“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” makes for a stunning and thought-provoking sequel



In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” director Ryan Coogler offers forth a lesson on the ills of colonization and conflict, interspersed with touching, surprising and funny moments that make for a truly unforgettable film experience.

This review contains spoilers for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

Against a pink and purple kaleidoscope sky, the dead haunt the living. Killmonger gets up from his ill-begotten throne and starts to circle Shuri. There is nothing but fear and confusion in her eyes, having been thrust into the role of queen and Black Panther after the recent death of her mother; she’s in the ancestral plane hoping to find guidance, only to find mockery. Taunting her, Killmonger takes a step closer, a bitter smile crossing his face: “Are you going to be noble like your brother? Or take care of business, like me?”

This is the question Shuri finds herself incapable of answering for much of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and one director Ryan Coogler poses to audiences with his stunning sequel, an emotionally intense yet trenchant dissection of conflict and the impacts of colonization.

The film opens in the thick of King T’Challa’s death (a nod to actor Chadwick Boseman’s real-life passing in 2020), as the fictional African country Wakanda reels from the loss of their protector, the Black Panther. After his death, other nations sense an opportunity and pressure the Wakandans to share their not-so-secret vibranium stores. While no one dares mess outright with the small-yet-mighty country, covert attempts to steal the precious metal have been made, setting Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) on edge.

Meanwhile, other leaders come forth with offers to ally up, albeit with some strings attached. Namor (Tenoch Huerta), king of Talokan—an underwater empire of blue, fish-like people situated near the Yucatán Peninsula—comes to Wakanda in the middle of the night, introducing an ultimatum where he threatens to destroy the surface world and Wakanda if they refuse to cooperate. Shuri and Ramonda, alongside fan favorites Okoye (Danai Guirira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and child-prodigy Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), embark on a fight to protect the kingdom.

Wright, Bassett, Guirira and Nyong’o are all sensational, though, given their track records, that’s pretty much a given. The real standout was Namor, played by newcomer Tenoch Huerta. Huerta infuses empathy into his role and humanizes the mutant, which is no small feat. For better or for worse, Namor is obsessed with destroying the surface world. At one point in the movie, he burns down a Spanish hacienda in the name of avenging his mother and her people, but you get the feeling that, in this circumstance, his rage is justified, considering his entire backstory.

I’d be remiss to glaze over the production and costume design. Costume Designer Ruth Carter already won an Oscar for her work on the franchise in 2018 and is bound to take home another golden statue this year. Meanwhile, production designer Hannah Beachler crafts a Talokan that glows in luminescent blues and aquamarine, paying homage to Mesoamerican culture and suffusing the place in heaps of meaning. As Shuri and Namor navigate the underwater world, the film gives us the opportunity to understand Namor’s motivations for surface world destruction. The culture of Talokan, in all of its sublime vibrancy, and its people, from the youngest of children to the most elderly of elders, have established a life for themselves despite how Talokan has an origin story steeped in death, war and enslavement.

With the film, Coogler shows what happens when leaders are consumed by strong emotions, such as revenge (both from Shuri and Namor, leading to moments audiences will definitely find infuriating). He also emphasizes the cruel nature of conflict between two nations who have both been scarred by the beast that is colonization. It’s a hauntingly resonant idea, considering the amount of real-life conflicts that have been caused by colonization and imperialism. The puppet master calling the shots is often the one pretending to act in the name of international cooperation and respect, the one the Talokanils and the Wakandans should be fighting against despite their discordant visions for the world.

Luckily, Shuri realizes this (albeit at the last minute) and decides to extend an olive branch to Namor instead of a spear. Her panther suit decked out in gold and silver filigree (a subtle costume nod to T’Challa and Killmonger), she is both noble and takes care of business, protecting her people and uplifting her allies.

The message of alliance, unity and diplomacy among nations of marginalized people is one I’m glad to see in a Marvel movie, considering how popular and influential they tend to be among the masses. Coogler infuses the superhero genre with his trademark depth and wisdom, giving us a film that will have audiences walk out of theaters with a whole lot to think about.