Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Spoilers Ahead
Though visually stunning and powerful in its screenplay and directing, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a heartbreaking film to cover. While the plot sets up more than it concludes, the thematic importance of the film stands boldly atop mountains. Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in 2020 still feels like an unbelievable gut punch for the fans; it’s hard to imagine what it must’ve been like for the cast and crew. But if there’s one thing we don’t have to imagine, it’s the impact Boseman’s legacy has undoubtedly had on the entire franchise.
Editor’s Note: One more reminder that this article contains major spoilers from the plot. Please do not read further if you’ve yet to watch the film.
Though there is no new footage of T’Challa, Boseman’s character is still a tremendous, comforting presence in the film. T’Challa’s legacy is alive and well even when boundless uncertainties linger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Grief is a complex emotion to feel and portray. There’s no linear path or right and wrong, but it demands to be felt, and while I can’t talk about cultural or racial impact in the film, as someone who’s experienced life-altering, I can discuss the character journeys as they navigate through the hardships.
There is not a single character in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever who isn’t grieving. But as the audience, we see most of it through Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri, T’Challa’s little sister. In the same way that the first film is primarily about the women in T’Challa’s life, the sequel takes the fortified love and spreads it further. It threads it to loss and pain, and it tries to push through the waves, making it abundantly clear that it’s harder to grieve when there’s colossal adoration attached to the person who’s passed.
Shuri’s grief is insurmountable, and as she goes through every stage, the audience walks through it with her, trying to pick up our own lost pieces along the way. Shuri is used to saving things, preserving them—holding on tighter, making the end worthwhile. She’s the reason Vision makes it to the battle in Infinity War. And though his story also ends tragically, the film makes it clear that her inability to save T’Challa will forever rest on her shoulders. There’s nothing she could’ve done, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’ll continue to wonder about it. She’ll continue to try even harder as she makes newer developments to protect those around her.
As grief takes hold of her, it rattles every fiber of her being, prompting Wright to bring some of the most haunting performances to our screens. These are performances that we know aren’t merely acting but genuine emotions stemming from how much she adored Boseman as a brother off-screen as well, making it more challenging to watch.
Wright brings nail-biting agony to life as she showcases what it means to be submerged beyond the waves of heartaches. Quite physically, in some cases, since a chunk of the film takes place underwater.
Still, Shuri’s inability to believe in the idea that she can grieve and feel and move forward like her mother is both gut-wrenching and wholly believable. This arc is where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever gets so much right about grief as it looks into various forms of desolation a year after the loss. But this is the part where it gets tricky because I still don’t feel as though killing Ramonda was necessary.
If it was solely to have her show up at the ancestral plane, well… Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) was there. And the brief moment we got with Ramonda didn’t feel like it was enough. As of the moment when this review is published, Ramonda’s death feels like an unnecessary plot device, but Ryan Coogler is an extraordinary storyteller, and I’ll wait a bit longer for when spoilers are discussed to understand the reasoning behind their decision.
Further, as Shuri explores her ties with Namor (Tenoch Huerta), becoming the new Black Panther, and everything that we get in the mid-credits scene, by the end, it’s evident that though she isn’t okay right now, she’s getting there. She could laugh a bit and even feel a little lighter. She’s not yet entirely out of the water, but she’s swimming closer to the shore, no longer drowning in the whirlpools of anger, heartache, and bargaining. She is part of T’Challa’s legacy—she is empathy, wisdom, and strength in the same way that her brother was, and discovering these connecting pieces inside of her encapsulated the healing after grief beautifully.
Shuri’s arc significantly clarifies that the pain never ends, even when we find glimmers of joy and ways to honor those who’ve passed. One minute you could be fine while cracking jokes, and the next, your vision blurs while you’re back to the realization that a piece of you is no longer walking on this earth. As long as human beings are in two different places, missing someone never truly leaves us, even when the weight of heartache grows easier to carry. Our grief doesn’t lessen over time, but we grow around it as it shapes the person we choose to become.
Furthermore, Angela Bassett deserves every accolade for some of the most heart-shattering line deliveries in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. In an unsurprising turn of events, there are genuinely few words to describe the tour de force performance she brought to our screens and the grief we’re left with after losing such a beloved character.
But besides that, Ramonda’s grief, like Shuri’s, follows her like a shadow, only instead of withholding it, she goes through it, swimming beyond the waves, pushing forward, and trying her hardest to believe despite the losses she’s endured.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an homage to the strength uncovered when the love we carry translates into empathy and courage. And though Ramonda’s vulnerability is on full display at times, the adoration she holds close to her chest as she continues to lead Wakanda is astounding in showcasing not only a woman’s strength but a mother’s.
Ramonda lost her husband and son, but she’s still looking out for the children and people in need, which is where Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) comes in. Until her final breath, Ramonda not only fought to protect Shuri from her heartaches and grief, but she chose to look out for Riri like her own.
The mid-credits scene alone deserves thousands of words to describe its impact. As someone who had no idea that T’Challa even had a son in the comics, I cannot even begin to express the visceral reaction I had to Nakia introducing their son, Toussaint (T’Challa in Wakandan), to Shuri. It was disgusting how wet my mask got because of the sobbing this scene ensued.
I’d already lost every ounce of cool I attempted to hold onto when Nakia uttered the words, “he was everything to me,” and then this sent me over an edge from which I’ve yet to return. Nakia’s grief, like everyone else’s trauma in this film, follows her like a shadow, but it’s a bit different. She has a piece of T’Challa close to her in a way that no one else does because the love they shared resides in their son.
To think of the detail that T’Challa not only got to meet his son but Ramonda did too is the most comforting piece of news Black Panther: Wakanda Forever leaves us with. This way, T’Challa’s legacy not only lives on through his son, but it perseveres, bringing an unimaginable strength to everyone around the young boy as they watch another life grow with the same kind of love that burned through the man.
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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ends Phase 4 with the same waves of heartache as it began with WandaVision, full of pain and loss and a glimmer of hope. It’s beautifully shot, an undeniable powerhouse for women and performances, and a heartwarming homage to a man whose kindness and warmth were always infectious. As evocative as it is in the film, light pierces through every shot, every storyline, and every performance, making it a remarkable love letter to grief and healing.