When Chadwick Boseman tragically passed in August of 2020, many assumed the legacy of Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was finished. It was the first Marvel film to cross the billion dollar threshold, and was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. All behind the graceful, enigmatic presence of Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa. And just like that, hope for the future of the franchise was taken with Boseman’s passing. Or was it?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is nothing if not an epic about grief. How do you mourn what once was? How do you mourn the tomorrows you thought were promised, but will never come? When a world is so clearly built around the presence of one man, how can you move on without him?
These questions are raised in the film, but the real world implications are inescapable. The truth is, the entire world is watching to see how Coogler and company handle this tightrope walk. There’s no way a Black Panther film can be successful without its titular hero. Right?
Wakanda Forever is set one year after the sudden death of King T’Challa. He was dealing with an illness he didn’t want anyone to know about. By the time he told his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), it was too late. For the past year, Shuri has thrown herself into her work to avoid the pain. Even the Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is having a hard time getting through to her. Meanwhile, every nation on Earth has been plotting to mine a weakened Wakanda for its Vibranium. A failed reconnaissance mission by the U.S. puts Wakanda in the crosshairs of a new threat, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his Talokan Army. Without her protector, Wakanda may finally be taken out for good.
Ryan Coogler seems to have a thing for sympathetic villains. He does a great job introducing us to Marvel’s
Atlanteans Talokans, while giving a compelling reason for them waiting until now to surface. Huerta’s Namor is just sinister enough that we don’t forget who the bad guy is. I don’t expect to see any “Namor Was Right” t-shirts floating around this time.
To call this film somber would be an understatement, but that doesn’t mean it’s a joyless ride. Dominique Thorne shines in her role as Riri Williams, a wunderkind from Chicago who gives the film much needed comic relief. (If the Ironheart series on Disney Plus is anything like this, count me in.) Add in jokes from the original ensemble cast, and Wakanda Forever feels like a family reunion — albeit one held right after a funeral. This film asks a lot of its ensemble cast, but they knock it out of the park. Letitia Wright gives a performance for the ages, and Ryan Coogler’s script takes us through all five stages of grief. In the end, we get a beautiful memory of what was, and an awesome glimpse of what could be.
Some will find that Wakanda Forever hits too close to home and doesn’t do enough to distance itself from the real life tragedy preceding it. They’ll chastise the studio for not #RecastingTChalla and giving us someone new to fall in love with.
But what is grief, if not love persevering?