Black Panther: Wakanda Forever succeeds by moving forward and saying farewell

Letitia Wright plays Shuri, mourning her lost brother T'Challa in a scene from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.  (Marvel Studios - image credit)
Letitia Wright plays Shuri, mourning her lost brother T'Challa in a scene from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Marvel Studios - image credit)

In comics, no one every really dies.

Death is a sales strategy.  A way to renew a property, gin up some headlines.  You hit pause on a character, reset the numbers on the book and return with a renewed mission (and maybe a costume change).

But the death of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who inhabited the role of Black Panther, left an aching wound in his place. 2018's Black Panther was more than a movie, it was a box-office-breaking, critical and crowd-pleasing triumph that cemented the Black superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe pantheon.

What the world didn't know, including Black Panther's on-screen family, is that Boseman had been fighting colon cancer since 2016. Even during the filming of the original Black Panther film no one suspected.

After the film's success, director Ryan Coogler wrote a 300-page script for a sequel and sent it to Boseman. Little did he know the actor was too weak to read it.  As reported in Variety, when the news of Boseman's death broke in August 2020, Letitia Wright was so shocked she texted the actor she saw as her surrogate brother in disbelief.

Flash forward two years and Ryan Coogler has done it — delivered a sequel missing the very star whose shoulders carried the franchise. Boseman is gone, but his presence, especially in the opening moments of the film, is palpable.

WATCH the trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever:

 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a return to the old Marvel magic filled with spectacle and superheroes but more than that, what Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole have created is a gift. A chance for Boseman's castmates and the characters they played to say goodbye — and move the story forward.

The film opens with a surprising illness claiming T'Challa, the king of Wakanda. There is anger and confusion mirroring how the world learned of his secret battle. On screen Black Panther gets a solemn send-off, a coffin with his iconic mask ascending into the sky as the nation stands in stark white garments. Expect theaters filled with sobbing.

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Time passes but for T'Challa's surviving family it stands still. As Queen Ramonda, Angela Bassett vibrates with fury as a mother without her son. Shuri, T'Challa's sister played by Letitia Wright, buries herself in her work.

New faces surface

Every Marvel movie needs a maguffin; for Wakanda Forever it's the vibranium, the extraterrestrial mineral which is the source of the nation's wealth and technology. Since the events of Black Panther and Endgame, the African nation has been revealed, creating a new rush for the magical mineral.

That contest that awakens the anger of a previously hidden undersea empire.

When Ryan Coogler first introduced the world to Wakanda it was as an Afrofuturistic utopia, bursting with all the pride and potential of the continent. Wakanda Forever alters the geopolitical landscape again with the introduction the undersea kingdom of Talokan and their leader Namor.

In the comics Namor the Sub-Mariner was one of Marvel's classic villains — the arrogant, "Imperius Rex" shouting King of Atlantis clothed in little more than a scaly speedo and winged feet. With a 21st-century update, Namor (pronounced NAH-mor) is now "Ku'ku'lkán, the leader of the Talokanil people.

Just as Wakanda drew on a wealth of African cultures, Talokan takes inspiration from Mayan civilizations of the Yucantan region.  The Mesoamerican references give the water breathers an air of authenticity, especially when led by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor.

Eli Adé
Eli Adé

The moment Huerta strides out of the water to confront Queen Ramonda you can feel the power dynamic shifting. The undersea mutant has amazing strength and speed but he doesn't spit his words at his opponents like his comic counterpart. This Namor is quiet and confident. But beneath his Mayan jewels there are fathoms of resentment. Huerta does such a fine job imbuing Namor with humanity, the shift to aggression seems forced, but this is a Marvel movie and chaos must come.

WATCH | Meet Namor, leader of the Talokan people in Wakanda Forever:

 

The race for more vibranium also brings another character into the mix.

Riri Williams is a 19-year-old genius inventor who finds herself in the middle of the warring nations. While this is convenient plug for the upcoming Ironheart series (produced by Ryan Coogler) Dominique Thorne brings a much-needed vibe check to the high and mighty royal family of Wakanda as the young, gifted and Black inventor.

Wakanda's real battle

Soon enough battle breaks out, Ludwig Göransson's glorious music score soars and action threatens to overwhelm the story.

It's worth remembering what set the first Black Panther apart wasn't the fighting, the armor-clad animals or super suits. It was Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, one of the most vital villains in Marvel cinematic history. For the sequel the focus shifts to Shuri, the little sister of T'Challa.

As Shuri, Letitia Wright gives us a warrior fighting her own demons. Eyes burning with anger, consumed by guilt and grief, rage is a seductive replacement.

Ultimately Wakanda Forever is a film about the battle for acceptance. A fitting tribute to the talent we lost that offers closure and catharsis.

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios