‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Celebrates Grief and Cultural Tradition in the Age of Modern Technology

If you’ve read any of my Marvel reviews lately, you know the franchise is on thin ice with me after “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

But “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” reminded me of why I started loving Marvel in the first place.

“Wakanda Forever” pays tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, who tragically passed away in 2020 from complications from stage III colon cancer. I was worried about how Marvel would handle switching the role of Boseman to another Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) character, but I was pleasantly surprised at what they chose.

When this movie was announced and Boseman passed away, the internet freaked out over who would take over as Black Panther. However, Kevin Feige said the Boseman character overhaul is still out of the question.

Filmmakers have used various techniques in the past to bring back late cast members, and I couldn’t be more grateful that Marvel avoided them all. CGI T’Challa with a talented voice actor reportedly felt disrespectful to a man who died after a long battle with cancer.

“Wakanda Forever” handled Boseman’s character death better than any character death I’ve ever seen.

I was stunned to see the Marvel pre-movie screen covered in images of Boseman playing his iconic, silent, stoic character that ended with an indigo background behind the Marvel logo. Whether they like it or not as a tribute, the color of colon cancer is navy blue.

My only criticism is that they didn’t identify T’Challa’s disease. It didn’t have to match Boseman’s cancer diagnosis, but I found it insensitive to add blur to the death of Black Panther, Wakanda’s protector.

Shuri desperately tries to save her brother by creating a heart-shaped synthetic weed to mimic the compound consumed by Black Panther. In her rush to find the solution, she misses the only chance she has to say goodbye to her beloved brother. It’s one of the many emotional moments that was handled well in this movie.

T’Challa’s funeral and procession showed grief and the celebration of life, a beautiful portrayal of Boseman’s character. There was even a heavenly moment when T’Challa’s coffin was lifted into the sky as the camera focused on the etched lid: the Black Panther with his arms crossed in the Wakanda Forever pose.

It’s been a long time since a Marvel scene took my breath away.

While I can’t say much about the plot to avoid spoiling the movie, the costume design is something I must mention. Every outfit in this movie is immaculate, from the funeral outfit to the royal wardrobe to the upgraded Black Panther costume. I couldn’t help but think how amazing the clothes were for this movie.

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This includes all of the cultural references to African fashion and Latino, especially Mayan, culture hidden in the costumes throughout the film. Namor, the main villain, adorned a beautiful traditional Mayan headdress near the film’s climax.

Marvel dropped the ball on their villains. Namor is the exception.

I wish I could talk more about the specific plot events surrounding this multidimensional Mayan villain. What I can say is how culturally detailed he was, speaking a dialect of ancient Maya, dressing like a traditional ruler, and even using a Mayan hand symbol similar to the Wakanda Forever sign.

Marvel has done their homework with the cultural side of this character and it shows.

The criticisms I have include the cultural tensions of having a black African nation fighting against a Mexican-Mayan tribal nation and a major character injury that isn’t resolved in a clean way.

And I know most fans will enjoy the end credits scene that sets up a sequel for the “Black Panther” movies, but I thought that was a cheap way to end such a fantastic movie.

This movie is if the best parts of “Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness” and “The Batman” were combined into one Marvel movie about thinking about grief.

Both Marvel movies have the same plot: a villain wants to destroy a younger character to prevent said character from causing his demise, and the hero must stop them. It reminded me of “The Batman” due to how calculated and unexpected Namor was as a villain, similar to the Riddler and his army of minions.

The first “Black Panther” showcased the black community culturally, and this film took it up a notch by depicting Latino and Mayan cultures as well as African traditions.

“Wakanda Forever” is amazing, and it’s praise from a Marvel fan who’s been thinking about ghosting the MCU for a while.

Rating: 8/10


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James C. Tibbs