In 2018, “Black Panther” became a global phenomenon, dominating the box office and becoming the first Marvel movie ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
“It’s culturally significant because throughout cinema and certainly the superhero genre, Black roles are generally supporting characters,” said Rob Woodfork, WTOP sports reporter and resident Marvel Cinematic Universe expert. “To see Black excellence, Wakanda is this utopia that is so far advanced, to see that mesh between technology and tradition, to see a predominantly Black nation thriving — it has significance.”
Fans of the movie were saddened when lead actor Chadwick Boseman suddenly died in 2020 at 43 after quietly battling colon cancer for years without the public knowing.
“I didn’t want to believe it at first; we didn’t even know he was sick,” Woodfork said. “(My friend) was of the mind, ‘Let’s recast the role’ … but I was like, ‘That story was going to come to a close at some point.’ If you know the source material, the comic arc, the Black Panther mantle gets passed down. Did they do it a movie before they planned? Probably.”
Indeed, grief is a major theme in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which opens in movie theaters nationwide this weekend as fans turn out to both pay their respects to the late King T’Challa and be entertained by a new chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“(Director) Ryan Coogler said that loss was always going to be at the center of this movie, even if we still had Chadwick Boseman and the T’Challa character,” said Woodfork. “Remember the events of ‘Infinity War,’ he was one of the guys that got snapped away, so he’s gone for five years, then you come back and you’ve lost five years of your life.”
Among those grieving is T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who was a fan favorite in the original film as the smartest scientist in Wakanda.
“It was interesting to see how they pivot,” Woodfork said. “Almost right away we’re moving into: Chadwick is not here, here’s how everybody is grappling with that and having to deal with that. I thought we had to confront it right away.”
The theme of loss also factors into the antagonist Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
“How you deal with loss, how you deal with the challenges of moving on without loved ones and how you approach certain things in the wake of that,” said Woodfork. “Very much like in ‘Aquaman,’ he’s the king of an underwater utopia that’s not unlike Wakanda. … He’s looking to wage war on the surface and he wants Wakanda to be an ally.”
Namor has big shoes to fill after an awesome villain in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger.
“So many times in film there is a clearly defined good guy and bad guy,” Woodfork said. “In the ‘Black Panther’ movies, you understand where the antagonist is coming from. They’re not just rooted in wanting to see the world burn just to see the world burn. … It’s rooted in logic, it’s rooted in reason. … They have whole T-shirts: ‘Killmonger Was Right!'”
In the absence of Boseman, other supporting actors also get more time to shine, including the acclaimed talents of Winston Duke, Angela Bassett and Lupita Nyong’o.
“Winston Duke steps to the forefront in a way that you hadn’t seen in the previous movie because you were missing T’Challa,” said Woodfork. “Every strong character in this movie is female, so it’s very empowering from that standpoint — and I don’t think we missed anything because of it, I don’t think we missed a thing, it was strong on its own.”
His one complaint is the introduction of RiRi Williams, played by Dominique Thorne.
“I would have liked to have seen Marvel take the RiRi Williams character and maybe have a Disney+ movie that would have come out sometime before ‘Black Panther’ so you can introduce her,” Woodfork said. “It didn’t sit right with me that this was the first time we saw RiRi Williams. I feel like that character needed to be introduced beforehand.”
Overall, he thinks fans will appreciate the sequel, from the music to the graphics.
“The soundtrack was outstanding,” said Woodfork. “The underwater sequences were better visually than they were in ‘Aquaman,’ simply because ‘Aquaman’ felt very CGI-y, but with this movie, the underwater sequences weren’t distracting you from what was happening.”
The verdict is in from WTOP’s Marvel expert.
You can proudly cross your arms again.