Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the much-anticipated sequel to Marvel’s hit 2018 film Black Panther (and also the end of the MCU’s Phase Four). We return to a Wakanda that is reeling from the sudden death of King T’Challa and facing new threats looming on the horizon—namely world powers that will do anything to get their hands on Wakanda’s rare and powerful Vibranium and one very grumpy fish-man who doesn’t want the Surface World encroaching on his domain.
And this was surely a difficult movie to make, marred as it was by the tragic death of the series’s lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, in 2020. Instead of T’Challa’s triumphant return, the movie became in many ways a tribute to Boseman, told through the grief of the characters. It’s something that very easily could have gone wrong with a script that clumsily played find-and-replace with the main character…but it didn’t.
This move was very good. In fact, I think it was even better than the first Black Panther. I gave that one full marks when I reviewed it, but I also said it wasn’t off the charts like Infinity War and Endgame were. There was still room for improvement, and Wakanda Forever did that.
My rating: 5 out of 5.
My first reaction to this movie was just how well it addressed the loss of Chadwick Boseman—and yes, partly as a tribute, but also on a narrative level. The amount they built up Shuri’s character as T’Challa’s grieving sister. The way they used new plot points that just wouldn’t make sense with T’Challa at the helm. The way the lack of a true Black Panther to protect Wakanda is felt throughout. It left me wondering just what the story was originally intended to be with Boseman in it. Presumably, Namor still would have been the villain, but for everything else, the story must have been so different, and I think Wakanda Forever is much stronger for breaking away from that presumed original design.
Oh, and let’s not forget the acting. There’s more to say about that than I have room to put here. It was brilliant on just about every point.
Meanwhile, the villain of this story is Namor the Sub-Mariner, a long-running anti-hero in the comics who dates all the way back to the original World War II era of Captain America and the solo Human Torch. I was barely aware of who he was myself, but apparently, the fans have been clamoring for him for years. (In the comics, he also has a rocky relationship with T’Challa and has been both a hero and a villain at times, so his choice for antagonist made sense.)
In the MCU, Namor is the god-king of the fictional underwater city of Talokan, which is populated by modified humans with gills and blue skin. Namor has the power of flight, absurd levels of super strength, unnaturally long life, and is the only one of his people who can breathe air. And most importantly, he has Vibranium of his own (to the shock of Wakanda), and he is willing to do anything to stop the Surface World from getting their hands on it.
The interest thing about Talokan is that it doesn’t appear in the comics. There, Namor is the king of Atlantis. But the movie changed the setting to the descendants of a Mayan village. In a sense, this is unsurprising. DC and Marvel usually avoid stepping on each other’s toes—because lawyers—but they both have a kingdom of Atlantis. For the movies, since Aquaman is already King of Atlantis, it makes sense that the MCU would want to differentiate itself.
But there’s actually more to it than that. Marvel/Disney specifically wanted to diversify the character of Namor from his European roots in the comic. They felt (with some justification) that the myth of Atlantis is tied up with (at best) Eurocentrism and imperialism. This is why they shifted from Atlantis to the new Talokan, including recruiting Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta to play Namor and hiring Yucatec Maya-speaking actors to fill out the city.
The thing is…I don’t think they went far enough! Seriously, Talokan has a guy with wings on his feet and a siren song that lures sailors to their deaths, and yet they’re Maya? Don’t get me wrong; the Maya part was a good move. But the Greek references are still there and feel much more forced that way.
And you know what? They didn’t actually need the siren song. First, it’s not particularly connected with the rest of the changes the plant made to the Talokan people. It felt shoehorned in. Second, they didn’t need it to sink the boat. And third, the only thing they used it for in Wakanda was killing the EMTs. Which is a war crime. Namor has some serious issues there.
Granted Namor is the villain. He did a lot of other bad stuff too and seemed even more bent on revenge than Shuri was when you stop and think about it. And though he eventually made peace with Wakanda, he’s not exactly redeemed. He’s still very much self-interested at the end. But the indiscriminate nature of his attack on Wakanda threw me, especially since many of those details didn’t really have an effect on the plot. (Except maybe isolating Ramonda from help at a critical moment.)
My point is, they could have broken even more with tradition to create Namor and Talokan and created a better story. If they had been more creative with the abilities of the Talokan people, maybe drawn on Mesoamerican folklore if there was anything applicable, it would have felt more natural.
But on the whole, that was a small point. (Sorry for the rant.) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was a very good movie overall and shows that Marvel continues to be in top form, so I would definitely recommend it.