Superhero Movies Come and Go, But Wakanda Is Forever


How does one say goodbye? This is the unavoidable and necessary undertone of Wakanda Forever, the sequel to Black Panther without its original Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman’s death in 2020 took the world by surprise, the extremely private actor had kept his cancer diagnosis as secret as Wakanda kept its Vibranium. This forced director Ryan Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole to retool their original story to fit the reality that the irreplaceable Boseman was gone forever.

That’s how Black Panther: Wakanda Forever begins. T’Challa is gone, taken by an unknown illness that became insurmountable because the heart-shaped herb was no more, Wakanda’s stores of the mystical plant having been burned to oblivion by the selfish and insecure Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the first film. Wakanda is a nation wracked by grief, led by a queen who had lost her and her country’s favorite son. The truth is, T’Challa was too good for the MCU. He was, far and away, the best of humanity. Even more than Steve Rogers, T’Challa embodied everything that humanity should aspire to be. He had it all.

When Boseman, and consequently T’Challa, was taken from the world, he left a void that literally cannot be filled. It’s this very problem that gives Wakanda Forever both its emotional heft and its gravest failing. In an attempt to ensure the franchise for perpetuity, Marvel finds a way to both honor and cheapen Boseman’s legacy and the result is conflicting, but grappling with sudden death usually is.

Photo by Marvel.

Wakanda Forever brings in one of the most awaited characters from the comics into the MCU, Namor the Sub-mariner (Tenoch Huerta), Marvel’s oldest superhero and the original bad boy, with a radical reinterpretation that brings Mesoamerican culture into the spotlight. In the comics, Namor hails from Atlantis, you know, just like Aquaman. Or just like every other popular underwater character. Even Ariel comes from the Atlantis-inspired Atlantica. Boring.

Namor’s reinvention introduces us to Talokan, an underwater city inspired by Mayan culture and architecture, and it’s brilliant. If Wakanda is going to war, it might as well be against a nation that can stand toe-to-toe against it. Because let’s face it, when you’re the most advanced country on the planet and the only one with access to the most precious metal on earth, nobody really stands a chance. It would be like pitting the 1992 Dream Team against your Barangay basketball team.

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In fact, Wakanda Forever addresses this in the beginning, when the United Nations chastises Queen Ramonda, played by an utterly magnificent and muscular Angela Bassett, for not sharing Vibranium and technology like T’Challa promised. The world is greedy for Vibranium and Wakandan technology, and various nations had been sending covert military forces to try and steal some, not coincidentally reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa. The king is dead, T’Challa is gone, and there is no more Black Panther. It’s a Vibranium free-for-all.

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Not so fast, Ramonda warns everyone. The Dora Milaje are still the world’s greatest fighting force and Wakandan technology is still decades ahead of everyone else’s. Everyone, that is, except for an underwater nation that’s kept itself so secret that even Wakanda didn’t know about it. Talokan also happens to have Vibranium-based technology and culture because, surprise, there’s another Vibranium deposit in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The undiscovered city of Talokan is almost exposed by a deep-sea trawling machine that uses advanced Vibranium-detecting technology invented by a 19-year-old student named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who just casually invented it during metallurgy class.

Williams makes superpowered exo-suits from junkyard parts like other students make papier-mâché volcanoes for science class. But really, the most unbelievable part of all this is that the U.S. military didn’t even bother to recruit the most brilliant scientific mind since Tony Stark (the other most brilliant mind already works for Wakanda). Williams kicks off the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan as Namor demands the Wakandans to seek out the scientist responsible for Vibranium-detecting technology, threatening war if they don’t. It’s a wildly inappropriate demand with a wildly disproportionate consequence, but that’s what precipitates the biggest Marvel movie of the year.


Wakanda Forever is actually bleeding edge science-fiction masquerading as a superhero movie and is at its best when it plays with the sandbox of futuristic technology and new world power politics, and flounders when it tries to be about superheroes. The conflict between the nations of Wakanda and Talokan with the meddling of the perennially meddlesome United States is far more interesting than the inevitable and tickbox-checking slugfest between Namor and the new Black Panther, Shuri (Letitia Wright). Add in Williams’ Ironheart and the Midnight Angel armor, and it becomes an overloaded spectacle that falls back into tired old MCU tropes.

Photo by Marvel.

But Wakanda Forever’s strengths overshadow its minor flaws. Its absolute best parts are when it settles into the quiet wonder of technologically advanced cities steeped in ancient culture. The beauty of Wakanda lies in its unique look at advanced technology laced with African culture and Talokan is the same. Based on the mythical Aztec paradise Tlalocan, there’s never been anything like it onscreen. A mesoamerican-inspired futuristic civilization underwater powered by a Vibranium sun? Yes, please with second servings and gravy on top.

When we swim with Namor on a tour of Talokan, watching his people harvest seaweed like the Mayans harvested corn; as the Talokanil enjoy a game of underwater tlachtli, the Aztec equivalent of basketball; as the sub-mariners strut in sci-fi Mayan fashion and jewelry, it all just makes you wish it’s just 161 minutes of learning about Talokani and Wakandan culture instead of all the fisticuffs and explosions.

In a way, this is all Boseman’s fault. You can’t help but think that if T’Challa were still around, he would’ve found some peaceful solution, and he and Namor would be laughing and trading stories over rooibos and horchata. Instead, we get the grieving and haunted Shuri, who is far more intelligent than her brother ever was but nowhere near as wise or, more importantly, as noble. T’Challa set the bar improbably high by being as close to perfect as a person gets.

Shuri wants nothing to do with being the Black Panther, anyway, because the heart-shaped herb no longer exists. The STEM prodigy is also more interested in looking for science-based solutions instead of looking back at the ancestral mumbo jumbo of the past. But destiny has a way of catching up with everybody, and it catches up with Shuri real quick when things take a turn for the worst midway through the film and she needs to decide what kind of Black Panther she wants to be.


It’s all part of the grieving process, and Shuri is our audience surrogate. As Shuri heals, we heal too. But it takes a while to get there because T’Challa isn’t easily forgotten or even meant to be. Everyone grieves in their own way, with Queen Ramonda busying herself with running a nation as Shuri loses herself in her science. General Okoye (Danai Gurira) is busy doing General Okoye things, which usually involves a lot of jumping around and stabbing things with a Vibranium spear. And then there’s Nakia, the impossibly beautiful Lupita Nyong’o, for whom T’Challa was everything. The hardened spy and super secret agent left everything behind to become a teacher in Haiti, and she, too, teaches us to heal in a truly personal way.

Photo by Marvel.

The austerity of grief is sometimes lost in the noise of being a superhero movie, with over-designed, borderline garish costumes that turn up the notch from the vibrant homages of the first film and an overabundance of action set pieces. But it’s forgivable noise, necessary to help Shuri carry the enormous load on her princess shoulders. Nobody can take the place of Boseman’s T’Challa and nobody knows it better than Wright’s Shuri, which makes the weight practically impossible to bear.

Fortunately, a phenomenal cast helps her carry the load. Even the great M’Baku has come with surprising wisdom and welcome muscle, played to perfection by Winston Duke. Shuri may be a Disney Princess, but she’s also the Black Panther, and the choices she makes in Wakanda Forever will define the direction not only of Wakanda but of the entire MCU as it moves towards a future without T’Challa. Marvel saved the best for last, and Wakanda Forever is the best MCU film of the year and arguably one of the best and most important outside of the Infinity War.

How does one say goodbye? Wakanda Forever teaches us how. Coogler delivers a bittersweet epilogue to Boseman’s T’Challa, and opens up a whole new, wonderful world for us to explore. Wakanda Forever is a triumph, bring on ‘Rise Talokan’!

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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