From left to right, Dorothy Steel, Florence Kasumba, Angela Bassett and Danai Gurira star in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Photo courtesy of Marvel
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 8 (UPI) — Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in theaters Friday, is probably the best movie they could have possibly made under the circumstances of lead Chadwick Boseman’s death. What could have been with a Boseman sequel is part and parcel of this version.
T’Challa dies of an undisclosed illness that Shuri (Letitia Wright) was trying to cure. Wakanda also has to deal with other nations sending military squads looking for vibranium, since Black Panther showed the world how powerful their resource is.
Queen Ramonda (Alfre Woodard) and her Dora Milaje troops do a good job of taking on all comers. A more complicated problem arises when a U.S. drill team locates vibranium under the sea — an apt metaphor for fracking.
The Lost Tribe lives underwater guarding its vibranium. After being invaded, its king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), demands that Wakanda help them fight all the surface people.
This puts Wakanda in a bind because its leaders recognize that the nations of Earth can’t all be trusted, even the ones in the United Nations. But they don’t want to go to war with the rest of the world, either.
Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s script highlights the dangers posed to innocent communities when valuable resources are discovered. It is a real political problem because the Lost Tribe’s actions implicate Wakanda.
The CIA assumes any action involving vibranium is related to Wakanda, but Wakanda doesn’t want to tell the world that other people have access to vibranium.
Shuri is good at diplomacy. Namor has every reason to distrust land people, so she has her work cut out for her reasoning with him.
Had Boseman lived, this would not have been T’Challa’s next adventure. Coogler already had a different T’Challa script written so he had to pivot.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to invent a new story out of whole cloth to make a Black Panther without T’Challa work. The first film already introduced Shuri, the Dora Milaje and the neighboring tribe of Jabari so Wakanda Forever can lean on them.
Namor and the Lost Tribe are a new threat, as there is always a new threat facing heroes. But the world around T’Challa was deep enough to handle this threat.
Shuri and Okoye (Danai Gurira) have a mini-adventure to rescue Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a Cambridge student who invented a vibranium detector in a metallurgy class. It’s a bit of a maguffin, but it’s great that it’s all women driving the plot of a huge Marvel adventure.
Scenes of Shuri and Riri in the lab together are gold. Wakanda Forever highlights the intelligence of women as much as their fierceness.
Imax footage of the blue Lost Tribesman underwater is extraordinary. Avatar: The Way of Water has a tough act to follow.
At the heart of all this espionage and action is a subtle message about the cost of concealing grief. Shuri avoids the Wakandan traditions of reconciling T’Challa’s passing and resists becoming the next Black Panther.
Shuri comes to a place that may give viewers a way to handle their own grief. At the very least, it leaves the Black Panther franchise in a fruitful place for more Wakandan adventures.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.