Marvel Studios and filmmaker Ryan Coogler were left with the unenviable task of figuring out what to do with the “Black Panther” sequel. Filming was already well into pre-production when Chadwick Boseman passed away. The actor tragically, suddenly died in 2020 at the age of 43 from a hidden battle with cancer,
The 2018 original is what made Boseman a star, after all, and began a cherished friendship for Coogler. It was also a monster success for Marvel. In more ways than one: financially, critically, and, perhaps even more importantly: culturally.
Both Black Panther and his homeland of Wakanda, a fictional nation in Africa that had never been colonized and presented the most heretofore available presentation of Afrofuturism in a mainstream pop culture package. It was embraced worldwide, especially by persons of color.
Luckily, and with much gratitude, audiences can breathe a sigh of relief as the sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” delivers on multiple fronts. It is a satisfying sequel. The film is also an extraordinarily emotional farewell to the character of T’Challa (and thus Chadwick Boseman himself).
A year after the titular character’s death from an undisclosed illness, T’Challa’s family and nation are still reeling from the loss. Foreign powers (notably the US and France) sense weakness and vulnerability. They seek access to the rich deposits of Vibranium that seem exclusive to Wakanda. A vein of the precious resource is discovered in the Atlantic.
The exploratory ship making the discovery is attacked by unknown persons. The blame seems set on Wakanda, as who else would make such an effort to keep vibranium out of the hands of anyone?
Here we are introduced to Namor, one of the earliest anti-heroes in Marvel Comics. He is remixed for the MCU as having Mayan and Aztec influences over the “Atlantean” original (perhaps trying to avoid comparisons with the DCU’s Aquaman).
Namor is leader of an underwater-dwelling race who have so far avoided being discovered by modern civilization, they too have Vibranium. They feel they have been put under threat of exposure and discovery due to T’Challa’s actions in the first film. With generational trauma from colonizers and slavers, Namor will do whatever is necessary to protect his people.
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Continuing the original’s reputation with great antagonists (Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in “Black Panther”), Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is, like T’Challa, the leader of a people. He is bestowed with incredible abilities, yes, but weighed down by the mantle and responsibility that his title brings. Like Killmonger before him, he makes a complex and sound reasoning behind his actions.
While Queen Ramonda (the always powerful Angela Bassett), who has resumed sovereign responsibility, and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) have amazing tech at their disposal, they are still not your common garden-variety superheroes; they are royalty, and their actions have way more repercussions.
Filling the void
The ensemble introduced in “Black Panther” step up and do their best to fill the void left by Chadwick Boseman; such a charismatic presence. It is a mighty endeavor, but Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s screenplay gives each of them their moment. In fact they make great effort at teasing out the many interrelationships between Queen/Mother, Princess/Daughter, lover, counselor/rival, etc.
All these interactions have the specter of T’Challa’s loss over them. Indeed, the film is an extended grieving process. It does not languish in the more expected paralytic sadness. It gives a robust focus on the outright anger that can combust in the aftermath of loss. Shuri’s emotional journey here is perhaps the most developed one we’ve seen in these Marvel movies. The film is all the better for it.
As it still takes place in that universe, there are also scenes with Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) and the introduction of a new character in Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), though they don’t abrade the plot and are folded in with ease. This makes for some thrilling chase sequences through Boston and another locale which should be discovered in the film proper.
While sprawling and ambitious, “Wakanda Forever” stays anchored by the emotional underpinnings attached to each of the main characters, especially Shuri and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). Namor doesn’t get short shrift either, and because the filmmakers take the time to make these characters more dimensional. When the crap hits the fan and emotions run hot, you are there with them. Together you try to make sense of things you feel powerless against.
It’s an achievement of emotional catharsis, and paves the way for healing to begin.