Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa, also known as Black Panther, was a loved and revered superhero. His origin story, Black Panther (2018), was directed by Ryan Coogler. Four years since that film, following the passing away of Boseman in 2020, Coogler’s follow-up Marvel movie takes a leisurely route to setting up the future of the powerful kingdom of Wakanda.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, after the death of T’Challa, Wakanda is trying to fill a big gaping hole of loss and leadership. The women are now in all the dominant positions. Angela Bassett is Queen Ramonda, protecting her only remaining child, daughter Shuri (Letitia Wright). The kingdom is being protected by an army under the charge of General Okoye (Danai Gurira).
The impact of the first Black Panther movie was in the way it empowered a superhero of colour and created a world in which women were rulers, protectors, decision-makers. Ramonda was, even in that, an influential figure, while Shuri created a lot of the brilliant technology that enhanced Wakanda’s power.
As before, in the second part too, Coogler brings in political and social ramifications, not just with the return of Martin Freeman as Everett Ross, the CIA man indebted to Shuri but also the avarice of certain countries (represented by France and USA) that want to get their hands on Wakanda’s powerful vibranium. Battlelines are initially drawn up as white vs non-white, but when America starts searching for vibranium on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, a new and formidable antihero rises up. Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) has winged feet and an unshakeable resolve to protect his underwater kingdom of Talokan, even if that means taking on Wakanda or other “surface lands”. He delivers one of the only punchy lines of the film when he says, “Only the most broken people can be great leaders.” Like Shuri, he too is a reluctant heir, a ruler who bears the heavy weight of hurt and is propelled by vengeance.
A new actor playing the Black Panther was teased deliciously in the trailer of Wakanda Forever when it first came out. The reveal in the movie is not a huge surprise. So when the Black Panther suit is filled, we know who is inhabiting it. Adjunct characters like a teenage tech genius college student and returning spy (and T’Challa’s love interest) Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), have little to do. Winston Duke plays the M’Baku, a loose cannon and ally to Wakanda.
This is foremost a tribute to the memory of Boseman. When it leans towards emotions, it works just fine, but the unsteady story, stretching to 160 minutes, cannot be steadied even by Coogler’s passionate direction. Finally, one understands that this might be a transition, a bridge between generations, and a setting up of part three.