Not just another Marvel movie. At one point in the film, we see a reenactment of the Spanish colonial enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, portrayed more accurately than anything I was taught about in school (pre-college). I could make an argument that though this is a science fiction movie, sections of “Wakanda Forever” should be shown in schools as points of reference.
From the opening funeral sequence that simultaneously mourns the loss of King T’Challa and the late great Chadwick Boseman, to the creation of a nearly three-hour film that gives the middle finger to the United States past and current colonial efforts, writer/director Ryan Coogler shows what a movie confined to certain rules of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), can do with a fully realized idea.
Synopsis: After the death of King T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda stands exposed to threats of intervention and forced extraction of vibranium from their land by the United States and other world powers. As Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) decide what their next steps will be, they are approached by Namor (Tenoch Huerta) the leader of an underwater empire called Tolokan (based on the mythical Aztec paradise). Namor informs them that the United States has found vibranium underwater near Tolokan. He asks for an alliance with Wakanda in order to halt this oncoming threat of colonization. With opposing views on how to solve this United States problem, the two powerful nations soon find themselves as rivals.
Coogler really goes mask off, making it clear early and often that this is a story about colonization and the shared historical trauma of two nations worlds apart. He does his best to keep his characters grounded in realism; real people having real conversation regarding the Black and Brown experience, which is usually the antithesis of how Marvel characters are written. He also makes it a point to spend a good amount of this film capturing shots of the lush, green African landscape as well as the vibrant clothing, dialect and mannerisms of her people. And with this sequel we get yet another film that revels in the idea of Black futurism in a way that is unapologetically powerful.
When we do get to the Namor section of the story, Coogler dedicates more time to tell the backstory of the fictionalized Tolokan people and real colonized indigenous peoples of Yucatán, Mexico, treating their story with the same amount of respect that he showed when introducing the world to Wakandans back in 2018. Namor is a character who operates off of the pain and historical trauma of his people, and will stop at nothing to protect them. He also doesn’t age quickly and was alive during the time when Spanish conquistadors enslaved his people. This adds an extra layer to his story, as Coogler wants you to understand where Namor is coming from when his actions take a vicious turn at times. It is also not meant for Namor to be seen as a villain at all, but instead displaying strong similarities to both the Wakandan people and the character of Killmonger from the original “Black Panther”.
As with “Black Panther”, “Wakanda Forever” isn’t as simple as “good guy” versus “bad guy”. Well, there is a “bad guy”; it’s the United States. But as far as the Wakandans and the Tolokan go, theirs is a story about two cultures attempting to survive in a world dominated by white supremacy, but each having vastly different notions on how to go about doing so.
Final Thought: Black Panther films, while technically located inside the MCU, are fully formed and evolved enough to live outside of this world. One can enjoy this movie having never watched a Marvel movie. While there are “superhero things” which happen in this film (a well filmed chase sequence and lots of superhero, large scale battle stuff) compared to others in the MCU, this particular Black Panther installment is one of the least concerned with being an actual Marvel movie. This may be a concern if what you came to see was another Thor film or something containing one hundred quippy jokes a minute with tons of slapstick humor. “Wakanda Forever” is not that. It’s so much better than any of that. With “Wakanda Forever” Coogler uses this stage as equal parts in memoriam and attack on white supremacy, with a splash of Black female empowerment for good measure. This movie is so much better than your favorite MCU movie.
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