I remember waking up to the news of Chadwick’s death and seeing my entire Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram full of Black Panther images. At first, I honestly thought it was the announcement of the new movie until I actually read what was written above the pictures. The way it completely broke me is the understatement of the century. I couldn’t believe it. When you look back at all the interviews, it was actually visible that he wasn’t doing well at some point and it’s heartbreaking. And no one knew. Not Marvel, not his co-stars, or any of his fans.
Of course, the guessing game started: what will happen to the Black Panther? Will they recast T’Challa? The answer came relatively quickly with a definite: No, we won’t. And I’m so glad they didn’t.
Spoiler warning for all those who haven’t seen Wakanda Forever just yet!
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a beautiful tribute to Chadwick and easily the best entry and close to Phase 4 of the MCU.
Director and writer Ryan Coogler is an absolute gem. Not only did he pay a beautiful tribute to his friend Chadwick Boseman, but he was also able to transition the Black Panther’s legacy without a bump. We all wondered who would put on the suit, especially after Letitia Wright’s alleged problematic views about the Covid-19 vaccine during the shooting. Since the news about it came during the worst time in 2020 (yikes, I still hate that year), many people started asking for the replacement of Wright. There were rumours flying around that she got fired from the film, but then it changed to her getting a much smaller role than originally planned. Of course, people started discussing the possibility that it won’t be Shuri (Letitia’s character) who’ll become the next Black Panther. I would have been incredibly happy for Okoye (Danai Gurira), but deep down, I knew not to believe rumours. Even though they kept the reveal for the film, it was obvious that Shuri would take her brother’s place. Yes, Shuri is the new Black Panther, and her character development in this movie couldn’t be more perfect. So, let’s rewind and look at the movie from the start.
I thought I was prepared mentally, but I was proven wrong with the snap of a finger. The film opens with Shuri desperately trying to find a way to save her brother from an unknown illness while his heartbeat slows down by the second. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) steps in to tell her that King T’Challa is gone. The lump that formed in my throat as I felt myself clinging to that tiny bit of hope Shuri was holding onto was incredibly painful. We fans only knew Chadwick through movies and interviews, yet as the Marvel logo showing Chadwick rolls in complete silence, you could hear the quiet sobs of people in the theater. Even as I write this down, it’s hard to hold back the tears. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for all of his co-stars, friends, and second family as they stepped onto the set, knowing that he won’t magically appear. That the funeral for King T’Challa, the Black Panther, the beautiful tribute Wakanda pays for their leader is also the farewell for Chadwick.
The film jumps one year ahead to a grieving Queen and Mother dealing with the complications that came with Wakanda opening its gates to the World and a daughter who buried herself in her work. As world leaders try to exploit Wakanda for Vibranium, they find a new source of it in the Atlantic Ocean, where a new threat lies ahead. We are introduced to Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his people from Talokan, an underwater tribe that uses Vibranium found in the ocean, building their home around it. Namor is another mutant (Ms. Marvel was the first confirmed in the MCU itself). He is born after his mother ate the fruit that turned their people, giving him an extended lifespan, wings on his ankles (the mutant gene), speed, and strength. Namor is not only a great anti-hero, but he is also a great follow-up after Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). They resemble each other in many ways and are also so different. They both want what’s best for their people, even if their ways require violence, but while Namor was able to see another way in the end, Erik never did.
They also introduce another new hero in this movie: Riri Williams, aka Iron Heart, who takes up the mantle after Iron man. Incredibly smart and just as cocky as Tony Stark was, Dominique Thorne was the perfect casting for the role. I am even more excited about the Iron Heart series than I was before. Her integration into Black Panther is great. She is the inventor of the machine that is capable of finding Vibranium. She is the one Namor wants, and he makes a deal for her with Queen Ramonda and Shuri. However, once Shuri and Okoye realise that Riri is a kid and has no idea what they used her school project for, they decide to protect her at all costs bringing in the real conflict for the movie between Talokan and Wakanda.
At this point, the movie almost completely loses one of its storylines. As big of a role as the world leaders who were hungry for the power of Vibranium seemed to play at the beginning, halfway through, they are removed from the whole movie. Once Shuri and Riri get taken away by Namor, we get a few more scenes giving a nod to the consequences through Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) but not at all equal to what was previously implied. Everett, of course, is still loyal to Wakanda, but I did feel a bit sad for not getting more Martin Freeman, as he is great in the role. I would say that this part was the only thing that I had a problem with. It felt like they didn’t really know how to properly integrate it and chose to close it down prematurely.
After Queen Ramonda gets Shuri and Riri out of Talokan with the help of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and by tricking Namor, the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan breaks out. Namor’s devastating attack on Wakanda ends with the death of the Queen, who sacrifices herself to save Riri. This is the last straw for Shuri, and I can’t go on without praise for Letitia Wright. She is PERFECT in this film. Shuri goes through one of the greatest character arcs in the MCU. She started off as the fun and smart little sister of T’Challa, then became completely swallowed by grief at the beginning of this movie, and then became completely blinded by vengeance after the death of her mother. This is where we get one of the best scenes of the movie. Once Shuri successfully recreates the Heart-Shaped Herb and drinks it to become the new Black Panther, she enters the Ancestral Plane only to be greeted by Erik Killmonger. The enemy, the one who tried to kill her brother, the one driven by vengeance in his heart. I absolutely loved their conversation and the way it all played out in the burning courtroom. It was a beautiful metaphor for Shuri’s struggle to find her way.
During her final battle with Namor, her hunger to take Namor’s life, even if it leads Wakanda to war with Talokan, overtakes her, resulting in her near death. But as she stands above Namor, ready to kill him, she is reminded of the conversations with her brother, who was always guided by mercy, and realises that there’s always another way. The whole scene is such a powerful moment for Shuri and a peek at her character development in the movie. In the same way Peter Parker went through a huge change in No Way Home, we got to witness it again with her, and it was so rewarding. Both of these young characters had to grow up so fast through loss and the struggle between vengeance and mercy. It truly is an honour to see it all unfold.
What’s great about Wakanda Forever – other than it being a constant tribute to Chadwick – is how it handles the legacy of the Black Panther. How it dares to step forward and take risks. It’s not only a huge win for representation; it’s all about empowerment too. The women carry this movie with strength and grace. Every performance in this movie is absolutely stunning and will stay with us for a long time. And even though it is an absolutely bittersweet experience, thanks to this movie, the fans are also able to grieve the loss of Chadwick and T’Challa. Easily the best entry of Phase 4.
It was so great to read the line at the end:
“Black Panther will return.”
We can’t wait.