Legacy and Loss.
Those two themes have tied together every film, series and special making up Marvel Studios’ Phase 4. From an untold tale of Black Widow trying to pay off the red in her ledger, to She-Hulk smashing the patriarchy (and Matt Murdock), every story has been about the connections between people and how they move on in the face of tragedy. This makes Black Panther: Wakanda Forever a fitting capstone, for the same two themes dominate its story.
As the film opens, one year has passed since the tragic death of King T’Challa from an unspecified condition and Wakanda is still recovering. With the heart-shaped herb that empowers the Black Panther destroyed, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) has thrown herself into developing new technologies to protect her people. This has become a matter of concern, with other nations pressuring Wakanda to share the secrets of Vibranium while trying to steal it by force.
Enter Namor of Talokan (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), a secretive undersea kingdom who also have a stockpile of vibranium that has been threatened by an American scientist’s invention of a powerful metal detector. With Namor threatening to bring war to Wakanda if the scientist is not dealt with, Shuri reluctantly travels to the United States to try and reason with the scientist, whom she discovers is a brilliant student named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). This sets off an international incident, as Wakanda takes the blame for the violent actions of Namor’s people, while Namor presses Shuri for an alliance between their nations against the rest of the surface world.
Some have complained that Marvel Studios’ films have become too formulaic and there is some truth to that in the case of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The film follows the same basic story beats as the original Black Panther, with a repeat of the famous chase scene from the first movie and a villain who is justified in his anger if not his actions. Most of the supporting cast don’t have much to do beyond offer Shuri encouragement at various points. The movie is redeemed, however, by two factors.
The first is the production design, which makes Talokan into a truly unique setting that defies comparison to the Atlantis of Aquaman or the society of Pandora in Avatar. The other is the script by director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, which makes those story beats a part of the thematic bonds tying all of Marvel Phase 4 together. If Shuri’s journey over the course of the film is predictable, it is only because it adheres to the classic architypes of the hero with a thousand faces.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a solid, enjoyable film, that suffers only in that it feels more like a rest on the road to something bigger rather than the powerhouse the first Black Panther was. I fear that in years to come it will mostly be remembered for introducing Namor to the MCU. It is one fantastic introduction, however and hopefully we’ll get to see him return in a worthy supervillain team-up before Doom’s Day.