Spoilers for ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ below.
When we are at our lowest point, we’re susceptible to the most change. This was the crossroads that every fictional character and real-world actor faced in Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Going into the film, director Ryan Coogler was tasked with the impossible: to somehow make a sudden tragedy make sense on the silver screen while simultaneously grappling with it in his own personal life. The result is one of the most grounded superhero films in recent years that reminds viewers how nothing that is lost is truly gone forever.
The film opens by answering one of the biggest questions viewers had going into the film, how would the movie address Chadwick Boseman’s passing. Coogler and Marvel dealt with the difficult situation in the most tasteful-yet-painful way possible, by having T’Challa pass away in a similar fashion as the actor—from the onset of a sudden illness.
“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point,” the late Chadwick Boseman, a.k.a. King T’Challa, says in Captain America: Civil War after his father’s murder. “You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into a green veld where you can run forever.”
Shuri sees it a bit differently. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, she is fighting an external battle against Namor and the people of Tlālōcān, and a moral conflict between her scientific rationality and the mystical beliefs of Wakanda, the very thing that grants the Black Panther their powers. The first words uttered in the film are Shuri praying to Bast, the mythical Black Panther deity, that she will believe in her if she saves her brother. This doesn’t happen and sends Shuri down a spiral struggling to deal with T’Challa’s passing while also refusing to accept Wakanda’s religious traditions.
The anchoring theme in Wakanda Forever is the different ways each character goes about handling their grief. Like in real life, everyone deals with it differently. Following T’Challa’s death, Shuri copes by burying herself in her work. Queen Ramonda, played by the amazing Angela Bassett, looks to her faith and still manages to lead Wakanda despite already losing half her family. Seeing colonialism and the evils of man at an early age, Namor deals with grief by being vengeful. Pain is the common denominator, and how these characters’ grief manifests ultimately decides their fates. Namor will do anything to protect his people as well, but by using brute force to never allow his citizens to be colonized again, he ultimately puts them at risk. And Shuri allows her wrath to guide her decisions until the very end, and almost loses herself because of the pain and grief she never acknowledges.
The score and CGI allow these concepts to feel tangible as they permeate every scene. Coogler and Wakanda Forever music director Ludwig Göransson worked together to create the heartbeat for not only Wakanda but Tlālōcān as well. The introduction of the mythical city, soundtracked by Foudeqush and Göransson’s “Con La Brisa,” adds a new depth to the moment and makes it even more memorable. Likewise, the beautiful percussion that scores T’Challa’s emotional all-white homegoing service at the beginning of the film makes viewers feel like they’re there with the people of Wakanda, which ultimately makes them feel for Shuri even more as she struggles to let go of her brother’s coffin. The subtle fusion of music from different regions also flows seamlessly throughout the movie.
Shuri’s journey to healing is at the forefront, but the ways Namor and Riri Williams are incorporated into the story are also just as important. The dynamic between Namor and Shuri is compelling because we can understand both leaders’ points of view. Since Wakanda and Tlālōcān are the only nations with Vibranium, they both want to protect their people from outside threats, they just go about it in different ways. And teenage protégé Riri Williams is the glue that brings these two worlds together, adding levity to the film with her comedic timing and impressive ingenuity. With Iron Man gone, the MCU has felt empty without someone flying iron in a metal suit (besides War Machine), and Riri fills that role perfectly and reflects a bright and diverse future.