Wakanda Forever’ Ends With Three Ellipses That Point To The Future of The Franchise
Feb 9, 2023
**Spoiler Alert: This is an article for those that have already seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” If you have not, bookmark this page, turn around, see the movie and come back. Spoiler Alert end.**
A dramatic meditation on grief, mourning, and healing, while also acting as an action-packed superhero look at how vengeance can consume us—not to mention all its geopolitical and ideological ideas of protecting one’s identities, traditions, and right to exist—Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is in theaters now and is a lot of movie. Directed by Ryan Coogler again (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station,” the original “Black Panther”), ‘Wakanda Forever’ is deeply ambitious and, as he has stated recently, tries to balance art and commerce—giving a deeply layered, human, and meaningful look at loss, anger and the complexities of leadership while trying to make an entertaining superhero movie too.
I think it succeeds (read my review here), even if the strained structure and plot is overburdened by many subplots and backstory—much of which, like Namor and Talokans origin, is fascinating and necessary—but does add to that nearly three-hour running time.
READ MORE: ‘Wakanda Forever’: The ‘Black Panther’ Sequel Offers Superhero Grief Counseling & Another Dose Of Geopolitical Intrigue [The Playlist Podcast]
Regardless, we’re not here to relitigate the film again; instead, finally discuss its conclusion, which we think is very multi-tiered and maybe moreso than some have considered. In my mind, ‘Wakanda Forever’ ends with three ellipses… dot dot dots that point to the franchise’s future and give the franchise different options. This could be for narrative reasons, or this could be for more… internal reasons, but three seeds are planted in this movie, and they could grow in several directions. And to be fair, many of these seeds are pretty subtle.
Let’s start with the easiest and most obvious one, even though it’s actually presented in a way that makes it one of the vaguest and uncertain. Again, lots of spoilers ahead.
A New King.‘Wakanda Forever’ arguably has two denouements structurally. The first one is something that keeps coming up in the movie via the tribal council, the group composed of the elders of the tribes of Wakanda. When Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) passes, one of the central ideas the Tribal Council wants is to solidify its leadership. Who is going to be the King or the Queen? Who is going to lead Wakanda? Many elders want that hashed out before they face off against Namor Talokan again. With the sudden appearance of a new Black Panther, Shuri (Letitia Wright), this conversation is nearly immediately tabled, but it is strongly hinted at when Shuri and M’Baku (Winston Duke) clear the room and clear the air. Their heated discussion is essentially about leadership. Do you really want to go to war and risk your people? Should we think about it first? This is essentially M’Baku’s position: let’s think this through whereas we know that Shuri is consumed by vengeance—there’s an extra reason for that which we’ll get to— and isn’t thinking straight or much less like a leader.
This ties into the film’s end, which is admittedly vague (though much clearer if you’ve seen it more than once). While it’s not really overt, Shuri is supposed to be there for the ceremony to crown the new Queen. But by absconding to Haiti instead, Shuri forfeits her position because she’s not interested in it, and arguably—given her revelation at the end—she understands that she’s not fit for it, at least not right now. M’Baku shows up instead, speaking once again about a challenge for the crown in ritual combat. It’s not 100% clear, but if you watch the faces of the Jabari tribe beaming with admiration and pride, M’Baku’s joyful, confident final moment, it’s clear that in whatever Wakanda story comes next, it’s going to be M’Baku who is the new King of Wakanda, not Shuri. Trust me on this (or forever cast me to hell if I’m wrong, but I’m confident I’m not).
The New HeirWell, as you know if you’ve seen the film, in the mid-credits scene of the movie Shuri then learns that Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and T’Challa have a son (Divine Love Konadu-Sun), Toussaint, who Nakia has been raising in secret far from the pressure of the throne in Haiti. Toussaint reveals his Wakandan name is T’Challa, and thus this is Prince T’Challa. He likely was born slightly before or slightly after the events of “Avengers: Infinity War,” which does not feature Nakia (she hasn’t even been in the MCU since the first “Black Panther” film. Nakia’s story is basically, after Thanos’ snap and losing T’Challa (for five years no less), in her own grief and pain, she left Wakanda and fled to Haiti to heal on her own. But regardless, and more to the point, the revelation of Prince T’Challa seems like it is Marvel giving themselves options. In the age of the multiverse, and who knows how time can shift in the upcoming “Avengers: Kang Dynasty,” if they want to, they can clearly age up Prince T’Challa through the machinations of all this MCU multiverse stuff. It’s there in their back pocket should they ever need it, and hell, they could let it sit there for years if they wanted.
The Killmonger Legacy & Tainting Of It AllYes, you’ve seen the film; you know that Michael B. Jordan reprises his role as Erik Killmonger in the movie, turning up in the Astral Plane once Shuri has recreated synthetically recreated the heart-shaped herb that gives the Black Panther its power. There are many ways to read this scene, I think, the most apparent being that Killmonger activates Shuri’s need for vengeance. Now, it’s already there. Namor has killed her mother and nearly decimated Wakanda; she’s angry and further ensconced in more profound grief, pain, and suffering. But there’s an argument to be made that Killmonger is not supposed to be there—he’s a function of something going wrong with the synthetic heart-shaped herb that’s not 100% natural. She was clearly expecting her brother or some ancestor to guide her way. Instead, she gets Killmonger, who seemingly further triggers and stimulates her need for revenge. One can argue the need for bloody retribution absolutely blinds Shuri in the film—it’s only when Queen Ramonda briefly shows up for a second from the Astral Plane in the skies saying, “Show them who we are!” does she seem to come to her senses instead choosing amnesty and truce over reprisal. It’s easy to read then that via Killmonger; all Shuri has gotten is hate and anger (his “are you going to take care of business line?” or are you going to be a wimp like your brother, is essentially the message that he embeds in her head while critically reminding her of all the lies that Wakanda was built on in the original film). The one post-life message she gets from Ramonda seemingly breaks the spell of blind rage and makes the film, which feels like it is headed for disaster at that point, quickly detour into a ceasefire for now.
There’s a way to read all of this if all the above points are also true. Something is wrong with Shuri, and she knows it. Killmonger corrupted her heart and almost made her lose her way morally. One can argue she did get over it, but the moment deeply disturbed her, and thus, this is why she doesn’t show up to be crowned as the Queen and likely had some conversation with M’Baku that essentially said, to some effect, “I gotta get my head straight, I can’t lead right now, the crown is yours.” The mid-credits scene shows Shuri finally coming to terms with her grief, ending the mourning period by burning her funeral robes and moving on. But by not showing up for her coronation, it seems very clear that she has some soul-searching to do about what happened in her battle with Namor and what it did to her, how it may have spiritually tainted her. Am I saying Shuri could break bad eventually? Well, I’m not necessarily saying that. But I am saying, again, Marvel has planted a lot of seeds and given themselves a lot of options to either pick up, run with, and or just let sit or forget if they want.
Post-Script & The FutureHere’s some unpleasant business, but something that needs to be addressed regardless. You’ll remember that at one point, ‘Wakanda Forever’ had some serious drama behind the scenes and melodrama that many of the trades were investigating. No big narrative ever ended up coming out of it in the end—though, around November of last year, all the reporters were comparing notes and trying to see if they could crack any stories—but the main thread reporters were pulling at for some time was that Letitia Wright was not vaccinated and that was causing problems for the ‘Wakanda Forever’ production and reshoots (it all gets further messy and complicated in the recent Variety profile of ‘Wakanda Forever’ where the outlet tries to get to the bottom of her vaccination status, some kind of comment on her part, and her representatives taking incredibly obvious pains to hinder all of Variety’s efforts to get any sort of clarity on the subject remotely).
Now, this gets into rumor territory, which we’ll not dwell on, but one of the behind-the-scenes rumors of ‘Wakanda Forever’—not really reported or substantiated, to be fair—is that in the reshoots, Marvel would rewrite the end of the film to give themselves options. You can guess what those options could be given the situation. Whatever the truth of that is, it’s clear Marvel did absolutely nothing drastic to undermine the story of Shuri becoming Black Panther. There is no other Black Panther—as some actors suggested, Nyong’o herself once hinted, “hey, you haven’t seen the film yet; you don’t actually know who the Black Panther is,” essentially. But, as the thesis of this piece suggests, Marvel has given themselves a lot of options of where they can take this franchise and change it. There’s a new king in place, a new heir in the wings, and several serious open questions to be asked about the state of Shuri.
“Right now, it’ll take people seeing the film to fully grasp what the possibilities are, and we take it from there,” Nyong’o said in a recent Digital Spy interview about a third film. So we’ll leave it at that, the seeds are there, the options are available to them, and the ‘Black Panther’ franchise feels full of new possibilities depending on where they decide to take it. We dive into this a little more in our Playlist Podcast about ‘Wakanda Forever,’ and you can also read our review of the film here.
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