This review is full of spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – read at your own risk.
As a tribute to Chadwick Boseman and a continuation of the Black Panther universe, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was great. It was easy to feel apprehensive about how the film would tackle Chadwick’s death and explain T’Challa’s absence. Yet, it’s the perfect introduction to another Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the Marvel comics, giving Shuri (Letitia Wright) the helm made sense, but how it happened was my source of apprehension.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever isn’t a film to watch again – casually at least. This sequel asks its audience to sit with it as one would sit with grief. How can we handle a world without T’Challa and adjust to the new age Marvel is attempting to introduce? Since the next phases were set so Black Panther can lead the next generation of Avengers, Shuri, again, was the obvious next step.
Forced to grasp the fact that she has everything at her disposal and yet nothing she can do will save her brother, Shuri falls into a deep depression. If only she could bring the Black Panther back, Wakanda’s protector – no, not only that but bring her brother back in some essence as well.
In the meantime, Wakanda is in need of a protector after opening itself up to the rest of the world. The Wakandans think they are the sole owners of vibranium, but Namor’s people, the Talokanil, thrive on the same material. After discovering a vibranium detector, the Wakandans are presented with an ultimimatum. Either they assist Namor and the Talokanil in killing an American scientist (Dominique Thorne) or they stop it all. Ultimately, Shuri is forced to move past her grief and protect her people.
It was difficult to side with Shuri at first, and it was not easy as it was to side with T’Challa. A bit of that did come from knowing Letitia Wright was rumored to be the cause of the filming delay because of her vaccination status. Like Wright, Shuri put her own needs before everyone else in Wakanda Forever. So, it became harder to separate the actor from the character. Shuri was so desperate to define herself as a leader – as the “Black Panther,” rather than a person dealing with grief.
She lets her anger take over throughout most of the film until she takes a second to really look at Namor. Bring on the Reylo comparisons because yet another pair see each other eye to eye and it feels a little too right. Like Killmonger, Namor would rather eliminate a threat, as opposed to figure out how to coexist with them. Shuri knows this is not how to deal with a threat, but her grief boils over and she takes the offensive. But, I’m still lost. Why was it necessary to settle this with a big battle?
Like Marvel’s other Phase Four projects, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is full of nuance. Therefore, there is no good guy, no bad guy, and no simple reason for conflict. Like Black Panther, Wakanda Forever takes us to a nation that thrives on its own, with no outside influence. The Talokanil and Wakandans are so similar and it’s so easy to see when Shuri tours Talokan.
As a stand-alone film, or as a part of the Black Panther Cinematic Universe, Wakanda Forever was perfect. It continued to be visually stunning with strong colors and sounds. Wakanda and Talokan needed to be explored with the vibrancy of Dolby Cinema. The aesthetic of Wakanda Forever paid homage to not only the first film but the cultures it represented. Each costume and set piece had a backstory that you needed to see all the details to truly appreciate. Wakanda and Talokan are so easy to appreciate and admire when you notice the harmony of it all.
So, why did we need Talokan and Wakanda to fight? Simply because it was a Marvel film?
Similar to Black Panther, this sequel makes you side with the antagonist because that’s all they are – the antagonist. The true villains are all the outside sources threatening both Wakanda and Talokan. Initially, Shuri and Namor were extending their hands to each other. So, that’s why the final battle was uncomfortable and almost felt unnecessary. And no, it’s not the same as Batman and Superman crying that their mom’s shared the same name.
I’m glad that Shuri did not kill Namor, even though it really felt like she was going to. It was uncomfortable to see the Wakandans fight the Talokanil because they are so similar. They couldn’t connect with each other despite the commonalities between them. African and Mesoamerican cultures are all about community and building the world together as opposed to tearing others apart to get what they want. So it was the perfect note to end on. While Shuri was isolating herself after her brother’s death, she forgot her community’s needs. The Black Panther is for everyone, not just to protect the vibranium – but like T’Challa built, for Wakanda to extend her hand to others.
African and Latino communities have suffered from colonization for generations. To this day, they continue to be. Even now, they will do anything to preserve their culture and existence. It’s why films like Wakanda Forever are so important. The Black Panther films continue to be an appreciation for culture and highlight the nuance that comes with having a complicated identity. Major props to Ryan Coogler for continuing to bring such deep-rooted issues to a major franchise like Marvel.
On another note, Angela Bassett’s arms, I mean, performance, because she solidifies the themes of Wakanda Forever. Queen Ramonda has so many poignant lines in this film. As Namor says, “only the most broken people, can be great leaders.” So not only does Ramonda lose everything, but Shuri does as well. Both of them honor T’Challa, by recreating his journey to becoming the Black Panther. Compared to other Marvel films (other than Black Panther), Wakanda Forever mirrored Spider-Man: No Way Home the most. Losing Ramonda had the exact same effect as losing Aunt May. Our hero lacks a voice of reason so they turn to rage. They think they can move forward by themselves, but they need others to help them. Like Tobey’s Peter stops our MCU Spider-Man, it’s the memory of her mother that stops Shuri. “Show them who you are,” Ramonda leaves with both Shuri and T’Challa.
While Shuri didn’t officially challenge for the mantle, this battle was the perfect mirror to T’Challa’s challenge day. Her actions leading up to making Namor yield were just like her brother’s. Therefore, any argument that would discredit Shuri as the new Black Panther can be thrown away. Shuri rightfully earned the title. The new Black Panther is here and here to stay.
While Wakanda Forever was pivotal for both Black and Latino communities, it still fell short in its attempt to continue building a wider universe. This is simply because it was more focused on building its own story about grief, loss, and moving on. It’s So this is why people might call it “mid,” or point out ways in which it is lacking.
That critique is not new to any of the Phase Four projects. But, we’re done introducing people to the world of superheroes. Finally, it is time for a new age of heroes. Seems like Marvel will get to the major building blocks later. As of right now, MCU stories force you to think critically about them. This is why they’re not casual watches – they’re something you need to sit with.
So if you’re not sitting with these projects, maybe you do need a Phase Four rewatch sooner rather than later.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now in theaters.