Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not the usual MCU actionfest. For me, that makes it the best Phase 4 movie to date.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
The death of T’Challa from an unspecified illness shatters Shuri, beginning with how she is tormented by her inability to save her brother with her scientific expertise. With the Black Panther gone, Wakanda is also seen as without a protector, a perception that quickly invites international subterfuge to obtain Vibranium. Meanwhile, Riri Williams, an MIT protégé, invents a machine capable of detecting Vibranium, which the US government successfully uses to locate the precious metal in the oceans. The discovery, however, draws the murderous retaliation of the underwater city of Talokan and its superhuman protector, Namor. Namor then approaches Wakanda with a horrific proposal. The two powerful civilisations should unite and destroy the surface nations.
Back in 2020, amidst the sorrow stemming from Chadwick Boseman’s unexpected passing, one question must have been on the minds of many MCU fans.
What’s going to happen to the Black Panther franchise and its titular character?
Given the popularity of the African superhero and his importance to African culture and Afrofuturism, it’s obvious that Marvel would not remove the character from its cinematic universe. Based on clues from the final Phase 3 movies, I guess one can also say it’s long clear that Shuri would be the successor.
But just how would the actual transition be? Would it end up trite, tasteless, or worst of all, aggressively commercialised?
These are challenges that are impossible to completely overcome, if you ask me, we are talking about a futuristic action movie series with a global merchandising aspect. On the other hand, what Ryan Coogler and his superb cast did might just well be the best possible resolution. A sequel that doesn’t lose connection with the MCU at large, one that expands the universe too, but as a sensitive exploration of grief and growth, is also different enough to be poignantly memorable.
Repeat: different. There’s no shortage of action scenes, but half an hour into the show and you’d realise that this is not the usual origins/awakening, global crisis superhero story. Instead, it’s in and out about grief. About the destructive, debilitating guilt that often comes alongside sorrow too.
Most affectingly, Letitia Wright’s Shuri expectedly rises to the occasion, something the movie poster makes no secret of. But her damage is also concluded as irreversible, only consolable when she’s willing. Isn’t this the ultimate reality of grief? One that none of us can escape from?
Coming to the celebration of marginalised cultures, such an important aspect of the first movie, I appreciate the interpretation of Namor as the Mayan K’uk’ulkan. Doubly so when I recall my recent memorable encounter with Mesoamerican feathered serpent art. Through this portrayal, Coogler also makes several scathing remarks about European colonialism. I suspect these will be stinging to certain audiences.
As a tribute to the late Boseman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is also elegant, heartfelt, and most important of all, meditative. My interpretation is that it is the collective experience of the Marvel gang at moving beyond Boseman’s passing. A loss that must have felt insurmountable.
I was deeply moved by this sharing. But like Shuri, a smile was on my face when the movie ended. I left the cinema with the deep conviction I have just viewed the best MCU Phase 4 movie to date.
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