“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is here.
The super-sized sequel, which investigates what happens to Wakanda in the wake of King T’Challa’s (the late, great Chadwick Boseman) death is a unique experience, full of heartache and triumph. As we watch the various characters, including Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) mourn the passing of their king, we see that grief mixed with outrage as they deal with a new threat from below the surface, in the underwater kingdom of Talokan. That’s where Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), a vengeful, ageless entity, rules. He’s interested in taking revenge against the surface world, with or without Wakanda’s help. And if they’re not a friend, they might as well be an enemy.
But where do things net out? Does Wakanda have a new Black Panther? What about a new King? Well, read on to find out.
Note: This is an ending explainer so please, if you haven’t seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” turn back! Seriously, we’re going to spoil it all. It’s playing literally everywhere. And the article will still be here when you come back.
A New Panther Rises
If you’ve been paying attention to the marketing materials for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” then you probably know who the new Black Panther is. It’s not exactly a secret. But it’s not front-and-center in any of the pre-release materials either and the story of how it goes down is worth getting into.
In short: Shuri is the new Black Panther.
To explain: At the beginning of the movie we see her as she struggles to save T’Challa’s life; she’s convinced that the secret lies in the magic herb that Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) destroyed in the first movie. She can’t quite synthesize a new flower and T’Challa dies. The lack of a new flower is something that nags at her. It’s also what is keeping Wakanda from naming a new Black Panther since consumption of the herb is key to giving the new Black Panther their powers (it also has hallucinogenic properties, as it sends the eater on a magical vision quest through their ancestral past).
Eventually, Shuri realizes something: the same planet that gave Namor his powers (ingested by his mother) could be the answer to her problems. Namor had given Shuri a bracelet, the bands made from the plant her mother ate. By analyzing those strands, she is able to complete her synthesis and create a new version of the herb.
Shuri takes the herb and goes on her journey. But instead of seeing T’Challa or her father or her mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who had just been killed by one of Namor’s attacks, she sees … Killmonger. He asks her if she wants to be a timid leader like her brother or if she wants to get stuff done as he did. It might be the most powerful scene in a movie made up almost exclusively of powerful scenes. Can she be the Black Panther with so much darkness in her heart?
An Uneasy Truce
The climax of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is two-pronged.
In an effort to lure them away from Wakanda, where they have recently flooded a large portion of the city and killed Ramonda, the Wakanda forces bait them with a giant vessel. That’s where most of the battle takes place, between the Talokan forces and the Wakanda warriors, this time amplified by new, high-powered suits that dub some of the women fighters the Midnight Angels. While this is all going on, Shuri has abducted Namor and crashed on a nearby beach, where they begin to brawl.
The Talokan forces disable the Wakandan ship and the battle becomes more intense. There doesn’t seem like there’s a victory in the cards as much as there is mutually assured destruction. On the beach, the fight is getting vicious. In a startlingly violent move Shuri, in her new Black Panther garb, rips the feathered wings from one of Namor’s ankles.
Eventually, both battles reach an impasse, and an agreement is made: should further surface dwellers come for Talokan’s vibranium, then Wakanda will protect them. But Namor says that they will next be coming for Wakanda and they might have to ask for some assistance from the underwater tribe. Namor, for his part, has eased his stance of wanting to murder all the surface dwellers. Tempers have cooled … for now.
It’s an interesting moral place to end the movie on because Namor hasn’t fully been redeemed. He’s not an Avenger yet. He’s not even an X-Man (although he does refer to himself as a “mutant”). And Shuri hasn’t gone through the grieving process to the point where she has reached a calmness with herself. There’s still a lot of hate and a quest for vengeance within her. Catharsis might have taken place, on both of their parts, but neither has found peace.
A King Yet to Be Crowned
There are a few things happening with the very end of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
First, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), an American whiz kid who much of the plot mechanics fulcrum around but whose ultimate role remains slightly obscured, is set back to Boston – without the high-tech Stark-like suit of armor that she developed in Wakanda. (Don’t worry, she already has her own Disney+ spin-off series shot. Look for “Ironheart” on the platform soon.)
Secondly (and, judging from the number of text messages I’ve received about this, more confusingly) is the question of who will actually lead Wakanda. Now, you would think that this question would get wrapped up with the appointment of Shuri as the new Black Panther. But not so fast. She doesn’t seem that interested in the job and towards the end of the movie, we see the tribes of Wakanda gathered at the ancestral waterfalls; the place where T’Challa proved himself worthy in the first movie. Only this time … Shuri isn’t there. And in her place, M’Baku (Winston Duke, Lupita’s old Yale classmate) says that he wants a challenger. Could he be the new king of Wakanda? This is left deliberately open-ended. But our guess is that, yes, the next time we see Wakanda there will be a new leader. And that leader is M’Baku.
And then there’s the very end of the movie and the sequence that the entire enterprise has been building towards: Shuri is back in Haiti, visiting Nakia. And she finally burns her funeral robes, signaling that she is ready to move forward. She sobs, looking out at the waves. She is ready to grow. That hatred in her heart and the disappointment in herself has been, if not totally replaced, then at least shoved aside so that acceptance can reside there too.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is in theaters now.