Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has finally arrived, and to say that Marvel’s latest—the sequel to 2018’s smash hit Black Panther, which won three Oscars—was highly, highly anticipated is putting it rather mildly. io9’s Germain Lussier and Cheryl Eddy and Gizmodo’s David Ewalt sat down to discuss the MCU’s return to Wakanda, the movie’s new and familiar characters, and how it dealt with the loss of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.
David Ewalt: So I literally just got back from seeing Wakanda Forever in a full theater. The biggest theater at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn was full for a 12 p.m. show and the audience was super into it.
Cheryl Eddy: I saw it yesterday afternoon at the first showing at my neighborhood theater and there were maybe four people there. Not the same experience as seeing it with a big audience, unfortunately. But what about you, Germain?
Germain Lussier: Oh, well, humblebrag but I saw it first at the premiere and then a second time in a press screening earlier this week because I wrote the review. You so rarely get to see a movie twice for reviews. And yeah I think the movie’s great.
Like I said in my review, the movie should not work. It shouldn’t work. You lose the star, you have to rewrite an entire movie. And then you have this movie that ends up becoming about losing that star both on screen and off. And that becomes the story. Then you introduce all these new characters and it all has to fit. And there are a couple of moments in the first third of the movie where you’re like, “I’m not into this” or “Why is this not connecting with me?” And I realized when I saw it again, whenever the movie is about Shuri and Ramonda and them dealing with the grief of losing T’Challa, everything gels. But when you’re in an action sequence with Riri Williams or if you’re flying around Talokan with Namor, it just doesn’t land as much because it’s not about T’Challa. But when it’s about T’Challa and about how that impacts the two of them, I think it’s just such a beautiful, beautiful movie. You start thinking about everything that those people have to go through and yeah. The second time I watched I found a lot more richness to it, even though it can be a little messy. But like I said, I think that’s totally okay just because it’s such an impossible task.
David: That’s an interesting take because I kind of felt the same way. The character development stuff was really working for me. It didn’t feel like a typical Marvel movie. How much do you know about, like, the background of this? Because it’s so much about grief. Did Ryan Coogler write this shortly after Chadwick Boseman died? Like, was that part of how the script was composed? Because that stuff was real, while the action stuff missed a little bit.
Germain: I think it was going to be kind of the story with the Talokan and Riri Williams then once Chadwick Boseman passed, they had to work that in. Then the movie became about grief and having to get to the new Black Panther as a throughline. So that all came in later because they wouldn’t have needed that. And I think that’s the stronger stuff.
I enjoy the fighting between Wakanda and the Talokan and I love that they’re like this new super force in Marvel. They seem unbeatable in the movie. But to me when it’s about Shuri and Ramonda, talking about their different viewpoints on grief, that just works so well. And it all pays off perfectly not just in the finale, but in that post-credits scene.
David: What about you, Cheryl? What’s your take?
Cheryl: I agree. I mean, I think they had a lot of ground to cover. There was the on-screen and off-screen grief that they had to address, obviously. And I agree with Germain that the scenes with Shuri and Ramonda really felt like they had the most stakes emotionally. Those really landed. You knew the villain was somebody we were going to see again. You knew that Riri was going to get her own Marvel TV show. She’s going to be okay.
I did think the movie was too long. But I also understand why they had to introduce all of these elements and I don’t really know of a way that they could have made it shorter. It did have a lot of compelling moments. I think Ryan Coogler is very good at directing actors and that kind of brings a heft and a power to the Black Panther movies that maybe some of the other Marvel movies that are more, just, fun don’t have. And I think that makes them really valuable. Also, visually, it was freakin’ gorgeous.
David: I rewatched the first Black Panther a couple of nights ago just to get refreshed on it and was struck by like, I love his visuals, I love his directing, but the look of these movies, the Afro-futurist look of Wakanda continues to just be so cool. And now this amazing underwater world we get to see. Like, it’s really cool looking and very, very distinct. Not things that we’ve seen elsewhere in the Marvel Universe.
Cheryl: The costumes too.
Germain: Which won the Oscar last time. The costumes in this, especially if you watch it again, any time anybody is on screen, it’s amazing. I love also that in the first movie, you just want more of it. You’re like, “Oh, I want to go over there and I want to go over there.” And now you kind of get that. You get the street level of Wakanda. When the Talokan attack, you get to see the kids walking around and the streets and what it looks like and it looks different from the palaces and stuff.
Oh also, I got such Abyss vibes when—and not just vibes, it’s a pretty obvious homage—with Shuri going down underwater in the suit and everything like that. I love the visuals of the Talokan too.
David: I really like the Mesoamerican influences for the Talokan, but not just influences—that it’s literally tied into Mesoamerican cultures. They could have very easily gone with like, “Oh, it’s Namor and Atlantis.” Or it could have gone the weird futuristic James Wan route for Aquaman. Which I like. That was my favorite thing about Aquaman. I love James Wan’s bright, colorful Atlantis. But like, the Mesoamerican take on this is very cool.
Cheryl: Namor was great and I loved that performance. Tenoch Huerta is obviously a huge star. But I almost wish they had made it a female villain because the first Black Panther was all about “My father died. I’m going to be the king.” And I mean, there were very strong women in that movie, but this movie was really about those four or five women at the center. Plus, Namor’s mother had her own story, which added again to that runtime. But I think it was important. So I don’t know. I kind of wish maybe Marvel had gone in that direction, but I see why they didn’t. But I appreciated that it had these amazing women front and center.
NOTE: The rest of the chat gets into major spoilers for the movie.
David: What didn’t work for you guys? I can tell you that as much as I love Martin Freeman, I felt like, okay, this is a two-hour and 41-minute movie. We could just cut out all the Martin Freeman parts and it would have made it a lot easier to sit through.
Cheryl: Yeah. To me, that felt like what I was saying earlier about Marvel needing to be like, “By the way, coming soon from Marvel is this other thing you want to watch!” and they had to stick him in there. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, obviously, is a God among us, but there’s too much of her in that movie.
Germain: Yeah, Contessa is there to connect movies together for the end of the next phase. She’ll be in Thunderbolts and I’m thinking maybe the Thunderbolts will be the Americans who try to go to Wakanda because she has that moment of “I dream of having Vibranium.” So I thought maybe that’s where Thunderbolts is going. I don’t know. That’s just speculative.
But Martin Freeman’s character provides some very crucial information. So yeah, he doesn’t quite fit and it’s a little goofy. But he was a little goofy in the first movie and he didn’t quite fit there either. Without him though, they don’t know who Riri Williams is.
David: That’s true.
Germain: Off topic from that but I thought Angela Bassett—I mean everybody was really good is really good, especially Tenoch Huerta as Namor—but Angela Bassett is so powerful in it. Every time she’s on screen, she elevated the scene.
David: She’s one of those actresses who just can’t go wrong. She has the presence. She can’t help but draw your eye to the screen. I mean, I’ve been in love with her ever since Strange Days. She’s just phenomenal.
Cheryl: Yeah. When she’s in a scene, it’s going to be something.
Germain: Also Letitia Wright, obviously a lot has been said about like her vaccination status and she got hurt and all these kinds of things. But that character arc of hers is, I mean, it’s the movie. She’s almost Coogler himself. Like she’s angry that her brother didn’t tell her he was sick because she thinks she could have fixed it and that makes her so mad at the world. Then that, of course, manifests in the biggest surprise of the movie that I won’t spoil, but when she goes to the Ancestral Plane—to me that’s the biggest surprise. And I actually talked to Coogler about it. And we’ll have something on the site soon about it but it was so shocking and beautiful.
Cheryl: I also feel like Shuri’s character really came together in the sequel because they very smartly surrounded her with other characters who helped her on that journey, like Winston Duke as M’Baku, who is amazing. And actually maybe one of my complaints is there wasn’t enough of him in the movie. And of course, Angela Bassett is also amazing. But Lupita Nyong’o really brought a lot of heart, too.
David: So Germain, I saw your article about the end credits. I didn’t read it because I didn’t want to be spoiled but I would have never predicted what happened. So let’s talk about it. What did you guys think of the end credits and the reveal of T’Challa’s son?
Germain: Okay, so the first time I saw it I wrote down in my notes “What was Ramonda going to say right before Namor showed up?” She’s like, “There’s something I have to tell you about your brother.” And then it never pays off. And I never felt like it gave a good enough reason why didn’t Nakia go to the funeral. Like, why did she leave? Weren’t you guys together at the end of the last movie? And those two things were dangling for me, and I was kind of upset that they hadn’t been tied up.
So then once we get to the end credits scene, you bring Toussaint out and you find out he’s their child and it all comes together. That’s what Ramonda was going to say. That’s why Nakia wasn’t there. And also, by the way, this is the future of Marvel and this perfect little emotional moment. That’s why I wrote about it. I think it’s the best Marvel and credit scene ever because it makes the movie you just watched better, as opposed to making you think about the movies ahead.
David: You said this is the future of Marvel. Do you think it’s also a Marvel tease? Do you think like a decade from now we’re going to have T’Challa in The Young Avengers?
Germain: Yeah, I don’t think he’s going to be the Black Panther immediately. I think they keep Shuri the Black Panther for a little bit, but that character is going to be a part of it. How can he not? I think it’s in there as a potential tease for people who really like Marvel movies for those teases. They can speculate about it. But I like that it’s a more subtle approach to that.
Cheryl: After a movie with so much loss in it, it is nice to see that they hopefully have a brighter future ahead.
Germain: I really like how certain things [in the sequel] tied back to the first movie, like how Killmonger got rid of all the heart-shaped herbs and that Okoye sided with Killmonger. I love that. Ramona kept that in her heart, [and brought it up again] when Okoye messed up again and lost Shuri. You just get this reward for rewatching the first movie. Of course, Okoye is awesome. She gets the super suit. She doesn’t need it because she’s already awesome, but she’s doubly awesome as Midnight Angel.
David: What do you guys think of that suit? That suit says to me, “Abe Sapien.”
Cheryl: I think it’s the eyes! It’s as if they were like, don’t make it look cooler than the Black Panther suit.
Germain: And Shuri, she’s just making these. She’s obviously a genius and that’s been well established, but she’s like, “Oh, I made a super suit over here, it gives you superhuman strength.” I’m much more buying that she’s trying to fix [her brother’s] DNA in that opening scene.
David: I liked how Marvel handled the opening credits. How do you go from acknowledging the death of Chadwick Boseman into, “okay, now it’s an action movie”? They turned the Marvel Studios credits into a tribute to him.
Germain: They did that after he passed away a couple of years ago, they added that to Black Panther on Disney+ for a bit.
David: So maybe you guys can explain something to me. At the end of the movie, Shuri is ostensibly queen. Now she’s the Black Panther. They’re having the river ceremony that we’ve seen from the first movie where there’s the challenge, and the royal ship shows up and M’Baku gets off, and he says something that I didn’t quite understand.
Germain: “I’m here to challenge for the throne,” I believe is what he says, and that’s what Wakandans do at that river ceremony. But the way I read it, his tone wasn’t as serious as he had been in the previous movie. In the first movie, he calls Shuri a child who scoffs at tradition. And in this movie, she throws that back at him: “Am I still a child who scoffs at tradition?” And he’s kind of like, “You’re okay now.” To me, that is his way of scoffing at tradition. He shows up to be like, “I’m here to challenge,” but in a way that’s kind of ushering in a new tradition. But it’s very subtle and very fast.
I don’t know exactly what Shuri’s role is now. You know, she goes to Haiti at the end of the movie; is she there just to vacation and mourn and or is she there permanently? They’re still calling her princess–they don’t call her queen. We assume she’s going to be the queen. But now there’s also a young male heir. And having just watched House of the Dragon, we know how a young male heir can complicate a situation. So I think those are all questions that are intentionally left open for the future.
David: Even before we saw the trailers and got an idea of what was going on, rumors were flying about who was going to be the next Black Panther. There’s a comic story where Shuri becomes a Black Panther, so it seemed like an obvious choice. I really like the Shuri character. I like that she’s a super genius. But–maybe she should be queen and run things, but Okoye should be the Panther? Like if you want a defender, someone whose job is to fight and defend the country, you want the greatest warrior in the country. Right? I always assumed that it was going split duties: one person ruling and another person being Panther.
Cheryl: One thing we haven’t talked about is the Snap, and how it affected the Talokan. It’s not addressed in the movie at all. What were they up to when Thanos was around? It’s kind of like Marvel’s hoping we forget about the Snap a little bit as we’re moving into the next phase.
David: That’s probably part of it. But there was a brief mention of the Snap, when someone mentions how hard it was to have everybody snapped away. But I think we’re probably not going to hear about the Snap anymore.
Germain: And we don’t think about the fact that the five years have passed, which means the Marvel Universe is in like 2024 or something. Another question is where does Ross go after what happens at the end? I assume he goes back to Wakanda?
Cheryl: And why did Namor give Shuri the bracelet, did he not realize she’d be able to use it to recreate the heart-shaped herb?
Germain: The more you think about it, he’s definitely not dumb, but he completely seals his fate by giving her that bracelet. That was his mom’s–why would you give this person who you just met your mom’s bracelet? Obviously, they had a connection, and he wanted to gain her trust. But he gives her the key to bring back the Black Panther, to inspire Wakanda, to defeat him, you know, with that bracelet. So was that on purpose? That’s another thing. Yeah. And sticking with the Talokan stuff, by the way: how big it is? Is just that city we see in the movie, or are there more?
David: Namor says they have more warriors than Wakanda has blades of grass reads to me like there’s a whole underwater empire. And that was just their capital.
Germain: Yeah. That’s what I kind of figured as well.
Cheryl: Then they should have brought more people to fight the big fight on the ship at the end!
Germain: The whales were the best part.
David: There’s a moment when an orca flips somebody up on the back of the ship! That was really cool. I was dreading that there was going to be a Kraken moment but I guess Aquaman ruined that. I’m glad it was just whales.
David: Another thing we haven’t mentioned is that the Countess is now the head of the CIA. I think that’s new information if I remember correctly. Marvel obviously put her in places very specifically, and it’s all going to be Nick Fury-style payoffs later.
Germain: She’s bad Nick Fury probably. Changing gears, I thought Riri Williams was awesome, played by Dominique Thorne. I hadn’t really seen her before in anything, and she’s really charismatic and I love her. The scenes with her at MIT were really funny, but then we get to see her flourish in Wakanda too.
David: I appreciated that they took the tech away from her at the end of the movie. So like now we don’t go into the Ironheart series with an Iron Man suit. Where’s the threat? Like, where’s the conflict in that? She’ll be starting from zero in the new show.
Germain: Exactly. But her inclusion, while important to the story and cool, is another example of how so much is happening in this movie. Like, did you need to introduce another character beyond Namor that is so pivotal? Probably not. Even though it works and it’s integrated in there cleanly, it again speaks to the excess. To me, that’s the movie in a nutshell: it’s excessive and it’s a little messy, but it works. And when it comes together, it really comes together.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.
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