Written by Angela Rairden
(This review contains one small spoiler that doesn’t much pertain to the plot of the movie but is something that hardcore comic book fans may want to be surprised by while watching the film. However, it’s a detail that I’m certain mainstream media will not be keeping a secret for long anyway and I will put a small warning before I mention it in this blog.)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a film steeped in emotion, love, and loss.
As we know, Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed T’Challa/Black Panther, sadly and unexpectedly passed away in August of 2020. This meant that the role of the Black Panther was now vacant, and fans had long been speculating how the Marvel Cinematic Universe would deal with his untimely passing.
Once it became clear from previews that Shuri (Letitia Wright) would eventually become the new Black Panther, as she does in the comics, the logical conclusion was that T’Challa would be killed off in the MCU. As such, nearly the entirety of Wakanda Forever is Shuri dealing with loss and struggling through the stages of grief in the wake of surviving the death of a loved one. Which isn’t to say that the film doesn’t still have action-packed sequences and the types of humorous departures that we’ve come to expect from Marvel. It just means that there’s a depth to it that’s rarely seen in a superhero movie because the character’s onscreen grief magnifies fans’ own grief over Chadwick’s passing.
Meanwhile, the MCU introduces us to complicated antihero Namor (portrayed by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta), a man with a long history and many names. I admit that I don’t know a lot about Namor; however, it does seem that his film debut changes his history a bit from the comics. Instead of being the mutant son of an Atlantean princess and a human sea captain, his film version was born to a Mayan mother in the 1500’s after she ingested a mysterious plant while pregnant with him. The plant gave him powers, including the ability to breath underwater, slowed aging, near immortality, and tiny wings on his ankles (a character design that seems a bit ridiculous but is true to the comics and is perhaps actually logical as he both swims and flies). The change in his origins is perhaps Marvel’s way of avoiding a direct competition with DC’s Aquaman films, as that character has already been established as being from Atlantis.
Changing Namor’s origins also made it possible to tie his underwater kingdom, called Talokan, to Wakanda as viewers of the film will notice the intentional similarities between the two nations, which actually becomes an important subplot of the film.
Now, here’s the small spoiler that I alluded to at the beginning of this blog, but I absolutely must mention it in order to continue this review, which is the fact that Wakanda Forever also features the onscreen debut of Riri Williams, aka Ironheart. Portrayed admirably by Dominique Thorne, Riri is a young black woman who also happens to be a genius. In the comics, she is taken under Tony Stark’s wing as he sort of tutors her. In the film, however, we know that tutelage under Tony isn’t possible now, so instead we see a 19-year-old Riri that’s largely self-taught and running circles around her professors at college. Also, I absolutely loved seeing Riri and Shuri team up!
The truly exciting thing about this film, however, is that it’s a superhero movie that features a predominately black female cast. From the aforementioned Wright and Thorne to Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, and Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia. For a franchise that started out headlining primarily all white, male heroes, the MCU, like Marvel comics itself, has proven that diversity is key both in relating to larger audiences and in honoring different cultures. Even changing Namor’s origins to being Mayan gave the film a chance to share a bit of the culture of a people that’s often been lost to history.
Ultimately, Wakanda Forever is a stunning tribute to Chadwick Boseman, as it should be. Make sure that you stay for the mid-credits scene, but there’s no after-credits scene on this one.
Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store as a floral manager, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.