In the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law series on Disney+, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), the titular Hulk, has a fourth wall breaking moment. Not liking how the finale of her show is going, she busts through the menu on the streaming service and hops into a behind-the-scenes documentary about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Eventually, she comes face-to-um . . . camera lens(?) with K.E.V.I.N. This is supposed to represent Kevin Feige, the desk of whom the proverbial (and sometimes literal) buck stops with all the MCU stuff. The fact that he is represented in this scene by an artificial intelligence (AI) is meant to be him trolling all his critics with some self-deprecating humor. And then we have Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Like anyone else who pays at least a modicum of attention to such matters, I wondered how they were going to handle this chunk of the MCU with the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, the original Black Panther (2018). Unfortunately, he died before they could begin filming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I will cover in a moment how they handle this in the beginning. What I worry about is the computer-like way in which these plots are seemingly handled. Read on to see what I mean by this statement.
As alluded to, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever begins with the death of King T’Challa, though this happens off camera. What is on camera is his little sister, the brilliant Wakandan scientist Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), furiously working on some kind of cure for her big brother. The issue is an illness, and the plant that gave him his powers would work if there had been any left, their supply having been destroyed by her upstart uncle, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan), also known as Killmonger, in the previous film. Her efforts to create a synthetic version of the plant are in vain, and the ruling of their powerful African kingdom reverts to his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Powerful might be an understatement in describing Wakanda. Their nation lies atop the only known deposit of Marvel’s wonder-metal known as vibranium, which can seemingly do anything the scriptwriters want it to do. As you can imagine, they are protective of such a substance, which is why they defiantly march a group of French soldiers before the United Nations that tried to steal some from a Wakandan outpost in Mali. As it turns out, their country is not the only place it can be found. Beneath the Atlantic Ocean, a United States led team is using a device that can locate vibranium. They are attacked, however, and Wakanda is blamed. This takes place a year after T’Challa’s passing, and while Ramonda and Shuri reminisce, there emerges from the water the mysterious figure who led those who attacked the vessel in the ocean. This person has a few different names, but we will go with the easiest one to remember: Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). He has the strength of a god and can fly, but more importantly for the Wakandans, he is adorned with vibranium. Like the Wakandans, he is protective of this secret, and demands that they bring him the scientist responsible for the machine that found the underwater deposit or he shall invade Wakanda with his people. They are the Talokan, by the way, an offshoot of the Mayans from the sixteenth century that developed the ability to live underwater. Shuri and General Okoye (Danai Gurira) are sent to locate this person. With some help from their old friend in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), they find a nineteen-year-old prodigy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). She definitely had the know-how to construct the machine, but she apparently did so unwittingly. That is of little concern to the CIA, who converge on the three not long after their meeting, and before they can return to Wakanda. The CIA is superseded when a group of Talokan warriors arrive and capture Shuri and Riri. They are taken to the underwater empire of the Talokan where Namor has a proposal for Shuri: either they join forces to conquer the surface world or Wakanda will be destroyed. Before an answer can be given, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a sort of Wakandan spy, manages to infiltrate their location and rescues Riri and Shuri. Namor is not pleased and promptly launches an attack on Wakanda. In the ensuing chaos, Queen Ramonda is killed, leaving the throne to Princess Shuri. And then, for whatever reason, Namor withdraws and says he will be back in a week. Of course, this gives the Wakandans, namely Shuri, time to prepare. Her preparations involve finally coming up with a synthetic version of the plant that gives the Blank Panther its powers, which is aided by a bracelet made from fibers of a similar substance found in Talokan. However, during her experience with the ancestral plane, she meets Killmonger instead of her mother, and he fuels her desire for revenge. In doing so, her plan is to attack the Talokan at sea and draw Namor away on her own so she can kill him herself. Of course, after a titanic struggle, she relents at the last moment, getting Namor to withdraw in exchange for keeping his people a secret. Everyone seems happy with this arrangement, though Namor is last seen back in Talokan calculating that the world will eventually come for Wakanda and that they will need him to save them. Our final scene is of Shuri on a beach in Haiti putting to rest the mourning that had shaped her behavior for so long.
Admittedly, because the is an MCU film, that is not quite the final scene in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The post-credits (actually, mid-credits, technically) scene is Nakia introducing Shuri to Toussaint (Divine Love Konadu-Sun), the son of Nakia and T’Challa. Toussaint is his Haitian name, and if you know your Haitian history, that is a heckuva of a sobriquet. His Wakandan name is, say it with me, T’Challa. I guess it really is Wakanda forever. This is where I worry about the computer-like nature of K.E.V.I.N. I believe I can speak for most Marvel comics fans when I say that I was as excited as anybody when they started cranking out these films. As we approach nearly twenty years of this, some of the magic is wearing off for me. There is some predictability in all this, too. Because I know my comics, I am aware that Namor is not entirely a villain, though he has sometimes been described as a bit of a jerk. With these things in mind, it is pretty easy to see the conclusion of hostilities between Talokan and Wakanda coming. The worry I mentioned early, and this relates to this predictability, is why can we not just have Shuri be the Black Panther until the MCU inevitably runs out of steam . . . finally? Or, why do we even need a Black Panther at all? I suppose you could say because that is the name of the movie, or franchise, or whatever. Yet, I would like to see something different at this point. You could have the entire people of Wakanda embracing a “Black Panther spirit,” if you will. Perhaps I am grasping for straws here, but it seems like a wasted opportunity to go in a fresh direction. Instead, get the cold calculation of replacing Boseman so we can get more of the same material.
Please understand that my annoyance with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is slight. It is piqued, though, when we see a young Namor being cursed by a Catholic missionary in the sixteenth century. I get that seeing a person with wings on their feet and flying through the air might appear to be a demon in the eyes of a clergyman from that time. For this finely tuned Catholic brain, such moments are part and parcel of the anti-Christian stereotypes prevalent in Hollywood. Thankfully, this is but a brief moment in the film. What is more prominent is the internal battle within Shuri over modern ways of thinking versus tradition. This is a relevant topic for Christians in general, and Catholics specifically. Stereotype or not, Catholicism has modes and ways of doing things that stretch back hundreds, and sometimes over a thousand, years. That is something not be trifled with, though modern society comes up with new ways of doing so anyway. This is the internal battle Shuri fights. There is an especially Catholic angle to this, though I am guessing I might be among the few who recognizes it as such. Shuri doubts the veracity of Ramonda’s insistence that their ancestors will guide them. Shuri claims it is merely chemicals in the brain showing them what they want to see. Had this Catholic been talking to her in that moment, I would have asked what the difference is, but that is a slightly different discussion. Her beliefs are made worse when she sees Killmonger in her vision upon taking up the mantle of the Black Panther. Fortunately, she is given the right guidance at the right moment. Catholic tradition has a similar way of viewing the world. There is God, of course, but there is also the cloud of witnesses that are the saints. In order to be officially recognized among this select few, there is a rigorous vetting process that scrutinizes accounts of them doing the kind of thing Ramonda does for Shuri towards the end. If you open yourself to the Holy Spirit, you can have a similar experience. I know I have.
Any complaints I have about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are useless. The MCU is going to keep shoveling this stuff at me, and I will keep consuming it. Maybe this would all seem fresher to me if there were not already 5,298 films before it. I exaggerate, of course, but you get the idea. It is a mostly fine movie, though there are a number of curse words in it. So much for these movies being for kids.