It took decades to get the first Black Panther movie made, and with the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, in 2020, the film’s massive global fan base has waited on pins and needles for the sequel.
Well it’s finally here, and rather than recasting Boseman or ignoring his tragic passing, it embraces grief as a central theme — while upping the ante on the action, dropping us under the sea, and expanding the world and the characters in ways that demand a guide.
To understand where Black Panther fits in to the Marvel universe now and who the key characters are in the new sequel, we created this need-to-know Watercooler guide.
Why you’ll be hearing about it
Black Panther — the comic book character and the movie in 2018 — were both major turning points in representation, and the blockbuster film became a wild success story as it greatly expanded Marvel’s audiences. The Chadwick Boseman film earned 1.3 billion at the box office, making it the 14th highest-grossing film ever made. In the four years since the character took center stage, 11 of 16 Marvel movies have featured a person of color of a woman at the lead. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be the first Marvel movie with a Black female lead.
The Quick Origin Story: Where the Black Panther Character Came From
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1966, Black Panther’s first appearance was in the comic Fantastic Four #52. His real name is T’Challa, and he’s the ruler of the fictional African nation Wakanda, which is hidden from the world thanks to its advanced technology. Wakanda is also home to a rare, heart-shaped herb, which is where Black Panther gets his superhuman talents: super strength, super athleticism, high intelligence, and technologically advanced suit. Much like a monarchy, the title “Black Panther” is not any one person, and each successive ruler steps into the role as would a king.
The Black Panther’s Marvel Cinematic Appearances
Where we first met him in the movies: Captain America: Civil War (2016) – In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), we were first introduced to Black Panther in the film Captain America: Civil War. As the prince of Wakanda, T’Challa witnessed his father, T’Chaka, getting killed by a bomb at a UN conference, a bomb he believed was set off by the Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes). The young T’Challa vowed to avenge his father’s death by killing the Winter Soldier by any means, and so he joined Team Iron Man to fight against Team Captain America, which included Winter Soldier. His other mission? To fight for the Sokovia Accords, which would protect the technological secrets of Wakanda. In Captain America, Black Panther had to learn to fight powerful characters like Spider-man, and ultimately question whether he could ever forgive Winter Soldier for killing his father.
The first Black Panther movie (2018) – Four years ago, with Chadwick Boseman in the lead and an all-Black cast, the first Black Panther movie was released — with T’Challa as the lead character. The premise: After his father was killed in Captain America: Winter Soldier, T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to take his father’s place as king. Audiences got to see the fictional African nation’s advanced technology, traditions, and its most valued resource, Vibranium — one of the most indestructible elements on the planet. It’s the reason why the powerful Kilmonger (Michael B. Jordan) made his way from the U.S. to Wakanda to challenge T’Challa for the throne in a war that threatened the nation. The young king had to rise up, recruit allies, and tap into all of the powers of the Black Panther. It asks a question at the end of Black Panther sets up the new sequel: whether the king would open up Wakanda to the world to help other countries advance.
Where we saw him next: Avengers: Infinity War (2018) — A quick refresher here: Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and the rest of the Avengers united to battle their most powerful enemy yet — the evil Thanos. On a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones, Thanos planned to use the artifacts to eliminate half the population. The final stand against Thanos took place in Wakanda, where Black Panther, his warriors, and the other heroes try to prevent him from collecting the Mind stone. Why Wakanda? The Avengers felt it was the best place to defend the earth from the mad titan, thanks to its technology and resources. Spoiler Alert: Unfortunately, Thanos defeated the heroes, took possession of the Mind stone, and used all six stones to snap away half of the population, also known as the Blip, including some of the heroes.
Avengers: End Game (2019) — Part two of the Infinity War Saga did not feature Black Panther or Wakanda until T’Challa and the others who were “snapped off” by Thanos were brought back by the surviving Avengers. T’Challa and other Marvel heroes helped battle Thanos and his minions to save the earth.
Wakanda Forever: What happens to T’Challa in the sequel?
After Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death in 2020 due to cancer, many speculated that Black Panther would be recast with a new T’Challa, or that different Wakanda character would take on the mantle. But in a Deadline interview, director Ryan Coogler explained: “Chadwick was always about pushing things forward while being aware of what took place behind him. That concept is one of the things that I will always hold in terms of lessons from him.” Instead of recasting a new T’Challa, the sequel will feature a new character rising up into the role of Black Panther (much as Prince Charles is rising up to King in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death).
Who are the key characters in Wakanda Forever?
Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) — T’Challa’s sister is one of the family members in line to take on the mantle of Black Panther, but she is struggling with the loss of her brother. One of the smartest members of the Marvel universe, her knowledge of science and superhuman intelligence has granted her powers to cure people, and that’s made losing her brother especially difficult. In Wakanda Forever, she has to manage through her grief while taking on the threat of Namor.
Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Basset) – The mother of Shuri and T’Challa, Queen Ramonda tries to help daughter cope with the loss of her brother. After she lost her husband, T’Chaka, to a bombing, she had to witness T’Challa and Shuri become victims of the Blip during the Infinity Saga. In the wake of all the traumas, she’s become a resilient and fierce leader of the nation, at least until Shuri is ready to take the throne.
M’Baku (played by Winston Duke, “the star you should be watching, according to Vanity Fair) – In the MCU, he is the leader of the Jabri Tribe of Wakanda, known for its more traditional ways and resistance to technology. Gorillas inspire their dress and culture. One of the most powerful warriors in the nation, M’Baku has been a great ally to the throne. But now he seeks to take the mantle…albeit honorably.
Dora Milaje – The Dora are highly trained female bodyguards to the throne, and they play a bigger role in Wakanda Forever than in the first film, with new weapons that make them more formidable against the super-powered Talokan warriors. Their leader is the fierce and talented Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), and just under her is Aneka (played by Michaela Cole) and the second in command, Ayo (played by Florence Kasumba), who was in the first Black Panther film.
War Dog Nakia (played by Lupito Nyong’o) – T’Challa’s lover had a long history with the prince-turned-king, and she is also one of the best Wakandan spies and warriors. As a War Dog, she has infiltrated many nations. She was introduced in the first Black Panther movie when Queen Ramonda asked her to ingest the herb to take on Kilmonger. But after the events of the Blip, Nakia moved to Haiti, where she established a new life … until Queen Ramonda visited her for a secret mission.
RiRi Williams aka Iron Heart (played by Dominique Thorne) – She made her first comic book appearance in Invincible Iron Man (Volume 3, issue #9) as a brilliant 15-year-old studying at MIT, where she creates her Iron Man suit and eventually earns the endorsement of Tony Stark himself. In the movieverse, Williams is a genus 19-year-old sought after by the US government after she creates a machine that can find Vibranium underwater — which makes her a threat to Namor.
Namor the Submariner (played by Tenoch Huerta) – The first mutant in Marvel comics history, he is the primary antagonist in Wakanda Forever. Ruler of Talokan, the underwater nation hidden in the ocean’s depths, he descends from an ancient Mayan community. He can fly with the wings on his feet, breathe underwater and at high altitudes, and has the strength of Thor and the Hulk. Once his civilization is threatened by nations searching for the Vibranium in the ocean, he asks the leaders of Wakanda to help him take on the would-be marauders. If Wakanda refuses? He will wage war on the African nation.
What are critics saying?
Critics at major media outlets rarely get excited about superhero movies, but Wakanda currently holds a favorable critics score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many noting the film’s emotional resonance. Collider‘s Ross Bonaime’s described it as “One of the most moving MCU entries so far, and one of the best films to come out of Marvel’s Phase Four.” Travis Hopson for Punch Drunk Critics thinks it’s worthy of Oscar contention: “[The film] had the highest of expectations and surpasses every one of them, and makes a strong case for itself as a Best Picture contender.”
Of course, what’s moving and adrenaline-pumping to some is “maudlin” and “overstuffed” to others. Indiewire‘s David Erhlich described the movie as “a messy but moving tribute to Chadwick Boseman. It’s overstuffed with all sorts of Marvel nonsense but still manages to cut deeper, punch harder, and look/sound a billion times better than the rest of the MCU.” On the other end, Washington Post‘s critic didn’t take to it: “[The movie] covers up its inability to move on by resorting to repetitive action sequences, maudlin emotion and an uninvolving, occasionally incoherent story.”
You will just have to decide for yourself if its worth the night out at the movies. Prefer to stay in and stream it? You will have to wait at least 45 days. The earliest we can expect it on Disney+ is December 26th. But it could be January before it arrives.
Check it out Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in theaters everywhere starting Friday, November 11th.