It was never going to be an easy task.
After death after the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, the return to the Black Panther franchise became frought with controversy and challenges. Whether it was the rallying cry to recast T’Challa, or simply attempting to create a project that honours the legacy of one of Marvel‘s greatest heroes, the sequel to Black Panther felt like a doomed project from the start. Although the cast was committed to creating something of the highest possible quality, this is almost an impossible expectation to meet under the circumstance. However, against all odds, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an undeniably touching tribute to the life of Boseman, while still managing to deliver the Marvel goods in an epic way.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever follows the nation of Wakanda as they are left in collective grief over the tragic death of King T’Challa. As reinstated leader, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) informs the world council that, despite the loss of T’Challa, they are very much a nation of power and pride who are willing to embrace the next chapter of leadership. However, when the mysterious aquatic nation of Talokan—led by the powerful Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia)—asserts their claim to Wakanda’s resources, Shuri (Letitia Write), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Dora Milaje must fight to preserve their home.
Almost strangely, Wakanda Forever feels more internally-focused than other recent entries into the uber-franchise. For example, Coogler has created a film that features all the epic battle sequences that one would expect from traditional Marvel fare. (The battle within Wakanda itself is particularly impressive.) However, at the same time, Wakanda Forever is a film that feels quite content to grapple with its own issues, with no Thanos or Kang-like threat lying in the wings. Marvel is always at its best when character is emphasized over spectacle and Wakanda Forever is surprisingly willing to sit in the quieter moments. As a result, this easily becomes one of the best films in the current phase of storytelling as it allows the characters space to grieve.
In a lot of ways, Wakanda Forever is a surprisingly appropriate film to end Marvel’s Phase 4. From Black Widow to WandaVision to even Thor: Love and Thunder, Marvel‘s theme for much of their content during this current phase of the Marvel Universe has dealt with how to recover from grief and trauma. This theme absolutely extends into Wakanda Forever as Boseman‘s death weighs heavily upon the film. Unlike other Marvel deaths, Boseman’s actual passing has left a mark upon both the fictional world and the real-world fanbase, causing difficult decisions for those behind the scenes. Do you recast the character? Change the identity of the Panther? All of these options have been hotly debated in recent years but, thankfully, the film treats his passing with honour and respect. In this vision of Wakanda, the nation mourns the death of their king and desperately searches for a way forward. As such, like other Marvel content in recent years, Wakanda Forever becomes a tribute to the power of legacy, and what it means to heal after a tragic loss.
Although Boseman’s passing weighs heavily on this latest chapter of the story of Wakanda, it is the women who step forward with strength and fury. From Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o to Dani Gurira and the Dora Milaje, the women of Wakanda are determined to protect their home and lead into the future. This is especially true in Wright’s performance as she brings a maturity to her character that was missing in the first film. While the first adventure portrayed her as the ‘kid sister of the king’, Wakanda Forever allows her to grow into a more complex character. (“Someone who has seen as much tragedy as you can no longer be called a child,” M’Baku informs her.)
However, standing tallest amongst these Wakandan warriors is Bassett. As T’Challa’s grieving mother and the reinstated Queen of Wakanda, she is positively fierce. Broken by grief yet fueled by determination, there’s a passion and fury within Bassett’s work here that feels authentic. Although Wright may be the film’s focus, Bassett remains its heart and soul.
And soul is an appropriate term for Wakanda Forever.
Left with an anger created by their suffering and hurt, this is a country (and a franchise) that is looking to rediscover its soul. Determined to soldier on, Wakanda struggles to know what the future looks like, leaving them with a sense of uncertainty. Here, each character lies determined to carry on the legacy of their fallen king, yet remain unsure about how to do so. This is particularly exemplified in the journey of Shuri, who remains broken by the loss of her departed brother. Wrought with anger, there is a recklessness of her character in this film that tempts her to lean into her darker impulses. Without giving any spoilers, Shuri’s emotional journey is the focal point of much of the film as she grapples with the tension between holding on and letting go.
This is not to say that Marvel isn’t up to its old tricks in terms of thinking towards the future of the franchise. New characters such as Riri Williams, Namor the Submariner and the inclusion of Talokan are introduced as more foes/allies for Wakanda—and, potentially, the Avengers—in future entries. (What’s more, one can’t help but feel bad for James Cameron as he primes himself to reintroduce another group of blue-skinned, water-based warriors in only a few weeks’ time.) However, what’s most important is that these new characters are not the aspect of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that resonate after the (post)credits roll. Instead, Coogler has managed to create a proper farewell for one of Marvel’s most beloved heroes while still offering hope for the future.
And, in times of grief, that is always what’s needed most.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is available in theatres on Friday, November 11th, 2022.