How do you achieve longevity? There are a couple of solutions and they are both present in Marvel’s 30th(!) feature length film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The background surrounding production is as well known as the title Black Panther, with the sequel entering development before the unfortunate passing of Chadwick Boseman and being reworked with a new name taking the mantle. It introduces beloved comic character Namor to the MCU in a rivalry between his underwater tribe and the Wakandans on land, which invites comparison to the DC hero Aquaman, although these comparisons end up being unwarranted. There is such a vast difference in the portrayal of both characters and the oceans they live in that it would do each world a disservice to compare them.
Naturally, at the forefront of this film, is the legacy of Chadwick Boseman. His introduction as Prince T’Challa (later King T’Challa) AKA The Black Panther gave children of colour across the globe a hero that represented them. He took the largest franchise in the world and used it as a platform at a time when racism in the West was on the rise. He seemed destined to continue in his role as actor and activist for years to come, which made his unexpected passing all the more upsetting. There were calls to recast the role but, given this surrounding context, it wouldn’t have felt right and the plot does address that. With all the heart shaped herbs, which provide the power of The Black Panther, being burned in the previous film Shuri is determined to replicate it…to no avail. The opening scene where she attempts to recreate it’s synthetic structure to save her brother is heartbreaking, especially since he is dying of a mysterious illness that he has been hiding from those around him. The story beat works on its own but it, very deliberately, hits close to home mirroring the real life circumstances surrounding Chadwicks passing. Eventually Shuri recreates the herb, consumes it, and becomes the Black Panther but initially she is only doing so out of vengeance. Her arc sees her struggling between letting the hatred consume her and deciding what this role as “protector” actually means. For those who have faced grief, it’s a familiar battle, to let the grief overcome us or to do our best moving forward. To shy away from the darkness or to run toward it. She struggles with it until the bitter end, right up until the moment she is about to kill Namor but, of course, she chooses the lighter path because this story is about healing…or beginning to heal.
The film’s conclusion sees her sitting on a beach, burning the funeral clothes, before being joined by T’challa’s partner Nakia and Nakia’s son T’Challa. It’s a clear indication that while Chadwick (and his character) may be gone, his legacy carries on. It’s not a straight-up recast but still allows for there to be a T’Challa in this world which is the perfect middle ground. Young T’Challa won’t be taking up any mantles any time soon but some day, presumably, he will. Chadwick won’t be forgotten in that time (or in anytime thereafter) but this allows for as much healing as can be done in a moment like this before life carries on. Through this character and these films, Chadwick has achieved longevity and ensured that we will never forget him.
The presence of T’Challa Junior also highlights the intended longevity of the MCU itself. Whilst it seems inevitable that he’ll become Black Panther someday, it’s likely that this won’t occur for perhaps another decade. He’s not the only new character either with the introduction of Riri Williams AKA Iron Heart and the aforementioned Namor. Riri is a delightful enough character who seems destined to entertain people in her own series next year before cropping up as “New Iron Man” for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Namor is rather interesting with his disdain for land-dwellers and long life span (having been around for several centuries) which is deserving of more exploration. Namor receives a rare treat as an MCU villain in that he gets to live, which is for the best considering dead characters can’t really be explored further. Then there are the returning characters, whose own stories are just beginning. Everett Ross returns to light up every scene he’s in with a charm that British Men seem to have patented with Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (or The Countessa) by his side. She makes her return after appearing in Black Widow and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, where she is clearly putting together a Discount Avengers (or The Thunderbolts as they’re otherwise known), making her in essence the new Nick Fury. The MCU has ramped up its production rate since Phase One but considering Fury has been present since the start and is still kicking around, this should give some idea of how long The Countessa should be cropping up for.
The discussion surrounding “superhero fatigue” is a complex one but when the MCU alone is taken into account, it’s not difficult to see why it’s brought up. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is film number 30 but, with TV Shows included, it’s project number 39. The newly released Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is release number 40 and it aired only a couple of weeks after Wakanda Forever’s initial release. Here’s the thing about the MCU…it’s good. Even at its worst (bar a couple special cases) the projects are still adequate at worst. Even Wakanda Forever, which suffers from usual issues like obvious greenscreens and unnecessary characters, is still good. The issue isn’t and has never been the quality, it’s the rate and the risk that there will be an inevitable drop in that quality to maintain release schedules. There’s been a large conversation surrounding Phase 4, which started with Spider-Man: Far From Home (yes it did, I don’t care what Kevin Feige said) and ended with Wakanda Forever. “It feels directionless” is the big critique and it’s partially true but that’s mostly because it lacks context. Every piece in this phase that feels out of place will make sense in time as The Multiverse Saga draws to a close. It’s a promise to the audience that there’s a reason to stick around. People have already clocked off and that’s fine because the critics will still be here, keeping track for you.
We remember it so you don’t have to.