Early in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the sequel to his own game-changing 2018 Marvel movie, Black Panther, we see a mural of King T’Challa on a wall. It won’t be the last time the leader of fictional African nation Wakanda – or Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played him – will be in our thoughts. “Time is running out” for T’Challa, aka the superhero Black Panther, who is dying of a mystery illness. Before we know it, he’s gone and the action moves on a year. It’s a typically classy way for Coogler to deal with the fact his own leading man, Boseman, died in August 2020 of colon cancer. In the intervening months, with T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) now in charge, Wakanda has become vulnerable to raids on its resources – notably Vibranium. Yet when U.S. forces find a supply of this precious metal under sea, far from Wakanda, it brings to the surface a new enemy. Out of nowhere, soldiers and scientists working on the mining ship are hypnotised by a sonic attack, causing them to jump in the water and die.
Behind this is Namor (Tenoch Huerta, excellent), the leader of Talokan, a race who have lived hidden undersea, entirely undetected. With the search for Vibranium threatening the existence of the Talokans, he wants help from the Wakandan people, or they too will suffer consequences. Ramonda, along with T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Wakanda spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), must learn how to navigate this incendiary situation, while the question of who will take on the mantle of the Black Panther remains.
That the Talokan people are blue-ish creatures that exist underwater draws immediate comparisons with the mega-blockbuster Avatar – with Coogler’s sequel arriving shortly before James Cameron’s own long-awaited follow-up The Way of Water, hits cinemas in December. Given Cameron’s anti-Marvel and DC sentiments expressed in a New York Times piece, this feels like an amusing (if entirely unintended) riposte: Avatar doesn’t entirely have its own way when it comes to aquatic antics. As you would expect, there is plenty of top-grade action – both underwater and on the surface – especially with the arrival of Riri (Dominique Thorne). A genius tech student, who has built her very own Vibranium detector, therefore becoming of special interest to just about everyone, she’s also constructed her own Iron Man-style armoured suit. One particularly exhilarating chase through the city streets hints at what’s to come when Disney+ stream her spin-off show, Ironheart, next year.
Fans of I May Destroy You will also rejoice with a potent role for Michaela Coel as Wakandan warrior Aneka, but what really makes the film stand out is its mature atmosphere. This is about grief, more so than any other Marvel movie, and the legacy one leaves behind. “To me – he was everything. My T’Challa,” says Nakia, in a heartfelt moment that doubtless reflects the way many felt about Chadwick Boseman. The film finishes with a dedication to him – although maybe there was no need. Wakanda Forever is, itself, a fitting tribute to him.
- Director: Ryan Coogler
- Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyongo’o, Angela Bassett
- Release date: November 11 (in cinemas)