Watch: Trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Warning: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spoilers ahead
It's fair to say that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — now streaming on Disney+ — is one of the more standalone adventures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's rather up-and-down Phase Four. It's a two-and-a-half-hour epic, but one which mostly takes place in the isolated kingdom of Wakanda and the underwater realm of Talokan — far from cameoing superheroes and multiverse shenanigans.
The movie opens in poignant fashion, with Shuri (Letitia Wright) frantically working in her lab for a way to save the stricken King T'Challa from a deadly illness. Her mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) enters the room to inform her that she is too late and he cannot be saved. What follows is a lavish royal funeral — a fitting tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020 before production began on the film.
Director Ryan Coogler then weaves a meditation on grief together with an action romp as Wakanda finds itself at odds with the powerful ocean-dweller Namor (Tenoch Huerta). While it's not as packed with easter eggs and cameos as something like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there are still some exciting moments for devoted Marvel fans...
We last saw Michael B. Jordan's black ops soldier Erik Killmonger as he died at the end of Black Panther, choosing to end his life as a free man rather than be incarcerated in Wakanda. His appearance in Wakanda Forever respects that ending and finds an innovative way to bring the fan-favourite character back in a way that enriches the sequel's story.
Late in the film, Shuri is able to recreate the heart-shaped herb responsible for imbuing those who consume it with the power of the Black Panther. Killmonger had destroyed the country's reserves of the herb after seizing the throne in the first movie. Shuri is sceptical about the tradition of the "ancestral realm", but ingests the herb in order to defend Wakanda against Namor and his people.
When she reaches the ancestral plane, she is greeted by a vision of Killmonger. He recites some of the arguments he made in the previous film about how Wakanda never helped the rest of the world with its advanced tech, declaring that T'Challa was "too noble" as a leader. He adds: "Are you gonna be noble like your brother, or take care of business like me?"
It's an interesting way to use Killmonger and really helps to drive at Shuri's central dilemma in the movie, which sees her caught between her outward-facing technological solutions to problems and the centuries-old traditions of Wakanda.
Ever since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, the prospect of the X-Men being introduced into the MCU has been a hot topic. And after years of avoiding the word "mutant" on screen, the final episode of Disney+ series Ms. Marvel saw Kamala Khan informed that she had a "mutation" in her genes, which could be the reason behind her ability to exhibit super-powers.
The word pops up again in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, during the scene in which Namor tells his story to Shuri. He says he "was a mutant", due to being born when his human mother ingested a plant during the Conquistadors' invasion of her country that left her able to breathe water.
In the comic books, Namor is a mutant born to the princess of Atlantis and a human sea captain. So this MCU take on him as a mutant slightly twists that into something befitting the franchise and his change of origin from Atlantis to the mythological Aztec land of Talokan.
The comic book incarnation of Namor is known for his battle cry of "Imperius Rex", and there has been much debate over what it means — both on and off the pages of the comics. The two-word statement of intent appears in Wakanda Forever, with Tenoch Huerta's take on Namor saying it as he prepares for battle with Shuri as the Black Panther. Her response? A defiant yell of "Wakanda Forever", of course.
Ant-Man on the news
Next out of the Marvel blocks on the big screen in February 2023 is the trippy-looking Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, in which Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly return as the titular size-shifting heroes. But eagle-eyed Wakanda Forever viewers will notice a brief mention for Scott Lang on a news ticker in this movie, which states that he has released a new memoir entitled Look Out for the Little Guy.
It seems Lang is almost single-handedly responsible for the wider world knowing about the events of Avengers: Endgame. We learned in Ms. Marvel that he revealed a lot of superhero secrets in a podcast called Big Me Little Me: A Scott Lang Interview. And next up, he'll be facing off against incoming MCU big bad Kang the Conqueror.
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
Since making her first appearance in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the character of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine has been existing in the background of the MCU. She recruited John Walker to become US Agent and then sent Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova after Clint Barton in the post-credits scene of Black Widow. We know Val will appear in the upcoming movie Thunderbolts but, first, she pops up in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) informs the Wakandans early in the movie that he has a new boss at the CIA, and we soon learn that the new boss is Val — to whom Ross was once married. She doesn't take too kindly to Ross's illicit conversations with Shuri and continues her manipulative antics, as well as musing as to the power America would wield if it had the world's only supply of vibranium, as Wakanda does.
Earlier this year, it emerged that Daniel Kaluuya wouldn't be able to appear in Wakanda Forever due to a scheduling conflict with Jordan Peele horror movie Nope. There is, however, a brief mention of his character — head of security for the Border Tribe. When Okoye is disciplined for allowing Shuri to be kidnapped by Namor and stripped of her titles by Ramonda, the queen references Okoye's "treacherous husband".
This refers to the fact W'Kabi chose to side with Killmonger during the first movie and fought against T'Challa and the Dora Milaje, including his own wife. Ramonda says that W'Kabi is in a place where Okoye can visit him, suggesting he might be imprisoned somewhere in Wakanda. It's certainly strong language to use about a free man.
In the Marvel comics, the Midnight Angels are an elite subgroup of the Dora Milaje, formed to fight against Dr Doom in the Doomwar. While there's no Doom in the MCU as yet, we see Shuri working on the recognisable blue and yellow armour early in Wakanda Forever. Later, some of the Dora — including Okoye and Michaela Coel's Aneka — are outfitted with the advanced fighting garb, which Shuri refers to as "the Midnight Angel".
While there's not a lot of Coel's Aneka in Wakanda Forever, there is confirmation that her comic book romance with fellow Dora warrior Ayo (Florence Kasumba) is present in the MCU. We see the two sharing a kiss on the forehead in the wake of the final battle. In the comics, they're responsible for forming the Midnight Angels, so there's almost certainly plenty more to come from this story.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now streaming on Disney+
Watch: Martin Freeman on making "poignant" sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever