“How does it make sense — that the ancestors would give me gifts and skills to save my brother, but I couldn’t?”
Such is the all-important question Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) poses to Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) near the midpoint of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Despite being a brilliant scientist and having access to the most advanced technology in the world, Shuri is unable to prevent the death of her older brother, T’Challa, a character made famous by the late Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther.” Following Boseman’s tragic passing in August 2020, it became clear that this sequel would need to address the situation in an inevitably painful way. “Wakanda Forever” hence sets the heavy tone early, including a moving funeral for T’Challa, as well as a tear-jerking alteration of the Marvel Studios title sequence featuring clips only of Boseman, shining light on his many contributions to films through the years.
As for the continuing story of “Wakanda Forever,” the central conflict is predicated on the weakened state in which Wakanda finds itself following T’Challa’s death. The nation, which is known to be the only one on Earth that has access to a rare metal called vibranium, faces increased scrutiny for not sharing its resources. It is also threatened by the underwater civilization of Talokan, which is revealed to possess vibranium as well and fears that Wakanda’s actions may jeopardize its survival.
“Wakanda Forever” excels in all the same ways as its predecessor, as it features a compelling villain in Namor, offers exceptional world-building, and boasts powerful visuals. At two hours and 41 minutes, the film does become slightly bloated and therefore struggles to tie up all of its loose ends. However, slight shortcomings in the story are outshone by an emotional thesis that places T’Challa’s core principles at the center of Shuri’s journey, making the film a worthy tribute to T’Challa as a character and to the talented human who brought him to life.
One of the most fascinating elements of “Wakanda Forever” is the introduction of Namor, the King of Talokan. Among a civilization of humanoid aquatic creatures born from a Mayan tribe’s experimentation with a mystical concoction, Namor uniquely possesses super strength and winged ankles that allow him to fly. His people hence call him “K’uk’ulkan,” or “the feather serpent god.” This lore lays the groundwork for excellent world-building, as Talokan revolves around Namor in a way that is analogous to how the first film establishes the Black Panther as the heart of Wakandan culture. Namor justifies this significance through his driving desire to protect his people from oppressive surface civilizations.
He is also a ton of fun to watch in combat; adorned in vibranium armor and wielding a gleaming golden spear, he powerfully bounds through the sky as if running on air, often single-handedly disposing of entire warships. Namor’s robust character development draws sympathy but the threat he poses to Wakanda spurs fear, giving Talokan a nuanced position in the story as the film progresses.
The clash of cultures central to the film is repeatedly defined by stunning visuals. One of the clearest examples occurs when Namor takes Shuri to Talokan and reveals it to be a complex city covered in vibranium, as if the futuristic architecture of Wakanda had been dragged under water. Reversing the nature of this juxtaposition, during a fight sequence that occurs in Wakanda, Namor unloads water bombs that shatter the windows of the Wakandan throne room. What follows is a beautiful slow motion shot in which the throne is fully engulfed by a sea of white, showing just how much the civilization of submariners threatens the power structure once held strong by T’Challa. One more instance of this contrast comes in the final battle, when a Wakandan group of women soldiers known as the Dora Milaje, dressed in bright orange, uniformly leaps towards the turquoise seawater to face warriors from Talokan. The film is strong in its visual representations of the conflict between nations, which only adds to the weight of this conflict as the film nears its climax.
Before it can get to this point, though, it becomes clear that the story could have been more complex had it leaned into an early indication that other world powers would also intervene in Wakanda. Namor alludes to this in a conversation with Shuri; he had previously overheard her talking of wanting to “burn the world,” so he says, “let us burn it together,” implying the potential for a plotline involving the nations’ different approaches to handling foreign intervention. However, after Namor leads an attack on Wakanda that results in a tragic death, the story loses its focus on this element and becomes centered on Shuri’s quest for vengeance.
Misplaced focus becomes a pattern more generally, as well. For instance, the film spends an excessive amount of time on new character Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who isn’t fully integral to the main story, while it doesn’t spend nearly enough time on a potential redemption arc for returning character Okoye (Danai Gurira), nor on the trauma of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s former girlfriend. “Wakanda Forever” does become rather bloated at points, the completion of Shuri’s journey is executed extremely well in the end, which is undoubtedly most important.
“Wakanda Forever” is at its best when it synthesizes Shuri’s sympathies for Talokan with T’Challa’s penchant for nobility. At the film’s climax, the prior world-building of Talokan, as well as its juxtaposition with Wakanda, becomes instrumental to the story’s success. As Shuri considers a bold set of choices, there is a touching montage that illustrates her realization of the similarities between Wakanda and Talokan, both in the simple joys their people experience in their daily lives and the treacheries of oppression they’ve each faced. She then tells Namor, “vengeance has consumed us … we cannot let it consume our people,” in a line of dialogue nearly identical to one uttered by T’Challa in his first appearance, in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Shuri’s decision is thus both motivated by her own empathetic experiences and empowered by T'Challa's ideals, showcasing the film’s beautiful ability to unite these two entities.
Ultimately, despite missing some opportunities in the larger scope of its story, “Wakanda Forever” is a wondrous tale of colliding cultures that provides emotional closure to the character of T’Challa. In regard to the result of Shuri’s journey, Namor perhaps puts it best: “Only the most broken people can be great leaders.”
By the film’s final scene, though, it appears that Shuri is picking up the pieces, as she sits on the beach and fully comes to terms with her brother’s passing. However, a surprise element of this progression then comes into play, as Nakia joins her and introduces a boy whom she reveals to be her and T’Challa’s son. Shuri is left in disbelief, which then clearly gives way to joy. In the end, through these characters’ love for T’Challa, through the moving performance of Letitia Wright as Shuri, and through the memory of the great Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther will live on.
—Staff writer Kieran J. Farrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.