​'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Is an Emotional Tribute to Chadwick Boseman

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Starring Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Dominique Thorne, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

BY Rachel HoPublished Nov 10, 2022

Director Ryan Coogler was faced with an impossible task after the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. As a creator, the sequel he had written needed to be binned and he had to somehow find a way for the Black Panther franchise to continue without its king. As a person, he had to do all of this while finding the space to grieve the passing of his friend and support his cast as they stepped onto set without their brother in cinematic arms. An unenviable situation for any director, with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Coogler was tasked with telling a compelling story worthy of the world he had built, paying tribute to the late actor and moving the MCU forward.

The story Coogler decided to tell is similar to its predecessor, but with a role reversal for the fictional African nation. Where Wakanda's advanced technology was hidden from the world in the first film, an undiscovered undersea country has emerged in the second. Similar to Wakanda, Talokan has been powered by vibranium for centuries, creating a powerful civilization that has isolated itself from the surface world for the same reasons Wakanda did.

The Talokan are alerted when American forces discover vibranium on the ocean floor, and their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), makes contact with the Wakandans for the first time in an effort to form an alliance. After Queen Ramonda (a truly divine Angela Bassett) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) become privy to Namor's plan to effectively colonize the surface world with Wakanda, they engage the Dora Milaje to stop Namor and forge a new path for their kingdom.

Talokan is Coogler's re-imagined Atlantis, replacing Greek myths with real ancient Mesoamerican culture and history. The underwater world is paved with grey stones accented with Mayan colours and textures — a fitting production design that is, at many points in the film, let down by the subpar CGI that Marvel deems acceptable these days. Even so, Huerta's strong performance and Coogler's cultural sensitivity and attention to detail bring to life a new and exciting world, with an assembly of characters who can go toe-to-toe with Wakandans.

The battle between Talokan and Wakanda is the central conflict of the film, but it's Shuri's ascension to the throne that is its beating heart. Wright serves up a winning performance as the unexpected heir who must put aside her grief and anger to protect her country. Wakanda Forever presents an empathetic, internal conflict for Shuri, who must decide what kind of leader she wants to be. Diplomatic like her father? Noble like her brother? Or should she give into her anger over her family's loss and seek vengeance on the world?

Gone is the happy-go-lucky little sister of Black Panther; the Shuri of Wakanda Forever is a young woman who was forced to grow up and face a tremendous loss too early in life. Her relative youth serves as a conduit for the film to explore the tension between tradition and modernity, a theme also previously examined in Black Panther. Shuri's arc between the two movies is well executed, and establishes her as one of the more fully realized characters in Marvel's current roster. 

The Talokan are an interesting new foe, and Shuri's journey is a winding road, but Wakanda Forever still feels like the stopgap it was perhaps always inevitably going to be after the loss of Boseman. The mid-credits scene hints at something to come, but it also points to this film being merely a bridge, not the final destination.

And what a lengthy bridge it is. At 161 minutes, Wakanda Forever certainly takes its time, including a number of unnecessary (or necessary, if you're Kevin Feige) stop-offs with Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), which only serve the purpose of giving the film some semblance of a tie-in to the rest of the MCU. The inclusion of these scenes is even more aggravating when you consider that Winston Duke's excellent M'Baku is sidelined for much of the movie, only being called upon when some levity is needed.

Despite its glaring flaws, Wakanda Forever is one of the better films of the current MCU phase — which, granted, isn't saying all that much. However, being an exciting film that helps shape a larger universe was never the point of this movie. Wakanda Forever was always going to be a tribute to Boseman and the legacy he left behind, and in this respect, Coogler and the cast have greatly succeeded.

The first 30 minutes of the film are dedicated to T'Challa's death with a moving, ceremonial sendoff and an incredibly touching rework of the Marvel logo. His death is explained as an undisclosed illness that he kept to himself, and part of Shuri's grief is that her brother suffered silently, never asking for her or anyone's help. While some may find this parallel to reality too close for comfort, there is an element of catharsis that is evident in the cast's emotional performances when it's clear that no actual acting was needed. 

Boseman was the soul of Wakanda, and though his absence is felt, Wakanda Forever respectfully and thoughtfully carries his spirit on for future generations.
(Marvel Studios)

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