Joe Meola ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
On November 11, 2022, Marvel Studios released the long-awaited sequel to its 2018 superhero film Black Panther. The original film, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Chadwick Boseman in the titular role, was groundbreaking for the studio as the first black-led superhero film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because of Black Panther’s immense cultural impact, as well as the tragic death of star Chadwick Boseman following a battle with colon cancer, Wakanda Forever has a lot to live up to. Not only must it reach the quality standard set by the original film, but it also must respect and pay tribute to the passing of a respected actor whose character was an essential part of the film’s greater universe.
The film does succeed in honoring the late Boseman, as well as his character, King T’Challa. The opening scene of the film depicts a frantic Shuri (portrayed by Leitia Wright) struggling to create a cure to heal her brother from a mysterious illness that is rapidly killing him. The cure she is attempting to create is a synthetic replica of the “Heart-Shaped Herb,” the source of power for all holders of the Black Panther mantle(all of the herb in Wakanda was destroyed by villain Erik Killmonger in the previous film). She is unable to craft the cure in time, and T’Challa passes away. What follows is a funeral scene honoring the fallen hero and king, and it feels like as much of a tribute to Boseman as it is to the Marvel hero he famously portrayed.
While Boseman is no longer with us, his and T’Challa’s presence permeates throughout the movie, even beyond the opening scenes. The primary characters of the film, such as Shuri and Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) are driven by their loss. Ramonda wants to make it clear that Wakanda is still a powerful nation and is not rendered defenseless by the loss of its king and hero, while Shuri throws herself deeper into her scientific work and wishes to abandon the old ways of Wakanda. The Wakandans are not the only ones impacted by the loss of T’Challa, though, as several nations are beginning to seek out Vibranium– the indestructible ore that is Wakanda’s greatest natural resource– in the wake of his death.
The search for Vibranium by the United States in particular is the cause of the central plot of the film, as the machine they use to detect the mineral leads them to the underwater nation of Talokan, led by Namor (played by Tenoch Huerta Mejia), the primary antagonist of the film. Namor is adapted very interestingly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Namor first appeared in 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, making him one of the earliest characters created by the company. His origin was that he was the half-human (later retconned to half-mutant) half-Atlantean son of a sea captain and an Atlantean princess. If that sounds familiar, that’s because a very similar origin story was used for the DC Comics superhero Aquaman, who debuted in 1941. However, because Aquaman had a solo film on the big screen in 2018, putting the hero into the public eye, Marvel featuring a character with that same backstory on the big screen might have come off as redundant and derivative. As a result, Namor’s backstory was altered, weaving the history of U.S. colonialism, Aztec mythology, and even a bit of mermaid lore into the character to make him and his world feel more distinct. In fact, the integration of Mayan culture into the lore of Namor and the people of Talokan makes them feel much more real and tangible in a sense, as if these are real people that could exist. Talokan itself, though, is not a sight to behold. Such a high standard is set both by the MCU’s depiction of Wakanda– especially in this film– and Aquaman’s Atlantis, and Talokan looks rather dull in comparison. The underwater civilization appears dark and murky, even in the light of the Sun, and its architecture appears uninhabitable. Furthermore, when Shuri visits the nation and its people, the people appear to just be floating there doing nothing until she arrives for them to greet her. It is very strange.
The version of Namor depicted in the film feels like the perfect next step for an antagonist in the Black Panther franchise. Like the previous film’s Erik Killmonger, Namor’s actions–while incredibly merciless and brutal in execution–have justifiable motivations; both antagonists are fueled by colonization. Killmonger is fueled by the mistreatment of African nations and POCs by the U.S. and anger towards Wakanda for not helping the black people of the world with its rich natural resources and technological achievements. Similarly, Namor is fueled by the colonization of Mexico by the Spanish, as well as fear of future colonization of his own people by the surface world.
The aforementioned Killmonger–despite being dead–also has a presence in the film, much like T’Challa. This presence is fully realized when Shuri visits the Ancestral Plane–an alternate plane of existence in which the souls of deceased members of the royal family reside–after consuming the synthetic Heart-Shaped Herb. While she expects to be visited by the spirit of her brother or of one of her parents, she is instead met by Killmonger. This reminds viewers that Shuri is not her brother, but rather her own distinct person, and will assume the mantle of the Black Panther in her own way. Moreover, the encounter illustrates that she is not unlike the villain of the previous film, due to her desire to reject traditions of Wakanda’s past and embrace the modern world.
Shuri’s family and friends, especially Queen Ramonda, and even Killmonger, all play a pivotal role in her development towards becoming the Black Panther. Her rage about the loss of her brother and later her mother at the hand of Namor compel her to kill her foe, as she is goaded to do so by the spirit of Killmonger. However, in the final battle of the film, as she is about to land the killing blow, the spirit of her mother appears to her, and she chooses mercy for Namor, even making him and his people allies of Wakanda.
Speaking of allies, Dominique Thorne’s RiRi Williams is a welcome addition to the MCU. She surprisingly fits well into the plot of the film, despite her comic book counterpart not being very associated with the Black Panther mythos. Could a plot have been crafted without her? Probably, but who cares? It’s nice to see some new faces sometimes. Thorne’s portrayal is quite good. No complaints here. In fact, the whole cast does a rather good job, despite lacking the original star of the franchise, and newcomers like Tenoch Huerta Mejia hold their own alongside veterans of the franchise.
The costume design in this movie is something to be admired. The garb of the Wakandans has always been a treat to look at, and the same can be said for the people of Talokan. While the Wakandans’ outfits are based upon those of African tradition, the looks sported by Namor and co. (such as their jewelry and feathered headdresses) are pulled from Aztec culture. Shuri’s Black Panther costume is also very well-designed, with clear inspiration taken from both her look in previous films and the Black Panther costume once worn by Killmonger. One complaint to be brought up, though, is the design of RiRi’s armor used in the final battle. It looks a bit too smooth, bulky, and plastic-y, and it feels very out of place in the film.
Ludwig Goranson once again knocks it out of the park with the score of the film, as he has in the past with the previous Black Panther movie and The Mandalorian, among other projects. While the score is incredible, it does not stand out amongst the composer’s other projects, however.
Overall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a phenomenal watch, and is totally worth the price of admission. It makes the best of an unfortunate situation in which the actor portraying the main character unexpectedly passed away, while still telling an incredible story that expands upon the themes and characters of the original film and further building up its corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.