“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” opens with Shuri trying to save a dying T’Challa. Since Shuri fails to save him by creating a synthetic heart-shaped herb (as the organic ones were destroyed by Killmonger), she feels responsible for his death. One year passes by, and Queen Ramonda reports that, due to the absence of a Black Panther, Wakanda is facing attacks from various countries that want to acquire its vibranium. She warns everyone to stop these expeditions, or else she’ll unleash Wakanda’s full might on them. The CIA disregards this and enters Talokan territory (a blue-skinned, underwater-dwelling tribe) in search of vibranium. The Talokans, led by Namor, attack and kill them all. And as Namor believes that Wakanda’s recent international relations are the reason why Talokan’s borders have been breached, he corners Ramonda and Shuri. He gives them the ultimatum that if they don’t bring the inventor (Riri Williams) of the vibranium-detecting machine that brought the CIA to them, he’s going to wage war on Wakanda.
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Talokans were originally the natives of Mesoamerica (southern North America and most of Central America), and their whole village was hit with smallpox. This is a nod to the real-life endemic that happened in the 16th century, which led to the deaths of more than 90% of the indigenous population, and the colonists were to blame for it. In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Namor’s tribe prayed to an Aztec god named Chalch (short for Chalchiuhtlicue), and they found a special plant growing in the water-filled depths of a cave. The shaman convinced everyone to ingest that plant as a remedy for smallpox. After some initial trepidation, especially from Namor’s pregnant mother, they did the needful and died. When they woke up, they realized that they could only survive in water. So, they built their home in the Atlantic Ocean. Out of them, only Namor developed the ability to breathe both on land and on water and grew wings out of his ankle because of the activation of his mutant gene. However, when he returned to the surface to bury his mother, he faced the Spanish colonizers. And from that day onward, his hatred for the land began.
Namor explains all this to Shuri, after essentially kidnapping her and Riri to Talokan because he needs her to understand that he can’t lose his people and now his kingdom to the colonizers again. And since the Wakandans’ openness with the rest of the world has exposed the Talokans to the CIA, he needs Wakanda to stand beside the Talokan when they attack the land-dwellers before the land-dwellers can even think of attacking them. Shuri tries to avoid a war, but Namor basically says that if Wakanda refuses his proposal, he’s going to end them first and then go after the rest of the world. When Shuri returns to her quarters to think about this whole situation, Nakia (who has come out of her retirement in Haiti) rescues both Shuri and Riri and mortally wounds a Talokan guard. This angers Namor, and he launches an attack on Wakanda and kills Ramonda in the process. Well, he does explode a bunch of hydrobombs around her and fills up the throne room with water. Ramonda actually dies trying to save Riri from drowning. Either way, this sets the stage for Shuri to take the path of vengeance.
If Namor’s motivations sound like Killmonger’s, you are not wrong. Killmonger wanted to arm every one of African descent with vibranium weapons so that they could colonize the world, just like their countries were colonized and their ancestors were enslaved. Similarly, Namor wants to protect Talokan from foreign invasion. Since he has the power to enslave the whole world, he wants to attack first and teach a lesson to everyone who has colonized the lands he used to live in. And both of their arcs feel equally half-baked, but for different reasons. The issue with Killmonger was that his reign was short-lived because he didn’t have enough time on his hands. Namor, though, spends the time he has fooling around with Wakanda and kidnapping Riri Williams (who is literally insignificant to the overall plot) instead of just going ahead with this plan of colonizing the planet and seeing whether Wakanda stands by him or opposes him. He says that he can take on Wakanda and the CIA with ease, and he even proves it. So, why make Namor waste so much time going back and forth with Wakanda and then put the relatively powerless CIA into all this? Oh, right. Marvel has to give him a redemption arc so that he can appear in future movies. And the CIA and Riri have to be in the plot because the “Ironheart” TV series, the “Secret Invasion” TV series, and the “Thunderbolts” movie are on the way.
As mentioned before, Shuri believes she’s responsible for the death of her brother because she couldn’t synthesize the heart-shaped herb. When Ramonda dies, she blames herself again because she didn’t use her scientific prowess to perfect the synthetic heart-shaped herb and become the Black Panther. But after burying her mother and evacuating all the tribes to Jabari Land, she starts working on the herb again because she wants to teach Namor a lesson. With the help of Riri, Shuri figures out that the bracelet given to her by Namor is from the plant that grows on the vibranium rocks in Talokan and hence can be used to remake the heart-shaped herb. That miraculously works out, and Shuri ingests it in the hopes of going to the Ancestral Plane, meeting Ramonda, getting closure, and taking on the mantle of the Black Panther. However, things don’t go according to her plan because, firstly, she wakes up in the submerged throne room instead of the Ancestral Plane, and secondly, she meets her cousin Killmonger there instead of her brother or her father or her mother. Why? Well, because she doesn’t believe in the existence of the Ancestral Plane, and she’s driven by vengeance.
The working theory is that if one is at peace with oneself, then they are going to show up in the Ancestral Plane after ingesting the heart-shaped herb and meet one of their ancestors there. Also, when they die, that’s where they are going to end up. But if they are driven by any negative emotions, and those emotions are connected to a physical place of trauma, then a version of that location is going to be the spot they will emerge in after taking the heart-shaped herb. Despite traveling all over the world as a member of a U.S. military black-ops unit, Killmonger’s mind was stuck in that apartment in Oakland where his father was killed by T’Chaka. So, when he took the heart-shaped herb, that’s where he appeared. Similarly, since Shuri’s last traumatic memory is connected with the flooded Wakandan throne room, that’s where she appears. As to why Killmonger shows up in there, I can only assume that Shuri relates to his vengeance. That’s why, when he tells her not to be like T’Chaka, T’Challa, or Ramonda, she gives in almost instantly and takes the path of revenge.
When Shuri re-emerges from the Ancestral Plane (or the throne room in the Ancestral Plane), she assumes that the ancestors have rejected her and goes into a fit of rage. When she realizes that she has the powers of the Black Panther, she takes a hideous-looking suit (seriously, the superhero costume designs in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” are atrocious) to go meet M’Baku. When M’Baku heard that Namor wanted Ramonda to kidnap Riri for them, he advised her to bow down to him. But after getting a taste of Namor’s powers, he doesn’t want to confront the Talokans because he doesn’t want to lose any more Wakandan lives to them. However, since Shuri is blinded by revenge, she orders him to prepare for war. I will say that the intention behind the story beat is good because tunnel vision due to the death of loved ones is very realistic and very painful to witness. Sadly, since “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is bogged down by unnecessary plot beats (Riri and the CIA), Shuri’s venomous turn feels uncooked. Also, Letitia Wright just doesn’t sell it, and the costume design is too preposterous for me to take her seriously.
Shuri’s battle plan goes something like this: The Wakandans are going to take on the Talokans, while Riri is going to lead Namor away from the fight and into a Royal Talon Fighter that’s fitted with heating units. That’ll presumably dehydrate Namor and weaken him. And while all that happens, Shuri is going to take him to the desert, defeat him, and bring an end to the fight between Talokan and Wakanda. While executing the plan, the first problem that the Wakandans face is that they get overpowered by the Talokans. Secondly, Namor destroys the Fighter and crashlands it on the shores of the desert. Thirdly, Namor proves to be more powerful than Shuri and impales her into a rock. But Shuri’s need for revenge motivates her to break out of her impaled state and explode the Fighter on Namor. When Shuri goes to kill Namor, Ramonda reaches out to her from the Ancestral Plane and requests her to be benevolent. So, Shuri tells Namor to yield and put an end to both of their revenge arcs because it’s hurting both the Talokans and the Wakandans. Namor accepts his defeat, even though he isn’t exactly driven by vengeance but by self-preservation, and his side hasn’t suffered too many casualties.
Namor stops the Talokans from killing the Wakandans. His sister, Namora, doesn’t approve of this decision. But Namor says that, eventually, Wakanda is going to be attacked because they don’t have any allies. Then they are going to turn to the Talokans, and that’s when Namor is going to return Shuri’s “empathy.” That seems like Namor is taking a just stance. But it also feels like Namor is waiting for Wakanda to fall to its knees so that he can conquer it. We have to wait and see. Shuri asks Riri to keep the (awfully designed) Ironheart suit in Wakanda to avoid further complications between the CIA and the Wakandans. She also restores Riri’s father’s car, which was totaled during the altercation with the Talokans in Massachusetts. Also, Shuri advises Riri to go easy on her “homework” for the CIA. I don’t know why the fact that the CIA is using the work of an MIT student to do illegal vibranium mining is glossed over so easily. It sounds so problematic, and that’s all you get. Talking about the CIA, Ross gets arrested by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine for passing confidential information to Ramonda, and he’s subsequently rescued by Okoye/Midnight Angel (her costume is puke-inducing).
During the closing moments of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” we find out that Shuri has rejected the title of Queen. M’Baku has gone to the ceremony instead to challenge the throne. I really doubt anybody is going to fight him, which means that he’s going to rule Wakanda after being ostracized from the mainland for years. Shuri goes to Haiti to burn her funeral clothes and say goodbye to T’Challa. During the mid-credits’ scene, Nakia reveals her son with T’Challa (Ramonda knew about him), who has been growing up away from Wakanda to avoid the pressure of the throne. His Haitian name is Toussaint, and his Wakandan name is T’Challa. And this doesn’t sit right with me. After Chadwick Boseman’s untimely demise, Marvel had two options: recasting him or retiring the character permanently. They retired Boseman’s version of the character in the most convenient way possible by integrating his real-life death into the franchise’s canon. Now, they are technically recasting him by giving a kid the same name, which also feels convenient, thereby making this whole affair a double whammy of sorts. Also, no, the movie doesn’t have a post-credits scene.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a 2022 Action Thriller film directed by Ryan Coogler.
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