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Commentary: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the MCU’s Crown Jewel

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released on Nov. 11. The second installment in the Black Panther franchise came after the tragic passing of its star, actor Chadwick Boseman in 2020. Boseman, a Howard alum, played the titular character, T’Challa. Although tasked with the insurmountable, Director Ryan Coogler manages to craft a soaring epic that has broken records and shattered expectations.

The film centers on Wakanda, the movie’s setting, figuring out how to move forward while dealing with the fallout from the king’s death, and the reveal of a potential foe in Namor and the Kingdom of Talokan. Throughout the movie’s runtime of 2 hours and 41 minutes, we witness masterful performances dealing with subjects like grief and imperialism and are introduced to new aspects of the MCU.

Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, becomes the main character and handles both the grief from the loss she endures and a newfound responsibility to her country. Wright’s remarkable performance helps to propel the intensely personal journey Wakanda’s crown princess endures. Queen Ramonda, portrayed by legend Angela Bassett, is shown dealing with the political fallout in the wake of Wakanda’s reveal and the loss of her son. 

We also see the introduction of Marvel Comics’ mainstay Namor the Sub-Mariner. Portrayed by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta, the anti-hero’s origin story is changed from its comic counterpart. Namor’s home is Talokan, an ancient-Mayan-inspired hidden civilization that parallels Wakanda. The character and his surrounding elements are explicitly Indigenous. His character aims to keep his country as safe as possible, and when Wakanda’s actions seemingly put Talokan at risk, Namor does not hesitate to fiercely defend. 

Actress Dominique Thorne plays newcomer Riri Williams, aka Ironheart. Riri, similarly to Shuri, is a teen genius that is thrust into the conflict between the two countries. The movie serves as a primer for the sure-to-be fan-favorite character’s show, which is set to debut on Disney Plus in late 2023. These introductions once again place Panther as the more progressive franchise of the MCU. 

The film pulls from familiar comic storylines. The absence of King T’Challa, which occurs often in the comics, parallels the storylines we see in Black Panther #1 (2009) and Shuri (2018-2019). Namor’s actions towards Wakanda are heavily inspired by the 2012 Avengers vs. X-Men comics. 

Alana Matthew | 101 Magazine

However, the film often gets weighed down by its responsibility as a Marvel Studios production. Multiple characters see their introductions in this film. It’s hard to tell if a character is actually crucial to the current plot, or just being set up for a spinoff. There are also various serious issues within the film that could be interesting, but the hand of Disney actively pushes the film away from those subjects.  

Wakanda Forever is a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to a cherished star that sometimes buckles under the weight of its own importance. The film is carried on its back by a cast of talented Black women who fulfill their roles with love and a sense of duty. Overall, it is without a doubt the standout blockbuster film of 2022.

Afia Barrie

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