Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. A Worthy Sequel
My take on the film, much like my take on the previous film, may not jive with every reader. I have very specific and strong opinions when it comes to Blackness, and about Blackness about Black Americans in particular. You and I may disagree on some charged topics. I understand if you disagree with me, but my opinion is my own and I will try to explain as much as I can. If you vehemently despise the character of Erik Killmonger and can’t handle anything short of bashing him, this review will not be for you. I will say now that I am not a fan of the character’s actions in the previous film, but I felt his motivation made sense and I felt he was a lot more complex than most people give him credit for.
Let me go ahead and make my opinions about the first movie clear before I dive into the sequel so that I can give context to my thought process and how I felt the movie changed or reinforced some opinions I had there.
There will be **Spoilers** for the first and second films.
About the First Black Panther Film…
I had a very good time watching the movie and was pleased with all the melanin on screen and behind the scenes making it all come together. The vast majority of the cast was brilliant, save Forest Wittaker’s unfortunate accent. I loved the Black opulence, excellence, and dynamics of Wakandan society. I knew only a little bit about Black Panther and had not read any of the comics, but I was excited nevertheless. Perhaps the thing I loved the most about the film was the way the women stole the show: Okoye with her no-nonsense being badass and duty-bound, Shuri being a technological genius and very adorable and funny, and Nakia is gorgeous and provides insight into matters in Africa outside of Wakanda and shaking up T’Challa’s isolationism long before meeting Killmonger.
Speaking of Killmonger, I felt he was a very effective antagonist, though I hesitate to say he was a pure villain. He was wrong to have killed his girlfriend when she was compromised and for slapping around female elders. However, I understood his anger over the death of his father. Many argued with me that a) he betrayed Wakanda and his brother the king by trading secrets and giving vibranium to Klaue, making Klaue aware of the precious metal in the first place and profiting off of it; and b) he was about to kill Zuri and T’Chaka was defending his friend. To that, I say that the king’s brother, guilty or not, should have been arrested and extradited to Wakanda to stand trial for his crime of sharing secrets and giving sacred materials to the enemy. I also say that T’Chaka was Black Panther at the time, with superpowers. He had every single way to disarm or incapacitate his brother rather than kill him. Worse than killing him, he left him to bleed out for his young son, and possibly unseen love to see the body. He saw his nephew and left him. That was wrong and it makes sense why Killmonger felt no allegiance or love for Wakanda. When he burned the heart-shaped herb and killed a member of the Dora, I didn’t love it, but they were at war. He knew that the Wakandans would never accept him and would use the herbs against him, and the Dora killing happened during battle after the Dora and allies committed treason against their king. Did they have to like him? No. But he was still their king, even by blood, and he won his battle (T’Challa would have died without help from others, and being unconscious, in my mind, as well as removed from the battlefield, is an automatic yield or defeat).
I also felt that the CGI in the first film was clunky at points, particularly the second ancestors’ scene during the “day” when T’Challa confronts his father and the final battle between T’Challa and Killmonger. While I loved all the Blackness, I didn’t love that Killmonger was the sole representation of Black Americans and he was the antagonist. I still don’t understand why we couldn’t see his mother. Who was the woman his father fell in love with, who surely played a role in why N’Jobu loved Black Americans and wanted to free them from marginalization? I loved how bold Coogler was to include a conversation about the Black Diaspora, but felt he took the approach of “Black Americans are lost” or are at least seen as such. I know some Black Americans feel they are lost and without a tribe, but I do not. I know who I am, and I know my people are strong as hell to exist in impossible horrors, retain their humanity, and still exist despite the immeasurable odds. Killmonger’s final speech was beautiful, but it ignored the fact that his ancestors, in fact, did not die in the ocean, but lived and endured, thus allowing him to exist at all. Slavery is a horrible thing that never should have happened to us, but we still live despite it and all that followed. We Black Americans had our African culture stripped, but we crafted Black American culture from scratch with what little bits and influences we still had along with new ideas and influences. And cultures across the globe, of all races and cultures including non-American Blacks, embrace and use our culture even now. So obviously we did something worth stealing, appropriating, or appreciating, even if half the time people swear we have no culture.
The last things I didn’t care for were the inclusion of Agent Ross aka the most unnecessary white man ever, and the final extra scene at the end of the film. Agent Ross was and still is, just an excuse to make whites and some non-Blacks feel included. There was no reason why he needed to be brought to Wakanda. Leave your tech beads and drop his ass off at the nearest American hospital. Done. He was not needed. And his dramatic scene of shooting down Wakandan ships and bringing vibranium weapons to Black Americans was framed as heroic, complete with sweeping music, but he was literally killing Wakandans and stopping Black Americans from taking back their power and overcoming white supremacy. I’m sorry, y’all can hate Killmonger all you want, and as I said I don’t love him and his actions, but I wholeheartedly supported his plan to free my Black ass! The final scene was obviously Disney and/or Kevin Feige/MCU executive meddling, but Wakanda just exposing their status as the goat with the best resources was just stupid. They know that white people are colonizers. Why was it in their best interests to tell everyone including them about what they had? And why was T’Challa’s rebuttal to his father not about how Wakanda abandoned their fellow Africans including Black Americans, but “the rest of the world”? Maybe he meant Black people in the rest of the world, but that was not made clear.
Overall, the movie was solid, but I had my issues.
What the Sequel Did Right
With the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, Ryan Coogler had an incredibly difficult decision as to what direction to take the highly-anticipated sequel, and I felt he made the best decision given the circumstances. Like many, I was not in favor of recasting T’Challa. At least not this soon. Someday, way down the line, it might be fine, but not anytime soon. I felt letting the character pass away along with the actor allowed many of us fans to grieve Chadwick with respect to his rendition of T’Challa. Every funeral scene and the emotional beat was beautiful and poignant. The actors all did a wonderful job with their performances, and the losses and triumphs they experienced rang true. I appreciate that fans of the comics who wanted to see Shuri become the Panther as she did in those same comics got their wish (more on her actress later) and that Coogler opened the door for another male successor.
A part of Chadwick’s passing and the passing of T’Challa in the MCU meant that the sole representation of Black love, even still, was gone too. That was why the fact that T’Challa and Nakia secretly had a child was so heartwarming. The fact that the boy, living in Haiti with his mother, was named after both his father and Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the only successful Black slave rebellion ever, was no accident. This child came from greatness, and greatness has clearly been thrust upon him as well with his Haitian and Wakandan names. For all the fans who lamented the loss of a Black male hero in the MCU, and the ones who wanted Shuri to take up the mantle, both got their wish even if one will have to grow into their destiny later.
Riri Williams and How She Brings to Mind Global Black Strongholds
Riri Williams was in this movie for a lot longer than I expected. Because of this, I realize that Coogler, whether he knew of my sadness that Black American representation was so low and positive Black American representation was zero in the first film, that Riri being included gave me great joy and pride. I love seeing a darker-skinned Black girl in STEM being awesome, and it was great that it wasn’t just Shuri this time around. Riri was adorable, badass, funny, and so very cool. I loved the way her armor came into play and that we establish that she was working on a prototype for years instead of some wishy-washy “I built this yesterday” handwave they could have done.
I loved how committed Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda, and the rest of the Wakandans were to protecting her. Seeing this sort of bond brought to mind my fondest wish: global Black strongholds where Black people across the diaspora accept and love each other and literally fight to protect and create spaces for one another. Just as Riri was able to be escorted to Wakanda and be protected there, that is what I want for all of my people: to be able to go anywhere and know that Black people there will love, welcome, and protect them no matter what. Global Black strongholds are the antithesis of the Diaspora war, I personally say we make that shit happen and let this film plant the idea in many peoples’ heads.
After a relatively light role in the first film, it was really good to see Angela Bassett get to stretch her acting muscles and give us fierceness, power, and authority. Her dressing down of the U.N. was another major improvement over one of my least favorite aspects of the first film: Wakanda telling the world their secrets. I appreciated that the disingenuous hopeful tone of the announcement of the previous film was followed up with its natural conclusion: white people whited, and they tried to take vibranium from the Wakandans by force and as well as under the radar. Their entitlement to vibranium and saying, out loud, that Wakanda agreed to share resources was laughable. And Queen Ramonda responded accordingly. It was a powerful start to the film and it brought me joy.
White people using tech, which they got from Riri, to find vibranium outside of Wakanda was another example of white people, white Americans in this case, being sneaky. I appreciated that outside of Ross, the rest of the white people shown were all selfish and deceptive. This was what made their deaths all the more satisfying when we meet…
Namor and the Talokans
Namor was so cool. I also found him very sexy, despite his only being 5’8. People complained about the actor not being ripped enough, but I didn’t mind what I saw whatsoever. People also called Jason Momoa’s body a “dad bod” when he put on a little weight and was at the beach. You know the images. Momoa still looked more put-together than the majority of the population and was still sex on a stick. People just need to stop body shaming and look at the material. Namor may not have been impossibly jacked, and he might have been short by my standards, but he gave off an aura and swagger worthy of a king of the sea.
Beyond his looks and charm, Namor was powerful as hell. Seeing him in action had me genuinely confused as to what the Wakandans or a new Black Panther could even do to him. Namor, even more than Killmonger, was an incredibly high-stakes threat made all the more threatening by the fact that he is a king who is worshipped by his people. Though not as strong as him, the Talokans all seemed to exhibit superhuman strength and other abilities such as underwater adaption and hypnotic voices to lure people into jumping to their deaths in the water (really cool by the way, very siren-like). Namor’s backstory, how he got his name (“No amor” as in ‘no love’, said to him by colonizers who took his mother’s former home), and his motivation to protect his people and the secret of their existence by any means necessary were all compelling. Like Killmonger before him, Coogler managed to craft an antagonist who had the capacity to do horrible things that gut us (like killing Queen Ramonda) but having motivations that make sense.
This Namor is not white, does not display the full range of his comic counterpart’s powers (like aquatic telepathy, electric shock, echolocation, etc.), and does not rule a kingdom called Atlantis or have the last name of McKenzie. Nor is he over six feet or build like a god. But does that really matter? We got something awesome and unique by tying Namor and his people to the ancient Mayan civilization. We got to see more ethnic people in a meaningful way providing a very compelling battle between two peoples. Rather than an ambiguous culture with no clear human origin aside from maybe Namor himself in the comics (though very likely all of the Marvel Atlanteans are originally white, or would be in terms of evolution). We have Aquaman still being an Atlantean in DC. And if they keep going with Jason Momoa and his cast, the lot of his people are all white except for him (and his color comes from his human father. Everyone special and with powers were all white). Love him or hate him, Namor was fascinating and his survival in the film means there’s the potential to do so much more with him down the line, including showing his other comic powers.
One minor nitpick I had was that Namora did not share his powers (or the main ones anyway, not the extra ones I mentioned earlier that Namor’s comic counterpart has) and that Attuma (traditionally an enemy of Namor) was just a lieutenant. I wouldn’t have minded hinting that Namora could be a threat to Shuri or any humans later as we see her ankle wings emerge at the end, or during the film we see Attuma at the very least butt heads with Namor and show resistance to his orders or plans, even if just to nod towards their comic dynamic. Otherwise, Namor and his people were expertly utilized and Coogler did something wonderful and unexpected, utilizing culture in a way he didn’t have to, but spared us from a god-mode mighty whitey trying to kill a bunch of Black people we care about.
Ramonda Firing Okoye, and Her Eventual Exit from the Film
Ramonda firing Okoye from her position was a powerful and divisive moment in the film. It was divisive in the sense that some fans felt that the queen was lashing out and Okoye was the only target she had at the time, while others felt that, while harsh, Ramonda was justified. I lean towards the latter, though I do feel that it is likely Ramonda also needed someone to blame at the time. Whether Okoye was the only viable target for Ramonda’s grief at very likely losing a second child, her last child, the queen’s decision was justified in every other way. Okoye was the general and it was her job to protect the people of Wakanda, especially the royal family. Though not anticipating any danger since Namor claimed he would let them deliver the scientist (Riri) to him and he ultimately went back on his word and sent his lieutenants, Okoye still assured her queen that she would protect the princess. Was it fair that she lost the fight? No, the Talokans outclassed her in sheer physical strength and toughness, recovering from what should have been fatal blows. Her skill outclassed theirs, but with their powers, it didn’t matter (side note, though sad to see Okoye lose a fight and nearly die, I appreciate that Coogler had the balls to show that no matter how skilled you are or how “prepared” you are, sometimes powers just win. So decidedly not Batman and how he wins every time no matter what.).
If anyone else lost an entire princess, they likely would have been imprisoned for life or even executed. Okoye being fired was rough, but it was a much lighter punishment than she could have received. Fans who reject this idea and see Ramonda in the wrong are working with information none of the characters had at the time. Shuri could have been killed, right away. And if it was any other movie, she probably would have been. But the point is that Ramonda did not know that she was alive, but since the audience did, it’s very easy to see Ramonda as being irrational.
As for Ramonda’s death later in the film, some felt it was time for her to go, I personally felt she had just finally become a real character and that she could have had more time. Dead parents are a superhero and Disney staple, one of the easiest ways for instant pathos. I always wonder how often death is necessary for character development, motivation, or to move plots forward. Some feel that if no one dies there are “no stakes”, but could there still be emotional climactic scenes and stakes without killing off major characters? At least Ramonda went out like a hero saving Riri as her final act. The character is Wakandan but the actress is a Black American and Angela Bassett, so my eyes saw a Black American icon saving a young and up-and-coming young thespian.
We Need to Talk About Leticia
This film could have been near perfection if it wasn’t for Leticia Wright being our new protagonist. The character of Shuri is awesome and I adore her but seeing her on-screen now is tainted by Wright’s controversies. I don’t need to repeat what those controversies are. Most people already know, and Google can tell you much better than I can if somehow you don’t know what she said or did. The main point is that because of her actions and opinions outside of the film, staring at her face made it impossible for me to not see Leticia playing Shuri than completely suspending my disbelief to only see Shuri. I literally sat there, wondering if it was worth it to keep her involved in the film. Chadwick possibly being replaced would have been divisive at best, but unacceptable and insensitive at worst. Leticia being replaced might have caused a stir for some, but a lot of people likely would have understood why it happened and accepted it. She seems to get along with Coogler and the cast, so maybe they stood in solidarity with her, professionally anyway, rather than distancing themselves from her.
I just can’t fathom how Angela Bassett can essentially be written out, but Leticia Wright, despite all she said, can stay. Time will tell what will become of Shuri or her role as the character, but for now, seeing Leticia’s face in anything just puts a sour taste in my mouth. If not for the strength of the rest of the cast, the odes to T’Challa and indirectly Chadwick, and everything else that worked here, I probably couldn’t have finished the movie and just left.
We ALSO Need to Talk About the Queerness…
Before I get into it, Aneka and Ayo were not nearly in this film as much as they should have been, especially Ayo. Aside from a very cool action sequence at the beginning and a little toward the end, Ayo was barely there, which was disappointing. Aneka was there a little more, but it was baffling that they got Michaela Coel who is a beloved fan favorite, and didn’t use her enough. Both characters could have been removed from the film, and virtually nothing would have changed. Another Dora besides Ankea could have worn that suit or talked to Shuri. In fact, the Doras as a whole felt a lot less present in the film aside from a battle at the beginning, only Okoye having a larger role in the middle, and the final battle at the end. I hoped to see a lot more of them overall, and maybe someday I’ll get my wish.
As for the queerness… Ayo and Aneka, as far as I am aware (and PLEASE let me know if there are others), are the only example of Black queer love in all of Marvel Comics. Every other Black queer character is in a swirl, and almost always white if not always (well, Prodigy of the X-Men and Young Avengers originally dated Surge, a Japanese girl, but now he’s with Speed, a white boy. But both are still non-Black). As I said before, interracial romance in real life and in fiction is not a bad thing, but in fiction, it is important to show Black love, Black queer love, and Black families, friendships, and spaces because Black people tend to like other Black people, at least sometimes. And in uplifting Blackness and fighting against anti-blackness, Black people should be shown being comfortable around and being drawn to other Black people. If so many mainstream couples that include a Black person always have to have someone who is not Black, it reinforces the idea that Black people aren’t good enough for other Black people or that non-Black people are more desirable.
All of that being said, I knew damn well that Disney and Feige were not about to allow a queer romance to be shown deeply or authentically. They remain afraid to piss off other regions that remain queerphobic and could hurt their bottom line. But the first Black Panther already showed that it could reach over a billion dollars worldwide without China, the biggest population and the largest box office, due to the sheer strength of the domestic box office and the other regions that went and saw. So maybe China and the Middle East would have boycotted, but all of this safe and barely-their queerness is really getting old. We know Ayo and Ankea are meant to be lovers and Ayo even says “my love” after getting a kiss on the forehead. But a kiss on the forehead can be platonic or even familial, and anyone can call someone ‘love’ or even ‘my love’ and it can be non-romantic. We aren’t asking for porn in these movies, but actual care, confirmation (“that’s my girlfriend/boyfriend/partner”), maybe a steamy kiss that isn’t implied or in the background, or other things that couples do that are not inappropriate for a PG-13 film (you can do a lot in PG-13, like make out, but we aren’t even asking for that, though we wouldn’t turn it down either). Just let them exist and stop curating and trying to find ways to do the very least. It’s not fooling anyone.
Yes, It Makes Sense That Killmonger Showed Up Where He Did
I’ll keep this brief, I know how much most of y’all hate this man like he killed your whole family and pets. Killmonger took the heart-shaped herb. He himself saw his own father in his version of the ancestral plane, so we know he had access to the plane. He was likely used in the scene both to shock and to provide some seeds of doubt in our protagonist.
T’Challa was never going to be in those scenes, save for a possible stand-in in the distance with their back turned or something. But that would have raised more questions and wouldn’t have served the plot. If they would have been comfortable having T’Challa be in those scenes properly (as in face-to-face), they would have been forced to recast, which would have eliminated the need for the character’s death in the first place if that was the case.
The film was beautiful and really well crafted. Aside from some moments where it was obvious, there was CGI (such as when Namor was swimming while Shuri was being propelled at super speed to Talokan, and some other moments here and there, it wasn’t nearly as distracting or as egregious as the two parts I mentioned from the first film. Agent Ross did return being useless and unnecessary along with a revelation that he was married to Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (pretty sure it was supposed to be Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, but MCU gonna MCU), that no one needed or asked for. Though divorced, Valentina hits on Ross (ugh) in a way that they couldn’t even have Ayo and Aneka do to one another. Oh yeah, another thing couples and love interests can do that’s suitable for most film ratings: flirt and hit on people and their significant others. Ramonda died for instant pathos, when the death of T’Challa, the threat on an innocent girl’s (Riri’s) life, and the fate of Wakanda and the entire human population could have been suitable. Plus Leticia.
In spite of all that, the film was beautiful. It was riveting and moving. I look forward to more Wakandan adventures, am beyond pumped for Riri’s upcoming tv series, and feel as though Chadwick’s passing was handled in the best way and paid with the utmost respect while giving fans a worthy successor (over time) born from a love we sadly didn’t get to see grow and develop over time and several films and projects. Wakanda Forever. Chadwick Forever.