reflected how the actors felt in equal measure to Chadwick Bozeman’s passing in real life. It all felt very tender and heartrending but equally effective throughout.
Look at Shuri, for instance. Just like Shuri and her relationship with T’Challa in the movie, Letitia Wright developed a close friendship with Chadwick Boseman, and hearing of his death left her devastated. However, when she resumed her role as Shuri in the follow-up, she said that this was a therapeutic experience for her and helped her make peace with Boseman’s passing. I’ll wager it was a similar experience for all the actors who knew and potentially revered Boseman for who he was when he was alive.
Even if the other actors’ performances might not have been affected by Chadwick Boseman’s death, what they lent to their performances was still very solid. For example, Tenoch Huerta Mejía portrayed Namor with a multifaceted approach to his character’s objectives and did so with utmost attention to his likenesses, devotions, and fierceness as he tried to launch into Wakanda with his people on his side. And Martin Freeman and Julia Louis Dreyfus engaged in some interesting cat-and-mouse interplay as Everett and Valentina as each one tried to dig into the other’s defenses and try to beat each other at their own game. And because their verbal banter concerned Wakanda’s welfare or Wakanda at its most vulnerable, this chemistry invited some intriguing interrogations that would’ve touched upon international relationships as they would’ve played out for Wakanda in the future.
The #1 problem many people had with this movie is that it’s too long, at over 2 ½ hours long. As I watched the movie, however, while some scenes did feel a little dragged out, they were not so dragged out that they stopped the film for any significant portion of time. All the traumatic or essential scenes in this movie moved forth as naturally as they should, so they helped the movie move at just the right pace necessary to give the story and characters some needed breathing room.
All in all, this felt like the sequel worthy of Black Panther, whether T’Challa was involved or not. Knowing the creative team of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they would’ve known how to whip up excellent sequels to deepen the characters and their journeys with. But Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was unique in that it tried to continue the story of Black Panther when it did not have its main lead to propel it forward. Instead, it mostly detailed the supporting characters’ struggles of moving forward without him on their side. Nevertheless, the emotional turmoil they all went through was enough to lend the movie some substance as a follow-up to Black Panther. Some may argue this feels more like a feature-length eulogy for Chadwick Boseman, but part of that is the strength of this movie. Because Boseman played T’Challa to perfection, the real-life emotional fluctuations in this movie and the real-life correspondences still gave the film some weight as the tragedy of Boseman’s passing and the uncertainties of Wakanda’s international relations hung high over the characters. And by the time you reach the end of the movie, it will leave you with some catharsis regarding Chadwick Boseman’s death and a shred of faith in the pathways Black Panther feels determined to take.
A strong B+
McPherson, C. (2022, November 16). ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’: Letitia Wright Discusses Shuri’s Journey. Collider. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://collider.com/black-panther-wakanda-forever-letitia-wright-shuri-journey-comments/