Media provided by Alicia Quan (sourced from Unsplash)
The last time we saw King T’Challa on screen was in the final movie of the Avengers series, Endgame, in 2019. Then suddenly, in the summer of 2020, the news hit social media that beloved Chadwick Boseman had sadly passed away from colon cancer.
After mourning the loss of such an impactful hero, fans were anxious to see how Marvel would handle this within the Marvel universe. Would they cast a new actor to replace King T’Challa? Would Shuri, his sister, rise to fill the shoes of the King of Wakanda? Would Marvel cancel Black Panther 2 altogether? With the recent release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, our questions were finally answered.
**SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ONWARD**
My friend and fellow Marvel fan, Beatrice, and I ran to theaters on the very first night this Wakandan sequel was released. Despite the monumental struggle to find tickets, we settled in the front row, necks craned up at the big screen stretched before us. The buzz of moviegoers packing into the theater filled us with anticipation and excitement. The crowd silenced as the opening scene began, shortly followed by the classic Marvel intro, which in memoriam, displayed a photo montage of Chadwick Boseman. The theater sat in absolute silence instead of the iconic fanfare. From all sides of me, only sobs and sniffles broke this quiet.
By avoiding cheesy Avengers-style speeches about how “he was the best of us,” I think Marvel succeeded in paying tribute to Chadwick Boseman through Wakanda Forever. The film tackles Boseman’s passing head on, and immediately, with approximately the first 30 minutes of the movie dedicated to the emotional and cultural impact Boseman had, both in and outside of the MCU, through vibrant scenes of T’Challa’s funeral and Wakandan memorial celebrations. Throughout the rest of the movie, there are also many beautiful and honest moments of Letitia Wright’s character, Shuri, exploring and learning how to handle grief.
However, as many recent Marvel movies have, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever fell victim to having too much plot packed into one movie. The audience is introduced to seemingly meaningless characters with complex backstories who are only in two or three scenes throughout the entire movie. Many of Marvel’s recent releases have made me uninterested in certain storylines, partially because of the overwrought plotlines, and partially because of their gruelingly long run times. Nonetheless, it does feel somewhat unfair to make this characterization of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, since its predecessor set such a high bar that this sequel simply had no chance to reach.
The lengthy plot of Wakanda Forever intends to follow Shuri’s ascent into queenship and heroism after she has lost a brother, Wakanda has lost its leader, and the nation’s vibranium supply is now exposed to the world. Halfway through the movie enters Namor, king of the Atlantis-like world of Talokan, attempting to protect the vibranium his kingdom protects under the sea. Although there have been many criticisms of Namor, which I agreed with, such as the lack of deep exploration into his post-colonial anger, I believe the addition of the Talokans has so much potential. In the end, Wakanda Forever did not fail, but certainly struggled to seamlessly blend two storylines together: the aftermath of King T’Challa’s death and a war between Wakanda and Talokan over their prized vibranium.
Future MCU movies could benefit from simplifying their plots as they do not want to suffer from the same fate as the comics did, where the introduction of the multiverse created overly confusing plotlines that were difficult to follow unless you were a die-hard fan. What has made Marvel so successful in the past is that, despite their movies following the superhuman and supernatural, they have a certain relatability factor. This is what made the first Black Panther incredibly popular, reaching people who had never been fans of the MCU.
If Marvel wants to return to their previous popularity, they need to focus on the basic human experience which makes these movies relatable, such as the trauma of losing a brother or the grief of losing a hero. The first Black Panther does this so well; it is hard to imagine another Marvel movie ever reaching that level of emotion and empathy from its audience. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever sets up this precedent, yet lets itself down in the second half.