iReview | BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
As a nation mourns, tensions between the world and a new emerging threat force the hand of the hidden African superpower as the destiny of a new defender steps onto the stage in Marvel Studios’ emotionally charged BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.
The sun has set on the reign of King T’Challa. Chadwick Boseman’s untimely passing brought the entertainment to its knees. Still caught up in the throws of the euphoric success of Ryan Coogler’s contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first Black Panther film was an achievement that exceeded any expectations and instantly turned its lead into one of the industry’s most beloved talents. Chadwick Boseman was unique, like the A-list actors that each earned their headlining roles inside of the biggest franchise films of this or any era. His portrayal of the Marvel Comics hero went deeper and resonated with audiences in a way that no other Marvel hero had done before, and at a time that appeared perfectly suited to the challenges he needed to face.
The pandemic had put a serious hold on every major studio’s schedule and although Coogler was heavily invested in pre-production, at the time of Boseman’s passing, the filmmaker had to take a pause and consider how the sequel would proceed without its lead. Marvel Studios President and Creative Lead, Kevin Feige said from the beginning that they would not recast the role; they didn’t have the heart to replace Boseman as the soul of the franchise, and both creatives decided there was only one path to consider, and the solution was already right there in the comics themselves. Now with the passing of one hero, another must emerge as all eyes turn to the people of Wakanda as the shift of power begins to take a turn.
Long Live the King
It’s startling and unsettling, but as immediately as BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER begins the audience is flung into mourning its king. Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri is seen desperately working to find a way to save T’Challa. Unfortunately when Ramonda (Angela Bassett reprises her role as the Queen Mother of the African nation of Wakanda) interrupts her daughter as she works wildly to construct a solution, she has no choice but to bring Shuri back to reality. proclaiming the passing of their king, brother, son, and protector. Their world is rocked, and as the news begins to circulate around the world, Wakanda is perceived as vulnerable, as self-interested parties seek to mine the power of vibranium for themselves.
Only until recently, Wakanda had been perceived as a third-world country with few natural resources, when in fact because of its cultivation of the rare mineral ore vibranium, it is vastly more powerful and technologically more advanced than any other country in the world, and willing to do anything to keep anyone from using vibranium for their own destructive natures. But vibranium isn’t unique to Wakanda. The asteroid that brought it to earth, may have crumbled and saturated the planet. The United States has discovered a way to locate the rare ore, they’re using a sensor array developed by an MIT student, RiRi Williams (Dominique Thorne), and found vibranium at the bottom of the ocean. The discovery of more could determine who will tip the balance of power in the world.
It doesn’t go unnoticed, and a new enemy has apparently risen to the surface. Tenoch Huerta brings one of Marvel’s most complicated and revered characters to the MCU as Namor, The Submariner. The leader of an underwater civilization that has endured for hundreds of years in secrecy in much the same way as the Wakandans. The Mesopotamian civilization of Talokan thrived in the depths of the ocean floor and built a thriving community also using vibranium as an energy source. Unlike the Wakandans, who are willing to share their technology, Namor is threatening to burn the entire surface world down, not trusting in the world’s governments to benefit from the ore and rather launch to eradicate anyone that controls vibranium.
Among one of the most touching and poignant moments in the film is when Shuri, unsure of how to proceed given the circumstances that they are facing, turns to M’Baku played by Winston Duke. The leader of the neighboring tribe of warriors should for all accounts be an adversary waiting in the wings to usurp the throne. M’Baku challenges T’Challa for leadership in the first film (as is his birthright), but ends up rescuing the king and the royal family siding with them to bring down the false-king Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Now M’Baku serves, along with General Okoye, Danai Gurira as two of Shuri’s most trusted advisers. M’Baku’s advice is thoughtful and relevant. He can not replace the love of a brother, but his words are filled with an earnest loyalty, love, and respect that is spectacular.
The World Isn’t Big Enough
The Wakandas now find themselves between a rock and hard place, as lines are drawn and everyone is vying for power. Shuri (Wright) is thrust into the spotlight. Determined to protect the compromised MIT student (Thorne) whose brilliance has made her the target of Namor’s wrath and the US government who has appropriated the technology and used it with RiRi Williams’ permission. Okoye (Gurira) aligns with Shuri to protect Williams and bring her to Wakanda, but the trio are attacked by agents of the Talokan army. The warriors Attuma (Alex Livinalli) and Namora (Mabel Cadena) intervene in the extraction attempt and take Shuri and Williams hostage. Defeated, Okoye returns to Wakanda where she is stripped of her rank as general of the Wakandan army.
It’s a desperately heartbreaking moment as Ramonda finds herself with little choice but to make an example of Okoye. Coogler gets a poignant performance out of his cast here that plays like a moment out of a Shakespearian drama, and the audience is left spent. Determined to rescue the princess and the Williams, Ramonda turns to Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Wakanda’s most capable secret agent, and the one-time love of the departed T’Challa. Nakia has left the borders of her home behind and is leading a movement to educate under-serviced countries in the ways of becoming self-sufficient and interdependent while building stable communities. She does as the queen orders and embarks on tracking down the Talokan and rescue the princess.
Shuri has approached her captivity as an opportunity to learn as much as she can about Namor and the Talokan, and keep them from harming RiRi. The first Black Panther film through open the gates of Wakanda and revealed the hidden nation as it was envisioned in the pages of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee. In this sequel, the MCU expands even further with the origins of Namor revealed. Possibly the “first” mutant of the MCU, his people, a thousand-year-old Mesopotamian civilization that has succumbed to the infections of colonization decidedly turn to the miracle of vibranium and evolve themselves. Diving into the depths of the ocean, the Talokans thrive in the ocean and live symbiotically with the creatures of the sea.
The scope of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is extraordinarily enormous, and yet it remains distinctly rooted in the character development and emotional arc of its ensemble cast, which are all extremely complex and endearing personalities, including the expanding players introduced. RiRi Williams will be familiar to comic book readers, as the likeliest candidate to step into the shoes of Tony Stark. With the support of Wakandan technology, she is able to enhance her suit of armor, and Ironheart is forged to join the fight in the film's climatic final act. It’s no surprise when Shuri ascends to the role of the “new” protector of her people, and fashions herself a new ceremonial suit. As the Black Panther, she takes on Namor in one-on-one combat.
Ryan Coogler may have had the most daunting task of any of his predecessors, and that was attempting to outmatch his first film in the MCU, but as is evident Black Panther is its own achievement and very much wrapped in the legacy of the actor, Chadwick Boseman, who embodied that film, and emboldens its sequel. Wakanda Forever is a worthy sequel and the logical “next step” in this established narrative, and adheres very much to what is rooted in the first feature — it is about life, living, and remembering the value of what came before. Legacy is a distinctly powerful device is modern mythologies, and if this installment in the MCU proves anything, it is that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is strong and in very good hands.
Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER starring Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Tenoch Huerta, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Freeman, and directed by Ryan Coogler is now playing in theaters.