Arts

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”: An Exploration of Grief, Vengeance and Community

The stunning sequel to “Black Panther” is finally here, but make sure you’re armed with Kleenex.

By Yasmine Abdeldayem

Photo Credit: Marvel Entertainment

Even beneath the layer of the most propulsive action sequences, the film retains its identity as a heartfelt tribute to Chadwick Boseman.

Over four years after the premiere of “Black Panther”, the highly anticipated sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, released in theaters on November 11.

The film had one of the biggest opening weekends in history, earning a massive $181 million domestically. Since then, it has passed $600 million at the global box office and could potentially near the $1.3 billion success of “Black Panther.”

After Chadwick Boseman, the beloved actor that portrayed King T’Challa in “Black Panther” and several other Marvel projects, passed away from colon cancer on August 28, 2020, questions repeatedly arose among the sorrowful public about the future of the franchise without its core character.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” honors the legacy Boseman left behind with elegance. Rather than replace an actor that was heavily admired by many, the writers choose to respect the path he had paved and focus on the emotional passing of the “Black Panther” mantle.

Immediately, the film opens with T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), in a panic. In a heartbreaking reflection of reality, T’Challa is suffering from an undisclosed illness and despite Shuri’s desperate efforts, she finds that she cannot save him.

The persisting belief that grief must be wholly felt, rather than suppressed, is depicted in scenes as grand as the Wakandans taking their love for their king to the streets in a nationwide affair and moments as intimate as Shuri burning her brother’s funeral garments.

In every weighty second, the viewer is subtly reminded that it’s okay, too, for them to openly grieve the loss of Boseman.

Though T’Challa’s legacy is constantly an over-arching force, the focus of the film is Shuri, as she grapples with loss and the sudden expectations shoved upon her as the princess of Wakanda and sole heir to the throne.

“Where we started was this idea of who would be the most affected by his loss,” said director Ryan Coogler, in an interview with Variety. “Shuri had never known a day without him. He’d always been there, so she would be the most unmoored by him passing away.”

K’uk’ulkan, or Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) to his enemies, is the engaging antagonist that sweeps the grief-stricken Shuri into a vengeful state that rivals her lighthearted introduction to the franchise.

He has been the revered leader of the Atlantean kingdom, Talokan, since European colonizers brought disease to his indigenous peoples’ old home in the Yucatán peninsula.

“His people do not call him General, or King,” said M’Baku (Winston Duke) in a memorable line from the film. “They call him K’uk’ulkan: the feathered serpent god.”

When a U.S.-led vibranium-mining operation threatens his peoples’ secluded oasis, Namor plans to retaliate by killing the scientist who made the mining device: RiRi Williams (Dominique Thorne). Her debut in the film marks the introduction of Ironheart to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  

When Namor’s intentions to recruit Wakanda in the fight he wishes to bring to the surface world are thwarted, tensions mount between the nations.

Spurred to action by threats even her grief will not allow her to ignore, Shuri becomes the Black Panther.

Her steel-walled vengeance charges through the third act of the movie, coming to an epic conclusion between the Wakandans and the people of Talokan, and privately, between Shuri and Namor.

In the most subtle but stunning of ways, a story momentarily clouded by the rush of revenge morphs into one of community in the face of adversity. It finds its way back, above all, to the love that still persists in the devastating path of loss.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” concludes Phase 4 of the MCU and sets the stage for the first film of Phase 5: “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in February 2023.

“In the process of these four years, there have been a lot of ups and downs. A lot of times where you couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Coogler to Variety, as he reflected on watching the film with an audience for the first time. “You just had to trust that you’re eventually going to get out of it.”

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