This article contains Black Panther 2 spoilers.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever begins with a nation in disarray. Their beloved leader King T’Challa, the Black Panther, has died, just after he brought Wakanda onto the world stage. Despite the vast sacrifices he and Wakanda made to battle Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and despite the gift of Vibranium he gave to the world, it wasn’t enough. Various Western forces — including those of the US government, led by the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine — want to take advantage of the country’s mourning, driving Namor to force Wakanda into conflict with the underwater nation of Tālocān.
By the end of the movie, Wakanda defeats Namor and his army, thanks to the leadership of the new Black Panther, Shuri. But it’s hardly a simple happy ending. Wakanda Forever operates best as a transitional middle chapter, as the movie closes with many questions left unanswered. The answers to those questions have important ramifications for not just Wakanda, but the entire MCU.
What Kind of Black Panther Will Shuri Be?
For an exhilarating few minutes, it seems as if Shuri may choose violence instead of peace. After luring Namor away from the climactic oceanic battle between Tālocān and the Wakandans, using heat to dry him out and weaken him, Shuri and her enemy have a vicious battle, with a level of brutality heretofore unseen in the MCU. Not only does Shuri get impaled by Namor’s spear, but she also uses a blast of fire to torch her enemy. After pulling herself free, Shuri stands above the defeated Namor and prepares to deliver the killing blow. But before she can do that, Ramonda appears from beyond the grave to give her daughter the command she gave T’Challa: “Show them who you are.”
When Ramonda said the same to T’Challa, during his battle with M’Baku at Warrior Falls, she helped her son find the strength to not only defeat his challenger but show mercy. When she repeats the phrase in Wakanda Forever, it does convince Shuri to spare Namor and broker a treaty between Wakanda and Tālocān. However, it’s not at all clear that Shuri has shown us who she is, even at the movie’s close.
When Shuri undergoes a variation of the Black Panther ritual and enters the Spirit Realm, neither T’Challa nor Ramonda greets her. Instead, she finds her cousin N’Jadaka aka Killmonger. On a plot level, Killmonger’s appearance heightens the tension in the final act, giving Shuri a choice. She can follow her brother’s path — the “noble” path, Killmonger says with a sneer — and give Namor the same mercy he showed Zemo (for killing T’Chaka in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and even Killmonger. Or she can “do what needs to be done,” as Killmonger puts it, and kill Namor.
But on a thematic level, the vision reveals the conflict inside of Shuri, one that remains largely unresolved by the movie’s end. Since we first met Shuri, she was a rebel, T’Challa’s genius kid sister whose scientific acumen led her to (as M’Baku put it) “scoff at tradition.” The deaths of her family members force Shuri to become the new Black Panther, but that rebellious side has not gone away. The very fact that Killmonger visits her shows that she has within her the capacity to follow in her cousin’s drastic footsteps. Indeed, throughout the movie, she struggles with the urge to burn the world down, something that draws her to both Killmonger and Namor.
While Shuri’s decision to spare Namor, and the mid-credits sequence in which she burns her funeral garb, show that she’s able to make the more noble decision, these relatively brief moments aren’t enough to offset the hours we’ve spent watching her rebel against tradition and rage against the world. As she becomes the new Black Panther, it’s clear that Shuri will not be the same wise hero that her brother was. She’s going to be something far more dangerous and, hopefully, very interesting to watch.
Is Shuri the New Queen of Wakanda?
Near the end of the movie, we return to one of the first movie’s most iconic locations, the Warrior Falls. It was here where T’Challa secured his position as King of Wakanda by forcing his challenger M’Baku to yield and where Killmonger defeated T’Challa to seize the throne. As the camera swoops over representatives of assembled tribes, who have already begun the ceremony by launching into song, we follow a ship that lands at the center of the falls.
Presumably, this is where Shuri will be formally coronated. But instead, it is not Shuri who arrives but M’Baku, informing the crowd that Black Panther will not be joining them.
Although the scene plays like a joke, especially with Winston Duke’s winking line delivery, it also seems to set up the new status quo for Wakanda. At no point in the film does Shuri show interest in ruling Wakanda, even after her mother the Queen dies. Instead, she seems most comfortable in her lab or on the field. When M’Baku tells the crowd that Black Panther will not be joining them, he may very well be saying that Shuri will be devoting her time to her role as Black Panther and that she therefore yields to the one person in the Falls and challenging for the title of King: M’Baku himself.
Of course, there is precedent for a divided leadership. As we saw in Civil War, T’Challa already took on the mantle of Black Panther before the death of King T’Chaka. More importantly, M’Baku has been interested in leading Wakanda since his first appearance, when he led his Jabari people to Warrior Falls to challenge T’Challa. Even in that first battle, M’Baku showed himself to be a good leader, choosing to yield and care for the Jabari instead of fighting T’Challa to the death. In the movies that followed, M’Baku only became more of an ally to T’Challa.
While he gets a lesser role in Wakanda Forever, M’Baku’s few scenes set up his ascent to the throne. Yes, he still chooses the more violent route against “the fish man” Namor, but even that decision seems to come from practicality more than pride. After Namor’s attack devastates Wakanda’s Golden City, M’Baku becomes the de facto leader of the country, bringing the refugees up to the Jabari mountain home.
In short, M’Baku’s journey has made him the ideal leader of Wakanda, allowing Shuri to continue defending the nation as Black Panther. More importantly, M’Baku makes for an excellent steward of the country, preparing for the eventual return of T’Challa’s son, whom Nakia revealed in the mid-credit scene.
What Does the Midnight Angel Armor Mean for Okoye and the Dora Milaje?
Despite her assurances to Ramonda that she will protect Shuri on a mission to find Riri Williams in Boston, the Princess is captured by Namor and taken to Tālocān. In her anger, Ramonda strips Okoye of her rank and position, installing Ayo as the new Captain. Although Okoye is instrumental in helping Shuri, Nakia, and Riri launch their final attack on Namor, the warrior falls scene shows Ayo still in her Captain’s garb, leading the Dora Milaje.
While that might seem to suggest that Okoye is out of action for now, the movie also gives her a new identity, in the form of the Midnight Angel armor designed by Shuri. In the comics, Midnight Angels are an even more elite subset of the Dora Milaje, who don their armor for only the most important missions. The movie version seems to deviate from that storyline, allowing Okoye to be another Wakandan hero with the codename Midnight Angel, leaving the Dora Milaje in Ayo’s capable hands.
What is Namor’s Plan?
As a comic book reader, I was shocked to see Namor yield to Shuri. Since his first appearance in 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, Namor has been the epitome of arrogance, a man who never yields, even when good sense demands otherwise. But here, Namor chooses to accept Black Panther’s truce, promising to withdraw his troops and accept protection for Tālocān from Wakanda.
But in his final scene, Namor reveals to his cousin Namora that his decision came from cunning more than pride. Now that he has a treaty with Wakanda, he has an ally, a nation that will help him when he returns to wage war on the surface world.
Now that’s the Namor I know and love. While Namor has indeed been a traditional hero and even joined teams such as the Defenders and even the Avengers, he most often functions as an anti-hero. Like his movie counterpart, the Namor of the comics burns with hatred for the surface world, and his alliances with traditional good guys are, at best, short-lived.
In other words, Namor has not surrendered but retreated after gaining an advantage. A brief look at Marvel’s Phase Five shows that he’ll have ample opportunity to press that advantage, as the surface world will be in disarray. Not only does the MCU still lack a main Avengers team, but we know that a Skrull attack is already underway, which will be explored in the Disney+ series Secret Invasion. With the world’s defenses at their lowest ebb, Namor has an opportunity to attack, forcing Wakanda to make a difficult decision.
Of course, the upcoming phases also suggest ways that Namor can take a more heroic route. The most obvious is the arrival of the Fantastic Four, including Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman. Sue has always known how to use Namor’s attraction to her as an advantage, appealing to his better nature. But there’s also the coming of the X-Men, a team that the mutant Namor has joined. If anyone can convince Namor to turn his justified anger into healing work, it’s Professor Charles Xavier.
What Does Wakanda’s Treaty With Namor and Tālocān Mean for the MCU?
After Wakanda Forever, it’s clear that Wakanda needs time to retreat from the world stage and tend to its wounds. But it’s also clear that they won’t get the chance. As the rest of the MCU falls further into disarray in Phase Five, Namor will surely be ready to attack soon, bringing Wakanda with him. Furthermore, the Contessa will only become more prominent in the MCU, and she’s already made clear her interest in Wakanda. The trailer for Secret Invasion shows that Agent Ross will be involved, which means that either the man Okoye rescued was a Skrull or that he’ll somehow have to make his way back to the U.S. from wherever Okoye took him. Either way, Wakanda is once again involved in an international incident.
Wakanda may not relish any of these entanglements, but it will be ready for them. With a new Black Panther installed, and with M’Baku’s leadership in place, the country can endure. Wakanda Forever, indeed.