The king is gone. And with him went so much more.
As king, T’Challa defended his throne against a vicious usurper and opened the secluded, advanced nation of Wakanda to the rest of the world. As the superhero Black Panther, he became an Avenger and battled Thanos in an (unsuccessful) attempt to stop the despot from destroying half the universe. He was a consummate politician, a gifted statesman, a dutiful son, a beloved king.
And when he died of an incurable disease that not even Wakanda’s glorious technology could cure, it robbed the country of more than its leader. That disease stole a bit of its hope, too.
Perhaps T’Challa could’ve opened his country to the world and made friends with it, too. But now that he’s gone, the globe’s other powers are hungry for Vibranium, the almost magical metal that makes Wakanda so unique. They want that Vibranium, and they’re not too particular about how they get it. With Wakanda robbed not just of King T’Challa, but its protector Black Panther, foreign governments sense weakness … and opportunity.
Perhaps T’Challa would’ve known what to do with the mysterious underwater realm that also (much to Wakanda’s surprise) has a wealth of Vibranium. When T’Challa revealed Wakanda and Vibranium to the world, it put this realm—Talokan—in danger. Now its pointy-eared, winged-ankled ruler, Namor, wants to wage war on the surface world to protect his own. He’d like Wakanda to join the cause, but if the country refuses?
“I have more soldiers than this land has blades of grass,” he tells Wakanda’s Queen Ramonda.
T’Challa is no more. It’s up to his mother, Ramonda, and his talented sister, Shuri, to pilot Wakanda. And while Wakanda’s king may be gone, perhaps its protector, Black Panther, may not have followed suit.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a violent movie: Hardly a surprise, right? This is a superhero flick, after all. But the film is at its best not when people are being attacked, but when people are being saved.
No one is saved more in this story than a talented young MIT student named Riri Williams. She’s invented a device that can actually detect Vibranium, making it an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of a country that wants some (and a massive danger to those who have some). The first thing on Namor’s villainous to-do list is to kill Riri to protect his country. And that’s something that Shuri and Ramonda are determined to prevent. They both go to huge lengths to save the 19-year-old scientific prodigy, risking their own lives in the process.
They’re both determined to save their own people, of course, too. And even when an apparent enemy lies dying, Shuri’s willing to tarry to save her if she can.
As the movie goes on, Shuri becomes more conflicted and ruthless. We see a couple of her confidants encourage her to be mindful of her late brother’s example—to do the right things for the right reasons and to always show compassion. Whether she takes that advice or not, we’ll not reveal here: It’s still good advice.
But as was the case in the first movie, Okoye is perhaps Wakanda Forever’s most principled and dutiful character. As head of Wakanda’s elite, all-female strike force, Okoye’s loyalty to her country is unquestioned and inspiring—especially when it appears that her services are no longer appreciated. Even when Wakanda seems to turn its back on her, she’s always willing to help Wakanda, whatever is asked of her.
The movie doesn’t bathe in the occultism of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, nor swim in the ludicrously overpopulated heavens of Thor: Love and Thunder. But Wakanda Forever still has plenty to talk about.
First, Namor. In a departure from his Atlantean roots in Marvel’s comics, the undersea ruler is associated with Mesoamerican mythological systems. His watery realm was allegedly a gift from Chac, the Mayan god of water; and his people consider Namor to be a god himself. (He’s apparently considered the Feathered Serpent of those Mesoamerican pantheons, called K’uk’ulkan in Namor’s native Mayan language and Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs.)
It should be noted, though, that while his people consider him a god, he’s not one: Just a guy with some pretty special abilities. In flashback, we see a young Namor see some of his ethnic kin in chains as their overseer and a Catholic priest stand side by side. Later, after Namor shows his ability to fly and wreaks a bit of vengeance on this apparent colonial settlement (perhaps a religious mission), the priest calls him a “son of Satan.”
The Wakandans have their own faith traditions. Their prime god is called Bast (based in the comics on an ancient Egyptian deity), and there’s a certain level of ancestor reverence and worship that goes on within the country (including visions and conversations with certain ancestors who’ve passed on to the next life).
Peel back that Wakandan spiritual window dressing, though, and Wakanda Forever becomes, at least partly, a rumination on faith itself.
Shuri is an unbeliever—so made in part through grief. Early in the movie we hear her pray to Bast for the life of her brother—telling the god that if T’Challa recovers, she’ll never doubt his existence again. T’Challa does die, of course, and it pushes Shuri—who already trusts technology more than her people’s spiritual tradition—into something akin to atheism.
When her mother insists that she’s felt T’Challa’s presence, Shuri rejects that suggestion. “He wasn’t there, Mother,” she says. “The presence that you felt was just a construct of your mind.” And when she experiences a vision of the afterlife and meets someone from her past, Shuri even denies that she saw anything at all. Without going into where Shuri eventually lands spiritually, I think we can say that the movie itself suggests that there’s more to us than what we can scientifically measure, that there is a soul that goes on.
Two women seem to be in a relationship. (We see one kiss the other on the head, and the recipient calls the kisser “my love”.) We learn that a couple of characters had a child out of wedlock. A woman’s exposed, pregnant belly is seen underwater.
Many characters wear slightly revealing or curve-hugging garments, and guys sometimes go about shirtless (especially Namor’s undersea people). We learn that Everett Ross, a CIA agent friendly to Wakanda, was once married to Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, the agency’s apparent head. She compliments him on his fitness, asks about whether his home gym is working out—and then makes a saucy double entendre referencing riding his Peloton.
As mentioned, Wakanda Forever is flush with violence, ranging from one-on-one melees to battles featuring hundreds. People are shot (with traditional weapons and various types of ray guns), stabbed, shocked (and sometimes stabbed and shocked simultaneously) and even impaled. Various combatants fight with spears and knives and staffs and clubs, and Namor’s people have watery bombs they like to deploy. Cars and other vehicles careen and crash and sometimes explode.
While all that is fairly typical in the superhero genre, sometimes this violence pits superheroes and law enforcement against each other—an element that might warrant a conversation or two with young viewers.
A few other disturbing elements to note.
Namor’s people apparently have the ability to sing like mythological Sirens and lure listeners to their deaths. (We see many jump off ships to their dooms.) A city is destroyed: We see civilians caught in the wreckage as watery explosions go off everywhere, obliterating walls and collapsing buildings. Someone drowns. Someone else risks death by oxygen deprivation. We see several funerals.
We hear the s-word seven times. Also overheard: “A–,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused twice.
Both Wakanda and Namor’s realm of Talokan are tied to mystical plants that are impacted by something in Vibranium. In a flashback, we see Namor’s ancestors drink the stuff and lose their ability to breath air. (Namor, the first of the following generation, is completely at home in both air and water.) In Wakanda, a mixture made of a glowing flower (synthetically reproduced by Shuri after the country’s natural crop was destroyed in the last Black Panther movie) sends those who drink it into a spiritual/hallucinogenic state and confers upon them superhuman powers (most notably strength and agility).
Other countries, especially the United States, take on the role of secondary villains here. We learn that one such country sent mercenaries into a Wakandan stronghold to apparently steal Vibranium, and a couple of U.S. agencies seem to be operating outside both the letter and spirit of the law.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been home to many a challenge: Its superheroes have faced everything from power-hungry businessmen to universe-breaking tyrants to secret evils inside their very own operations.
But the movie production of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever faced perhaps the most difficult challenge in the MCU’s history: The loss of its star.
The shadow of Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa/Black Panther in four movies before his untimely death from cancer in 2020, hangs heavily over Wakanda Forever. Disney and Marvel did right not to replace him. And closing the door on T’Challa’s story while handing the Black Panther mantel over to someone else allows Wakanda Forever to lean into a truth that superhero movies rarely do: Sometimes people—even people we care about greatly—die. Sometimes no amount of heroism can save them.
Wakanda Forever is at its strongest when it leans into this uncomfortable, core truth. We see people mourn and struggle to move on. We see characters grieve and rage at the unfairness of it all. And in its own superhero way, it whispers another important truth to us. As Ramonda tries to tell a disbelieving Shuri, “T’Challa is dead. But that doesn’t mean that he is gone.” Death might be an end, but it’s not necessarily the end.
Those simple emotions, those simple truths, buoy Wakanda Forever in what otherwise would’ve been a murky, overlong, overstuffed, CGI stew.
The film comes with all the warning flags of your typical MCU film: The unremitting violence, the language, the sensual outfits and a tiny bit of innuendo. And looked at from a strictly biblical worldview, the spiritual ideas it proffers don’t align with Christian teaching (though some broader faith observations, as mentioned, can nevertheless be observed). It can teeter on the edge of been-there, done-that irrelevance. There’s only so many climactic CGI battles one can see before they start to all look the same.
But Wakanda Forever remembers—almost in the nick of time—what fans truly love about the MCU: The people. The characters. How, for all their powers, they feel like us, and how we see ourselves in them.
When we see Shuri shed tears for brother T’Challa, we understand. We feel. And perhaps, for both the character and actor, we in the audience wipe a tear away, too.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.