Black Panther is yet to come (sans spoilers!)
Much of the criticism of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever centers around the hole created by the loss of King T’Challa, which is dealt with awkwardly at the beginning of the film. Since we lost the actor who played Black Panther in 2020, Chadwick Boseman, to cancer, there were very few options to deal with his loss other than to write his character out of the film.
But this is where I think the critics are wrong. Yes, this Black Panther movie seems to struggle, to be confused, to be lost. This is because the leaders of Wakanda are struggling, confused, and lost. In attempting to follow in her brother’s footsteps, Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, finds an unexpected mentor in her vision quest, highlighting how the death of loved ones can not only lead to grief, but can also lead to anger, an undifferentiated rage against life itself. As Shuri says on the beach, she sometimes wants to burn the world.
A new player emerges in the movie, one perhaps as advanced and powerful as Wakanda itself. Their existence emphasizes the damage of colonialism, for these new people, too, were victims of such crimes. They, like Wakanda, found a way to hide from the world and focus on building a civilization. But now the world has found them again their plans to protect themselves include an inconceivable war, one which Wakanda cannot allow to happen.
It is into this clash of worlds that the movie plunges, leaving out the rest of the powerful countries, poor players strutting and fretting on the world stage, insignificant and powerless. It is a delight to watch Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, stare down the UN and rub their impotence in their faces.
Wakanda Forever asks a question: in the darkness of suffering, how will you honor those you have lost? Will you embrace your love for them, or your hate for the world that took them away? This is the question that is asked, and answered in the film, an answer that brings an end to the chaos and confusion created by the death of T’Challa.
But don’t miss the end. It is clear no one is fit to become the new Black Panther. The one person who did take on the mantle during the movie did so for the wrong reasons, and only learned this truth after much suffering. No, there is no Black Panther in this Black Panther movie, but Marvel teases us with a possible presence in the future.