Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a very difficult sequel to get right. As the thirtieth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was faced with continuing the legacy of the Black Panther without T’Challa. Although I continue to have complicated feelings about the success of Black Panther, there’s no denying the impact that it left on superhero movies and black cinema. Of course Marvel Studios wanted a sequel as soon as possible. After a record breaking box-office gross, the highest Rotten Tomatoes score for an MCU film, and their first Best Picture nomination, I wasn’t sure Black Panther II could measure up to the original. Everything changed with the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. I was stunned when I first heard the news.
Like so many Black Panther fans, I wondered about the character’s future. There’s no right answer to such an unfortunate circumstance, but I’m still very much on the side of #RecastTChalla. T’Challa is Black Panther and I believe producer Kevin Feige’s decision not to recast was a mistake. Director Ryan Coogler was put in a very difficult position to rework a nearly completed screenplay. Although I had every reason to be nervous, the title Wakanda Forever seemed promising. I was even more won over by what may be one of the greatest teaser trailers I’ve ever seen. The teaser makes perfect use of a somber “No Woman, No Cry” cover by Tems that becomes progressively epic and hopeful. I knew Wakanda Forever would be an emotional tribute, but I was more excited to see the long-awaited MCU debut of Namor the Sub-Mariner…
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is officially the final movie in Phase Four of the MCU, but I’m not sure that was always the case. The Pandemic made the release schedule very messy and several projects had to be rearranged or pushed back. Without an Avengers movie, Wakanda Forever became the epic conclusion instead. And I do mean epic; with a staggering 2 hour & 41 minute runtime. One of my biggest complaints about Phase Four is the inconsistent length of each movie. Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were longer than they had to be, but Eternals was the biggest offender. Spider-Man: No Way Home was also long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder overcompensated by making their movies way too short. Although I was never bored like I was with Eternals, Wakanda Forever is still too long and a bit aimless at times. Lack of a definitive main character put too much emphasis on a supporting cast that was still grieving the loss of their star Chadwick Boseman. Letitia Wright is given top-billing since Shuri is arguably the lead character.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! from here on out. Despite being the plucky comic relief in Black Panther, the scientifically proficient Shuri desperately prays to Bast in an effort to save her big brother T’Challa. It’s a disorienting sequence where Shuri attempts to replicate the heart-shaped herb that Killmonger destroyed. As Queen Romanda enters her daughter’s laboratory, she announces the terrible news that her son has joined the ancestors. T’Challa’s off-screen death is caused by an unknown illness that mirrors Boseman’s private battle with colon cancer. Boseman managed to make 7 films at the time of his illness: Marshall, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He was a real life superhero, but using his death as a plot device feels disrespectful to such a beloved character. Though not as disrespectful as rearranging the Academy Awards with the possibility of Boseman winning a posthumous Oscar. There are so many talented black actors who could’ve carried on the legacy that Boseman forged, but it’s too late to recast.
Death seemed to follow T’Challa in every movie he appeared in. When King T’Chaka was assassinated, T’Challa said death was not the end for his people. In Black Panther, Killmonger presumably killed his cousin, only for T’Challa to triumphantly declare himself not to be dead. T’Challa was eventually snapped out of existence in the war against Thanos, but he was the first to return through a portal. Even Boseman’s final voice role in What If…? spoke about death. Wakanda Forever was meant to follow King T’Challa trying to readjust after being gone for 5 years, but it was never meant to be. T’Challa is given a tearful and celebratory Wakandan funeral with all of its attendants dressed in white African garments. A moment of silence is given to the Marvel Studios logo that pays tribute to Chadwick Boseman the same way Disney+ retroactively did for the first movie. It was so quiet that I could hear everyone in the theater start to tear up. Wakanda Forever is very somber and emotional throughout, but I didn’t cry like most people watching it. Of course it was heart wrenching, but I already mourned the loss of Boseman 2 years ago.
Though there are much needed moments of levity, the heavy tone is a far cry from the rest of the MCU. From the silly Thor: Love and Thunder to the laughable She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The horror themed Marvel Special Werewolf by Night is the only thing that can be taken seriously beforehand. Wakanda Forever is a step down from its predecessor, but it does retain a lot of the cast and crew that made Black Panther so groundbreaking. Ryan Coogler moved the plot in the best possible direction. Angela Basest delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the reinstated Queen of Wakanda. 1 year later, Queen Romanda speaks at a United Nations summit. Despite promising to share resources with the rest of the world, Wakanda chooses not to share Vibranium with invading countries. The Dora Milaje make a grand entrance in order to stop French mercenaries from stealing it. Without a Black Panther, General Okoye ends up doing most of the action, but Danai Gurira is more than up to the task. Okoye is given her own arc and emphasis is also placed on new Dora Milaje member Aneka played by Michaela Coel.
Aneka is in a lesbian relationship with Ayo just like the comics, but it’s another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene that can be easily edited out. Florence Kasumba has been Ayo ever since Captain America: Civil War. She’s been making appearances ever since, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was her biggest role. Romanda returns to Wakanda the same way her son did in the first movie. Oscar winning composer Ludwig Göransson returns with more African beats and other appropriate themes. The Queen Mother visits her daughter on the anniversary of T’Challa’s passing. Shuri has matured to the point of focusing on scientific study and advancement of her country. Her appearance is also more mature with a more androgynous hairstyle compared to the ones she had before. I never realized Trevor Noah was the voice of the Wakandan A.I. from the first movie, but he returns in a more prominent role as Griot. Though Shuri has developed a few interesting pieces of technology, nothing stands out the way it did in the first movie. Mother and daughter share a quiet moment in the African savannah where Romanda burns her ceremonial funeral robes in order to grieve. Though Shuri is less eager to accept what she can’t change. As next in line to the throne, Wright steps up her performance physically and dramatically.
Though it isn’t the same without T’Challa, the Vibranium race is enough to bring out a new threat. After 83 years, Namor the Sub-Mariner finally made his live-action debut. First appearing as far back as the 1939 Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 before officially debuting in Marvel Comics #1. Bill Everett created the water based Namor in response to the fire based Human Torch. Although Aquaman is considered to be the quintessential superpowered King of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner predates the DC hero by 2 years. Namor is the first Marvel superhero and the first comic book antihero at the same time. During the Golden Age, Namor was often presented as a villain to the surface world, but his nobility kept him on the side of good. Namor fought in World War II alongside Captain America and the Human Torch. They were Marvel’s first trinity, but Namor’s role continued to change overtime. During the Silver Age, Namor was still around thanks to his immortality. Although Stan Lee had no role in creating the Sub-Mariner, he did enjoy writing Namor with more Shakespearean dialect that included his famous catchphrase “Imperius Rex!” In his long history, Namor has played a role in every Marvel superheroes journey.
Namor has gone against the Fantastic Four and been infatuated with Sue Storm. Since Namor is half human-half Atlantean, that technically makes him Marvel’s first mutant before the introduction of the X-Men. Namor has been part of the Avengers, the Defenders, the Invaders, the Illuminati, and just about every other team you can think of. So it’s kind of shocking that it took so long to bring Namor to the big screen. A live-action Sub-Mariner TV series was planned in the 50’s starring Richard Egan, but nothing ever came of it. Another live-action series was intended for the 70’s, but it was scrapped thanks to a similar series called Man from Atlantis. Namor only had animated appearances including a starring role in The Marvel Super Heroes segment “The Sub-Mariner.” Though his theme song is the least memorable. Namor continued to make major guest appearances before suddenly disappearing from Marvel media in 2006. Namor: Sub-Mariner or The Sub-Mariner is a movie Marvel intended to make as far back as 1997. When Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Universal, they held up the character for over 2 decades. Making bad adaptations is one thing, but it’s a new low for a studio to deliberately hold onto a character without ever making a movie. I had a feeling Marvel Studios regained the rights, but it was never outright confirmed until Wakanda Forever.
A S.H.I.E.L.D. map in Iron Man 2 made it seem like Atlantis was on their radar. Then fans thought Namor might appear in Captain America: The First Avenger, but that was just a rumor. The closest thing to a reference was Okoye mentioning an underground deep sea earthquake in Endgame. They considered using Namor in Multiverse of Madness, but that wouldn’t have been the best introduction. Atlantis finally makes its presence known, but it’s now called Talokan. Although I welcomed Namor into the MCU, I had mixed feelings about certain deviations from the source material. Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta plays Namor. Though he’s been acting since 2006, Huerta is generally unknown to American audiences. He was an unconventional choice, but I expected Marvel to once again capitalize on diversity. Since there are barely any prominent Hispanic superheroes in Marvel comics, Namor and the underwater civilization of Talokan was inspired by Mayan culture. Though I don’t think the name change was necessary, it actually makes a lot of sense for Talokan to be an ancient Mesoamerican kingdom. The title Sub-Mariner is never used, but his people do refer to him as the feathered serpent god Kukulkan. In the comics, Namor is white, but he’s always had exotic features. Most people assumed an Asian actor would play him, but Shang-Chi made that less likely.
Coogler was smart to embrace the unique aspects of the Sub-Mariner. Namor is known for his pointy ears and sharp eyebrows that predate Spock by several decades. His most defining feature is a set of ankle wings that give him the ability to fly. The physics never make sense, but I’m so happy to finally see it play out on screen. Since Wakanda and Atlantis have always had a complicated history, it made sense to make Namor the main villain of the movie. Wakanda is blamed for an attack on CIA agents hoping to find Vibranium deep beneath the Ocean. Like the comics, Homo mermanus have blue skin and can only breath underwater. Advanced technology is used to help them breath on dry land. Talokanil people are also denser and more formidable with weapons like water bombs and mind controlling capabilities. The attack scene is excessively dark, but it’s great seeing Namor in the shadows. He takes out several helicopters including one that contains Black Widow voice actress Lake Bell as a CIA scientist. Namor makes his presence known to Shuri and Romanda as he rises from the Wakandan ocean using his wing feet. Though I was skeptical, Tenoch Huerta is more than worthy of being Namor. He very much captures the Sub-Mariner’s conflicting ideologies as an antihero who protects his kingdom, but kills when he has to.
Huerta is charismatic and his thick accent is easy to understand. Although since Namor is a walking shirtless scene, he could’ve worked out a little harder. I also wish he didn’t have facial hair. Oscar winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter returns to create more colorful African garments along with several Mesoamerican outfits. Namor retains his trademark green fish scale speedo, golden belt, and wristbands. He’s also given leg gauntlets, beaded necklaces, jade earrings, and a nose ring. The face jewelry is too much for me, but it’s not as distracting as I thought it would be. Namor gives Wakanda an ultimatum to turn over the scientist responsible for a Vibranium tracking machine or face eternal war. Queen Romanda and members of each tribe are brought together in the throne room to discuss their next move. Merchant Tribe Elder Dorothy Steel sadly passed away before the movie’s release. Winston Duke successfully lightens the mood as the Jabari Tribe enter the room with M’Baku chomping on a carrot and calling Okoye a “bald headed demon.” Okoye is the one who recommends taking Shuri to America in search of the scientist and Romanda reluctantly accepts. Their search is enough to bring back Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett K. Ross. He never sets foot in Wakanda, but he does help Shuri and Okoye with confidential information.
The American scientist is revealed to be Riri Williams. As much as I loved seeing the oldest Marvel superhero get much needed attention, I also had to deal with seeing the newest Marvel superhero. Ironheart was created by Brian Michael Bendis for the 2016 Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3 #7 & #9. Regardless of race, I can’t stress enough how little I care about a 6 year old Marvel superhero. Riri Williams is a young black scientific prodigy from Chicago who attends MIT in Boston and modeled her suit of armor after her eventual mentor Tony Stark. Her origin is kept intact, but Stark is downplayed for obvious reasons. Dominique Thorne adds Wakanda Forever to her impressive list of black movies that include If Beale Street Could Talk and Judas and the Black Messiah. Thorne was meant to be a source of comic relief similar to Spider-Man, but her sense of humor is very hit or miss. Riri’s introduction is almost a direct ripoff of Peter Parker’s introduction in Civil War. We see her backpack from behind and she’s confronted by another scientific genius/potential mentor. Not to mention her Ironheart YouTube videos and homework excuse that are also exactly the same. Although introducing Ironheart in Wakanda Forever kind of defeats the purpose of her being young, gifted, and black, it does make sense for her to meet Princess Shuri. Both are black female scientists, but Shuri has an African point of view and Riri has an African American point of view. Similar to the relationship between T’Challa and Killmonger, but a lot less sinister.
Riri only retaliates when Okoye attempts to take her by force. She takes them to her garage where she keeps all of her research, blueprints, and the car that belonged to her late father. Although Riri is responsible for the CIA’s Vibranium detecting machine, her presence in the movie feels unnecessary and very similar to Multiverse of Madness. Like America Chavez, Riri is protected by the heroes and sought after by the villain. Unlike Scarlet Witch, Namor’s desire to protect his underwater civilization from detection is enough to excuse some of his villainous actions. Similar to Iron Man, Riri powers up with a clunky Mark I Ironheart suit that she uses against the FBI. She even gets disoriented flying into the atmosphere just like Tony did in his first movie. Her armor is a mostly exposed suit with goggles, a booster pack, repulsor weapon, and heart shaped arc reactor. The car chase is similar to Black Panther with Shuri on a motorcycle and Okoye driving a car while using her spear as a weapon. The FBI is overshadowed by returning Talokanil foot soldiers. They plan to kill Riri, but Okoye puts up a strong fight against Namora and Attuma. In the comics, Namora is the cousin of Namor and Attuma is his long-standing archenemy. Namora and Attuma are portrayed by unknown Hispanic actors Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli respectively. Neither of them have much personality, but I suspect big things for them in the future.
Okoye is overpowered and Shuri willingly goes to see Namor with Riri by her side. Though they speak a Talokanil language, Shuri uses a universal translator to communicate. The loss of her daughter and entire family culminates in a powerful speech by Romanda. Resulting in a remorseful Okoye being stripped of her title as Dora Milaje. An unexpected moment where Okoye’s treacherous husband W’Kabi is mentioned. Since Daniel Kaluuya was busy with Nope, W’Kabi is currently in prison for siding with Killmonger. Ross discovers Shuri’s kimoyo beads on a bridge where he’s confronted by the new director of the CIA. Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes a surprise appearance as Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. After recruiting antiheroes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, Val is given a slightly more prominent role. Though she feels especially out of place and shoehorned into a nearly 3 hour movie. Val randomly mentions being married to Ross and she eventually arrests her ex-husband for conspiring with the Wakandans. Romanda tries to track Shuri using the kimoyo beads that Ross found and she enlists the help of War Dog spy Nakia. Despite being the second billed actress in the movie, Lupita Nyong’o doesn’t appear for awhile.
Turns out Nakia has been living in Haiti ever since the Blip and death of her beloved T’Challa. Nakia now has long dreadlocks and a specially designed minisub that she uses to track down Shuri and Riri. A more diplomatic Namor recounts his origin to Shuri on dry land. Including the entire backstory of Namor is another reason for the movie’s length, but it was a necessary addition. In the comics, Namor McKenzie is the son of a human sea captain and an Atlantean noblewoman. In the movie, Namor’s pregnant mother Fen and Talokanil people ingest a similar Vibranium infused plant that turns their skin blue and takes away their ability to breath air. Though they appear normal underwater, Namor is a confirmed mutant that brings us one step closer to X-Men in the MCU. He was born with normal skin, pointed ears, and wings on his feet. His mutation also gave him an unnatural life-span from the year 1571 to present. Namor’s lack of presence in the MCU makes a lot more sense than the Eternals. His hatred for surface-dwellers stems from the Spanish conquistadors that gave his people disease. They gave him the name Namor which apparently means “the boy without love.” Shuri begins to understand Namor before diving into his underwater kingdom. After Aquaman, it was hard to compete with their depiction of Atlantis.
I didn’t think it was possible, but Talokan is too dark and generic looking with Talokanil residents awkwardly swimming around. I’m just glad they can talk underwater without any unnecessary changes. Oscar winning production designer Hannah Beachler returns, but sometimes it’s difficult to see her work. Namor does have a cool throne made from a jawbone and an over-the-top feathered headdress complete with comic accurate red cape and spear. Although it feels unnecessarily derivative, Talokan has many similarities to Wakanda. Their nation is also rich with Vibranium that they use in their clothing and weaponry. Rather than cross their arms, Talokanil people make a ball that looks suspiciously similar to “Baby Shark.” Namor attempts to convince the emotionally vulnerable Shuri to side with him in his war with the surface world. He even threatens the Queen on a beach if they refuse or attempt rescue. Nakia rescues Shuri and Riri and ignites a war between Wakanda and Talokan by killing one of their own. The attack on Wakanda is ripped straight out of the comics with Namor drowning the country. In battle, Namor is stronger than a whale, he can swim anywhere, he can breathe underwater, and go flying through the air. M’Baku discovers firsthand that Namor is potentially as strong as the Hulk. I’ll admit I did root for Namor at times, but he does cause a lot of chaos. Though she’s now a citizen, Okoye helps Nakia in rescuing Wakandan people and giving them shelter in Jabari Land.
Namor flies directly to the Wakandan throne and goes one step too far by drowning the room with Romanda and Riri in it. Romanda makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Riri, but she’s unable to save herself. Leaving Shuri to mourn the loss of another family member. Though her death was a bit telegraphed, Shuri has now dealt with as much loss as Thor. Giving her the push she needs to successfully recreate a synthetic heart-shaped herb. Although Wakanda Forever continued to tease a new Black Panther, I’m glad they didn’t throw in an unnecessary twist. Shuri obviously takes up the mantle of Black Panther. Similar to the comics, except Shuri doesn’t assume the role because T’Challa is in a coma. Comic book Shuri was jealous of her brother, but movie Shuri is only fueled by vengeance. When she enters the Ancestral Plane, we expect to see her mother, but she’s actually greeted by her cousin Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan’s shocking cameo gives the villain more screen time and allows Coogler to continue working with his favorite actor. Since Shuri is on a dark path, Killmonger fuels her hatred of Namor. When Shuri gains the power of the Black Panther, she unveils a new feminine Panther Habit made especially for her. Though Wright is a lot skinnier, she does manage to feel intimidating. Shuri’s costume is black with more gold accents and markings similar to the ones she had in Black Panther. Her traditional claws are paired with the same sonic cannons she also had in the first movie.
Shuri drops into Jabari Land just like her brother once did. As the Black Panther, newly appointed Queen Shuri initiates a counter-attack on Talokan. Though they’ve had their differences in the past, M’Baku advises Shuri to seek a peaceful solution. Shuri deliberately hides the fact that she saw Killmonger from Nakia, but she still agrees to fight in her war. The conflict is enough to inspire Riri to build an upgraded Mark II Ironheart suit made from Wakandan resources. Since the comic armor is far from iconic, her movie armor is hot-rod red with large booster rockets similar to Samus Aran. I can’t stress enough how derivative this character is. Though she voices her opposition throughout the movie, Okoye agrees to don Shuri’s upgraded Midnight Angels suit. In the comics, Ayo and Aneka are the Midnight Angels, but Okoye replaces the former since she’s given more prominence. Ayo is the new general of the Dora Milaje who leads them in battle. The climax takes place on the Atlantic Ocean with Wakandan forces using a ship called the Sea Leopard. A sonic weapon prevents Talokan from using mind control and a battle takes place on the side of the ship. CGI is dodgy just like the first movie, especially when Black Panther joins the fight.
Shuri figures out a way to incapacitate Namor by taking him away from water. She manages to dry him out using heaters on a Wakandan aircraft. Namor uses his spear to crash the aircraft and their personal fight continues on a desert island. Although I’d much rather see T’Challa and Namor’s rivalry play out on screen, I’ll settle for Shuri ripping off Namor’s wing in order to keep him grounded. Their fight gets so heated that Namor stabs Shuri through the chest, but we’ve had enough death for one movie. Namor finally utters his iconic catchphrase “Imperius Rex!” as Shuri declares “Wakanda Forever!” When a fiery explosion still isn’t enough to take out Namor, Shuri nearly impales him once and for all. The battle only stops when Shuri realizes how similar their nations are from one another. She echos her big brother’s decision to stop letting vengeance consume her. Namor agrees to make peace and move on with Wakanda as an ally. Wakanda Forever takes forever to end with several wrap up scenes in place of an after-credits scene. Though Namora is against peace with Wakanda, Namor assures her an alliance is beneficial for their future. I sincerely hope a solo Namor the Sub-Mariner movie is on the horizon. Hispanic people could use their very own Black Panther or Shang-Chi.
Though Riri is unable to take her Ironheart armor out of Wakanda, Shuri does gift her with her newly repaired father’s car. I’m not looking forward to seeing more of Riri Williams, but I’ll still get my answers in her solo series Ironheart. Okoye uses her Midnight Angels suit to break Ross out of confinement, but I’m not sure where that leaves Val. Apart from her upcoming role in Thunderbolts. Shuri chooses not to challenge for the throne, so M’Baku comes full circle by presumably becoming king. Instead Shuri visits Nakia in Haiti where she tearfully burns her ceremonial funeral robes and accepts the death of her big brother. We see a final heartfelt tribute to all the moments T’Challa spent with Shuri. As the fire continues to burn, “Lift Me Up” by Rihanna plays during the closing credits. Wakanda Forever was enough to bring Rihanna back after a 6 year hiatus from releasing a solo. The mid-credits scene continues on the beach where Shuri is joined by Nakia and her surprise son Toussaint.
Chadwick Boseman will always be Black Panther, but I suspected a compromise when Toussaint revealed his Wakandan name to be T’Challa. As long as they age him up, I’ll accept him as the new Black Panther and King of Wakanda. Although a Doctor Doom teaser would’ve been cool, this was a better note to end the movie on. With Shuri as a temporary Black Panther, Wakanda Forever is technically the first major superhero movie with a black female lead. Though it feels like a funeral at times, the movie does manage to celebrate black woman. There are a few PC moments, but nothing that’s likely to rile up fans. Since most people agree that Wakanda Forever could’ve been better, it’s easier to point out flaws without being chastised. I sincerely hope it’s not nominated for Best Picture, but I’ll welcome other Oscar nominations. For a sequel plagued by tragedy, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever successfully moves the franchise forward.
Preceded by: Black Panther