Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the Memory of Chadwick Boseman

Marvel’s new film is great, exploring unimaginable loss and grief – If only it weren’t part of the MCU

Jacob Goldman, Scarlet Staff


This Article Contains Spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. You have been warned.


At this point in 2022, there has been a lot of doubt regarding the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Controversial series and movies such as She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness have all gotten away with surprising amounts of directorial intent and style, only to have been massively hampered by the need to tie into and expand the greater Universe. Going into Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, I was concerned that a similar middling fate would befall this movie. Luckily, that did not happen. Wakanda Forever is a fantastic film that deals with heavy themes of loss, beauty, and the dangers of colonialism, while not letting any of the MCU Phase 4 problems (problems that do exist) drag it down.

The movie had a lot got getting in its way right off the bat, coming right after a critically and financially acclaimed, not to mention culturally influential, predecessor – 2018’s Black Panther. Moreover, it would continue without its leading man, Chadwick Boseman. Boseman, who died of colon cancer on August 28, 2020, was extremely popular and recognizable for his role as the Black Panther, and for his alter-ego King T’Challa. At the time of his death, Coogler was already close to completing a draft of what would become Wakanda Forever, which would have featured another form of grief for its characters – namely T’Challa dealing with being gone for five years during the events of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. With that entire story having to be scrapped and production already beginning, a new story had to be written. It was a story that could not possibly include a living, breathing T’Challa, out of respect for Boseman, but had to simultaneously deal with his death and the sense of loss that would bring, while bringing the late king’s storyline to a fitting close. Add to that the need for an intimidating villain, and of course the need to set up for the upcoming Marvel Phase 5, and it is a wonder that Wakanda Forever does not falter under its own weight.

Wakanda Forever wisely decides to spend much of its time getting to know where our characters are at, emotionally and physically. The very first scene shows Shuri (Letitia Wright) trying to save her brother’s life but wisely excises much of the tension of the scene in favor of raw emotions. Transitioning to a funeral for T’Challa, the film never lets up the memorialization of Boseman. Shuri and her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) spend vital time talking and remembering T’Challa. It is really quite refreshing to see actual characters talking about actual problems and actual emotions, instead of letting all that go in favor of a cool action scene or some nameless CGI monstrosity. For a culture like Wakanda’s, which has been thoroughly established and explored since Boseman’s first role as Black Panther in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, seeing how an entire nation reacts to the death of its ruler – and letting these moments breathe on their own – is key to building the right amount of emotions and thematic cohesion throughout the film. Wakanda Forever is a fantastic memorial and a stunning goodbye to one of this generation’s most iconic actors, even though it respectfully manages to avoid implying his physical presence in any way throughout the movie.

No matter how good the response to T’Challa’s death is in this film, it sucks that it must come in a superhero movie. It is almost disappointing that the film needs to introduce a sinister yet compelling villain to try to compete with the presence of Boseman’s memorial. Tenoch Huerta’s Namor is a compelling villain in his own right, but he sadly does not get enough time in this movie to really properly represent himself or his civilization (a civilization that, being so much like Wakanda, probably could have used its own movie to properly introduce). Luckily, Namor does survive to fight another day at the end of this film, so it is likely we will see him again further down the road. Not as compelling a villain is the entirety of the U.S. government. After threatening Wakanda with United Nations restrictions and vibranium theft, and after one car chase through Cambridge, MA (filmed here in Worcester), the government agents are completely dropped from the film. Additionally, having the current imperialistic nation as the US revealed to essentially be a second-rate villain after Talokan does not really gel with the theme of colonialism that the film introduces through Namor’s backstory before being dropped.

Add onto the unnecessary inclusion of the US military is the equally unnecessary use of Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, whose only job in the movie is to reveal Riri Williams’ (Dominique Thorne) location. After that, he continues to appear to reintroduce Phase 4’s favorite cameo, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). The two seemingly have no purpose in the film besides filling out Hollywood’s obligatory token white people into such a diverse cast. Thorne, meanwhile, plays a slightly bigger role in the story, but by the time the third act of the movie comes it her role in Wakanda becomes even more unbelievable except as an excuse to advertise her future role in the upcoming Ironheart TV series. Thankfully, these shameless excuses to add to the MCU do not really take away anything from the story, other than just adding to the film’s runtime. Besides, Freeman, Louis-Dreyfus, and Thorne are all clearly good actors, and their diversions allow for a bit more of the classic Marvel humor to creep its way into this otherwise serious movie.

All in all, Wakanda Forever succeeds, not because it delivers everything that it promises, but because it delivers what really matters in remembering Chadwick Boseman’s legendary performance. The film also seems to be the perfect closing to this phase of the MCU. It was an era marked by its distinctive directorial visions, which succeeded in the smaller-scale stories but failed when tying into the greater universe. Nowhere is this truer than in Wakanda Forever, a movie that succeeds with Coogler’s distinctively beautiful cinematography and iconic performances by some of the best actors of our time.


Will Clarkies like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?

If they love Marvel just for being Marvel and want to spend more time in this universe? Definitely

If they value acting, thematic storytelling, or beautiful imagery? Yes

If they want to honor the Chad, Chadwick Boseman? Absolutely

If they are tired of Disney, Marvel, or Hollywood in general? Probably not

Final Cougar Count: 3.75/5