Following the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020, the future of the Black Panther as a film series on its own and the character’s involvement in upcoming MCU projects hung in the air. Nobody was quite sure how Disney and Marvel Studios were going to move forward. However, with Wakanda Forever, I don’t believe they could have done anything more to fittingly pay tribute to the late, great actor and the legacy of the first film and its characters, especially T’Challa.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the fictional superpower of a country is in a state of both mourning and apprehension. Queen Mother Ramonda (played by the wonderful Angela Bassett) is now leading Wakanda – but without a Black Panther to protect them – and their homeland’s security is stronger than ever as other countries seek to find, take and use Vibranium for themselves. But it is not every other country’s desire for Vibranium that is Wakanda’s main threat and worry, for a mysterious race of people from under the sea (that rival DC’s Aquaman and his Atlanteans and give you hope that the upcoming live-action version of The Little Mermaid is as visually brilliant) – led by Namor, or K’uk’ulkan (feathered serpent god) – make themselves known to Ramonda and Shuri (Letitia Wright) and claim that humans’ relentless search for the rare and powerful metal is breaching their underwater world and existence.
The race is then on to find the scientist responsible for inventing the Vibranium-detecting machine that is affecting both Wakanda and Talokan, where Namor (Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía in his first global blockbuster) lives and rules his people. This happens to be a student at MIT, Riri Williams (portrayed by relative newcomer Dominique Thorne) and the two nations embroil in a war that honestly, Wakanda (or War-kanda?) for once seem to be the underdog. But aside from the thrill of the action that the fight scenes, car chases and perilous situations bring as well as the new dynamic of having Namor and his people being added to the MCU, it’s the heart and emotion of the film that really sews the film together and emanates throughout.
Marvel Studios is already known for its injection of tumultuous emotions – as seen in the Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. And in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, this has continued, though perhaps with more of a hard-hitting reality due to the circumstances. Audiences are surely likely to have guessed, that it would of course be centred on grief and loss. How do people deal with it differently and try to move on with their lives? How does it affect everybody’s actions and thoughts compared to others and how can it unite people but also tear them apart? The way Letitia, Angela, Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) and Danai Gurira (Okoye) in particular emote in their scenes, oozing genuine sadness and heartbreak would surprise me if even the hardest of nutshells don’t shed a tear or two.
In addition, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does not just further the surviving Wakandans stories and journeys as the nation now has to contend with its status as still largely secretive and potentially threatening, but it opens up doors to more branches of the MCU. While Shuri must bear the burden left to her by her family and go from a technological genius princess who preferred to help and fight in her own in her lab to being the face of her home and people, probably joining the upcoming new team of Avengers, Riri will star in the Disney+ series Ironheart next year and there is also a yet untitled Wakanda-centred series based on some of the characters. We are also likely to see Namor and his people return in another MCU film and it would be interesting to see a multiverse version of Wakanda, and how Wakanda Forever‘s story fits in with the rest of the current “Multiverse Saga”.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shows that people are never truly gone when they are remembered by those who still live and the consequences of the living’s actions mean their death is not in vain. Wright’s step into the mantle of a main character after being a supporting one in the first Black Panther and other previous MCU films, shows true upcoming star quality as a young actress of just 29, and almost detracts from the backlash she received during the pandemic and when filming Wakanda Forever for some of her alleged controversial views and remarks. And in a similar vein to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Eternals, will a fleeting and seemingly throwaway but landmark two-second shot depicting a same-sex relationship also continue to show Disney and Marvel’s discreetly inclusive yet predominantly distant stance on LGBTQ+ representation, or will this actually be explored and shown properly?
Above all though, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a symbol of unity in the face of adversity and one where you can appreciate how impactful its phenomenon as a catalyst for racial and ethnic pride truly is. One can hope that the sequel to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will follow that.