“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” – An Epic Send-Off To A Hero

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER AHEAD!

All films have a lot riding on them. Even the most obscure arthouse films, though rarely expected to make all that much money in the handful of theaters where they’ll find available screens on which to play, still need to catch the attention of critics (or of a streaming service looking to buy up content on the cheap), while the biggest and “safest” Hollywood blockbusters still need to make a frankly ridiculous amount of money at the worldwide box-office, enough to sate the greed of studio executives and to recoup the cost of making them (ironically, the reason they’re so often “safe” from an artistic standpoint is because they’re very much not safe from a financial standpoint, and their creators, however visionary they may be, aren’t in a safe position to make demands of studios). The stress that puts on filmmakers is no joke.

Wakanda Forever
Shuri | koimoi.com

Few filmmakers would willingly shoulder another burden on top of that, particularly one as heavy as the legacy of the late Chadwick Boseman, but Ryan Coogler has made it his mission with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to bring a much-needed sense of closure to the character Boseman portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to fans of that character, and to himself and to Boseman’s close friends in front of and behind the camera – and the reason I believe Black Panther: Wakanda Forever succeeds at what he set out to do is because Coogler was surrounded and supported, each step of the way, by a team comprised of Boseman’s friends and people who understood his impact on the entertainment industry and the world. It is no coincidence that Wakanda Forever is a story about the importance of community in the aftermath of tragedy, and about the dangers of trying to work through grief alone; it’s not just a tribute to Boseman, but to Coogler’s entire support-system who helped him build this beautiful memorial to his friend.

When Wakanda Forever remains single-mindedly focused on accomplishing that one task, motivating its entire cast and crew to do their best work, the film is eloquent, soulful, and important,┬ástanding a full head and shoulders above all other Marvel films since the first Black Panther; particularly in the first act, when the pain of Boseman’s passing is most fresh, and in the latter half of the third act, when the emotions that accompanied it are again evoked. Between those two high points, the film is a better-than-average Marvel movie brimming with action and adventure, but cluttered with far more characters than were actually necessary to tell this self-contained story.

Most egregiously, the choice to shoehorn Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) into Wakanda Forever feels like the result of an unfortunate studio mandate, and her surprisingly large role in the film’s second act could easily have been whittled down to a single quick cameo, if Kevin Feige’s intention was merely to start laying the groundwork for the Thunderbolts movie she’s supposed to co-lead. Same with Everett Ross (Martin Freeman); charming fellow, but totally extraneous. These two characters are the furthest removed from the core thematic conflict of Wakanda Forever, and the time we spend with them seems especially undeserved seeing as their subplot trails off without a satisfying conclusion – presumably waiting to be picked up in another film.

Black Panther in Wakanda Forever
Black Panther | rottentomatoes.com

For the most part, Wakanda Forever limits its attention to the here and now, although several characters are established who will have a long future in the MCU, if there is any justice in this world. The delightfully menacing antagonist, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) a hot amphibious mutant perpetually clad in bright green gogo-boy shorts, is obviously one of these – there is a historical precedent in the comics for him interacting with Wakanda, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men (and recently, it’s become nearly impossible to scroll through Twitter without running into a joke about Sue Storm leaving her husband for Namor, something that has never actually happened in the comics but is still an oddly appealing idea to a lot of people), and his MCU counterpart has unfinished business with the Black Panther who brutally strong-armed him and his people into a truce after he nearly brought Wakanda to its knees. He’ll be back, and frankly I can’t wait: Namor is up there with Killmonger as one of the MCU’s most interesting, fully fleshed-out villains, not to mention the most devastatingly beautiful.

I can only pray that Michaela Coel, after being relegated to the sidelines in this story, will someday get another chance in the role of Aneka, an endearingly defiant member of the Midnight Angels (an autonomous subdivision of the Dora Milaje, who protect the royal family of Wakanda). Aneka is one of Marvel Comics’ most prominent queer characters, although that aspect of her character is only briefly hinted at near the end of the film, when she and Ayo (Florence Kasumba), her lover in the comics, share a deliberately chaste kiss on the forehead. It’s a disappointing debut for such an interesting character, portrayed by such a talented actress – but much like how Ayo herself was essentially an extra in Black Panther before she became an actual character (with her own small fandom) in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, I can foresee Aneka becoming extremely popular, particularly with LGBTQ+ fans, if given a sizable role in a Disney+ series…like, say, the Wakanda series that Ryan Coogler is apparently producing, that still has no cast or crew attached to it almost two years since its announcement.

Though I may be in the minority who actually liked the look of the Midnight Angels’ distinctive blue armor in live-action (but even if you hated it, I think we can all agree that Ruth E. Carter’s costume design was overall stunning and Oscar-worthy), I’d love to see the concept used again, and properly this time. As for their coolness factor (a necessary part of any superhero’s persona), the Midnight Angels are finally deployed in the third act battle as a last resort by the Wakandans, but apart from their suits allowing them to fly and dive underwater, they’re not outfitted with the kinds of cool gadgets and high-tech weaponry I was eagerly anticipating by that point. Luckily, they do have Okoye (Danai Gurira), who joins the Angels after being expelled from the Dora Milaje, and you need only put a vibranium spear in that woman’s hands for an instantly iconic action sequence to just happen.

In the absence of a Black Panther throughout most of the film, no one else besides Namor and his lieutenants come close to matching Okoye’s prowess on the battlefield until the third act, when Shuri (Letitia Wright), the actual star of Wakanda Forever, dons the Black Panther mantle at long last before launching herself recklessly into a no-holds-barred duel with Namor on the beach, where her objective is to prevent him from reaching the water and regenerating his strength (a twist on the story of Antaeus, a character from Greek mythology who could not be defeated while his feet touched the ground). At the end of the day, brains win out over brawn, but Shuri does put her panther-claws to good use, so I think it’s safe to say she’s a full-fledged action hero at this point…or perhaps antihero would be the more appropriate term?

Namora and Namor in Wakanda Forever
Namora and Namor | me.mashable.com

Shuri’s character arc in Wakanda Forever takes her to a very dark place from which it’s difficult (though in my opinion, still too easy) to extricate herself in the third act, when the accumulated rage she’s bottled up inside her heart breaks free of its fragile vessel and takes control of her with little resistance: rage over T’Challa’s tragic death at the beginning of the film, which Shuri missed while frantically seeking a cure to his illness in her lab, and over Ramonda (Angela Bassett)’s death at the hands of Namor; rage at the goddess Bast for allowing them both to die and for preventing Shuri from visiting either of them in the afterlife; and a general, all-encompassing rage at the world, which she tells Namor (in a moment of vulnerability) she would burn to the ground just to feel something again. It’s no surprise that Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) appears to her when she first enters the Ancestral Plane – because at that point, she’s not seeking guidance but validation for the violence she knows she’s about to unleash upon the world, and he’s the one person who understands.

Or so she thinks. What Shuri refuses to acknowledge, even to herself, is that she’s actually a lot like Namor, in that both of them are still beating themselves up about a tragedy in their lives that they’ve never moved on from (the inciting incident in Namor’s origin story was the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th Century, which forced his people to take refuge in the depths of the ocean). Both of these characters have a community at their backs who would support them, but crucially, they’ve both been isolating themselves from their communities for a long time – Shuri by outwardly pretending that she’s fine while privately hurting, and Namor by adopting the role of an aloof god-king inaccessible to most of his people (as one does). They’re only ever emotionally honest with each other, which is partially why some fans are aggressively shipping the two (that, and enemies-to-lovers ships are always popular, although it’s still relatively rare to see any ship featuring an unambiguously Black woman – coupled with a brown Indigenous man, no less – gain traction in the mainstream at the rate this one has).

But while they’d make for one hot power couple, I maintain that Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who has been rumored to be bisexual in the MCU, was coyly trying to ask Shuri out on a date at the end of the film. There’s chemistry there that I’d like to see further explored in the Ironheart Disney+ series. Sure, I might just be inventing queer subtext to make up for the lack of Aneka and Ayo, but Shuri needs Riri in her life, whether as a love interest or a friend; someone her own age whom she can talk to without any strings attached, who intimately understands grief (canonically, Riri’s father died before she was born, and her step-father was killed in a shooting) but has had time to adjust and move forward with her life.

From the opening scene onwards, Wakanda Forever is sad – but until the second act, it’s sad for all the reasons we expected it to be. Then the film delivers a shocking emotional gut-punch by killing Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, the solid rock upon which Wakanda rebuilt itself following T’Challa’s death. Bassett was one of the franchise’s unparalleled stars, delivering magnificent performances in both Black Panther films but especially in this one, where her role was greatly expanded…and to lose her so suddenly, almost unceremoniously, without even a final word of farewell to her daughter, just felt cruel. It would hurt less if the film had adequate time to mourn her properly, but following a quick funeral we rush on to the third act battle and Ramonda appears again only for a split-second on the Ancestral Plane. At least she slayed in her dozen or so different royal outfits (seriously, Oscars all around for the costuming department).

Angela Bassett as Ramonda in Wakanda Forever
Ramonda | gamesradar.com

In conclusion, Wakanda Forever knows what it wants to say and delivers its message eloquently when it stays focused long enough to do so – which is admittedly difficult when the film has so many subplots it wants to pursue and so many characters clamoring for more screentime. It is, however, the satisfying send-off to Chadwick Boseman that it needed to be, and a decent middle-chapter in the story of Wakanda and its continued struggle with the outside world. But on that note, I also hope that Ryan Coogler is allowed some much-needed time off before jumping into his next project for Marvel, because the unique stress of making this particular film, compounded with the usual stress of making any film, cannot have been easy to handle, even with the support of a team.

Film Rating: 8.5/10

Michaela Coel Joins “Black Panther 2” In A Mystery Role

Michaela Coel is on a meteoric rise to stardom, and it’s been a beautiful thing to witness. Over roughly five years, the British-Ghanaian actress has gone from a fleeting appearance in The Last Jedi to starring in an episode of Black Mirror and in the TV series Chewing Gum, which she wrote and produced. But until last year, she was still relatively unknown – and then I May Destroy You came along, earning Coel three Emmy Award nominations for her work in front of and behind the camera as an actress, writer, director, and producer. I’m sure Marvel President Kevin Feige had his eye on her even before she joined WandaVision‘s Elizabeth Olsen in the Emmy’s Best Actress category, but just yesterday it became official: Coel is joining the MCU.

Michaela Coel
Michaela Coel | standard.co.uk

She’ll be showing up in the sequel to Black Panther, titled Wakanda Forever, and has apparently already joined director Ryan Coogler and her castmates in Atlanta to start filming. That’s really all we know for the time being, because her role is being kept under wraps, but speculation has been…intense, to say the least. Why? Because thanks to her extraordinary talent and the fact that she happens to possess the most sculptured cheekbones in all of England, she’s one of the top fan-casts for the character of Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm.

Yeah, as in the Storm. The Storm whose been one of the most prominent members of the X-Men team in Marvel Comics since 1975. The Storm whose an Omega-Level Mutant with pretty much every atmokinetic ability under the sun (the light of which she can manipulate by altering levels of moisture in the air, by the way), including the power to generate wind, rain, lightning, thunder, snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, fog, etc. The Storm who appeared in six of Fox’s X-Men movies played by Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp, and who got virtually nothing to do in all that time. It is long past time for Storm to get some of the spotlight that’s been reserved for her (white, male) teammates, and Michaela Coel in the role would ensure an unforgettable MCU debut for the character.

And unlike, say, Reed Richards or Blue Marvel appearing in WandaVision, Ororo Munroe showing up in a Black Panther story would make sense. The character’s connections to Wakanda date back to her first interaction with the African nation’s king, T’Challa, whom she met and rescued back when he was still a prince. The two formed a close (and semi-romantic) bond while journeying together, but separated before they could express their feelings for each other, with T’Challa going on to become king of Wakanda and Munroe settling down in her ancestral homeland on the Serengeti, where she was worshipped as a goddess. Since then, in the comics, she’s married T’Challa, served as the Queen of Wakanda for a time, left T’Challa to side with the X-Men, defended Wakanda from a number of threats including Skrull shapeshifters, and taken over as its Queen during T’Challa’s absence.

But in the MCU, T’Challa isn’t coming back following Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing last year. There’s been a lot of debate over whether it’s the right choice and how Marvel will incorporate Boseman’s death into the story of Wakanda Forever, but ultimately it seems a different character (or perhaps, characters) will take up the Black Panther mantle – one likely being Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, and another candidate being M’Baku of the Jabari Tribe. I don’t expect Storm to vie for the mantle, but I could envision a scenario where she’s introduced at the beginning of the movie as one of T’Challa’s friends from childhood, who never got the chance to say goodbye to him before what will presumably be an in-universe funeral for the character.

Michaela Coel
Storm | wallpaperflare.com

There would be pros and cons to this, of course. It could serve as a very touching opportunity to explore more of T’Challa’s youth, and I’m sure many audiences would see themselves in Storm’s grief and feelings of incompletion. But at the same time…it might be unfair to both the character of Storm and the legacy of Chadwick Boseman to use this movie as a means of introducing other major characters, if it distracts from giving Boseman the send-off he deserves. It could also be unfair to Michaela Coel, who never worked with Boseman and can’t draw on the same genuine feelings of heartbreak that his Black Panther castmates like Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke, can. If anyone could make this work, it’d be Ryan Coogler, but it’s going to be a tricky situation regardless.

But of course, we don’t actually know that Michaela Coel is playing Storm in Wakanda Forever, and there’s a good chance she’s not. My only hope is that she’s not in a one-off role, because Coel deserves to stick around in the MCU no matter who she’s playing.

And if not Storm, what then? Well, there’s a few other options I’ve seen floated, all of which could potentially be interesting. For instance, Michaela Coel would make for a radiant Madam Slay, a minor villain from the comics who controls an army of leopards and is mostly content with hunting and killing poachers until she crosses paths with Erik Killmonger, becomes his lover, and tries to usurp the throne of Wakanda with him. In the MCU, Madam Slay could show up in Wakanda to avenge Killmonger’s death at the end of Black Panther, although that could turn into a retread of Killmonger’s own character arc.

A lesser-known but perhaps even more interesting character is Zenzi, a villainous empath who can force people to succumb to their darkest desires and worst impulses. In the comics, she’s not technically Wakandan but does become an ally of a Wakandan rebel movement who seek to overthrow T’Challa. In the MCU, her origin story could be tweaked a little: she could lead a rebellion against whoever is chosen to become the new Black Panther. Interestingly, Zenzi has a connection to Baron Zemo which the MCU might like to exploit – I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see Michaela Coel join the Thunderbolts.

Coel may not want to play a villain, however, in which case she’d also be a great choice to play Aneka, one of the Dora Milaje warriors from the comics who hasn’t appeared yet in live-action – but whose canonical girlfriend, Ayo, was prominently featured in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier just recently. Not only would it be great to have more LGBTQ+ representation (particularly queer Black women) in the MCU, but this is a role Michaela Coel could easily reprise in the upcoming Wakanda-centric Disney+ series. In fact, she could lead the Wakanda-centric Disney+ series, not to mention write and direct parts of it too.

As you can see, there’s a lot of great characters besides Storm whom Michaela Coel could play, and I’d be happy with any one of these choices because I really just want Coel to shine. But if she is playing Storm, and she is the very first Mutant introduced in the MCU, you definitely won’t see me complaining because I’ve wanted her in that role for a while now.

Michaela Coel
Dora Milaje | cbr.com

How about you? Do you want to see Michaela Coel don Ororo Munroe’s classic white hair and take to the skies, or would you prefer her in a different role? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!