During a panel at the 2022 San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios finally unveiled the first trailer for the upcoming Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever. The film was originally slated to star Chadwick Boseman, who would have reprised his role as T’Challa, the legendary warrior-king Black Panther. However, Boseman tragically passed away in August 2020 after a private battle with colon cancer. His sudden and unexpected passing shocked fans and cast a dark cloud over the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
T’Challa was a major character in the ongoing storylines of the MCU. He was king of Wakanda, a main member of the Avengers, and an inspiration for people around the world. Many fans noted that he was a role model for young Black fans of the MCU, and his unique backstory and distinctive superpowers made him a standout figure in the superhero genre.
After Boseman’s passing, Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige and director Ryan Coogler confirmed that they had no plans to replace Boseman with another actor. Instead, they planned to write the story of the sequel without T’Challa’s presence. Now, with the first trailer for Wakanda Forever finally out, fans have a clearer picture of what kind of movie they can expect. And, truth be told, it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster.
A World Without the Black Panther
The trailer opens on a heartfelt cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” a song with roots in protest movements of the 1970s. The vocals, provided by Nigerian singer Tems, form a hymn-like backdrop to the somber–but celebratory–images in the trailer’s opening shots. A Wakandan funeral procession, clothed in ceremonial white attire, celebrates the life of their fallen king. A billboard with T’Challa’s face on it can be seen in the background of one shot.
While Marvel hasn’t revealed how T’Challa will lose his life in the MCU, it was always clear this would be a tricky movie to make without Boseman. On the one hand, the character of Black Panther is massively important to superhero fans. To abandon the character entirely wouldn’t make sense, yet moving on as if nothing had happened would be an affront to Boseman’s memory.
On the other hand, the character of T’Challa is older than Boseman’s portrayal–and, indeed, older than Boseman himself. Black Panther was invented by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966 and was the first Black superhero to headline his own comic book. Hopefully, Marvel will allow another actor to carry on in the role to continue inspiring people and introducing new generations of comic fans to the King of Wakanda.
The Royal Family’s Loss
In the trailer, T’Challa’s mother and the former Queen of Wakanda addresses her people. Ramonda explains that she has lost her “entire family.” Fans of the MCU remember that her husband, King T’Chaka, lost his life in a terrorist attack during Captain America: Civil War, an event for which the former Hydra agent Bucky Barnes was framed. And, while we don’t know how, we also know that T’Challa is no longer alive in the MCU.
However, Ramonda had two children in Black Panther. Shuri was a central character in the 2018 movie, and many fans have speculated that she might take up the mantle of Black Panther in her brother’s stead. So why did Ramonda publicly claim she’s lost her “entire family” when Shuri is supposedly alive and well? We see her numerous times throughout the trailer, after all. Is it possible that she disappears at some point in this film, or perhaps even dies while fighting against Wakanda’s enemies?
If so, it would be unusual for a first-look trailer to give such a massive story spoiler for what might be the most-anticipated Phase 4 film. Perhaps Ramonda isn’t speaking literally in this scene and is simply illustrating how monumental Wakanda’s recent losses have been. Either way, her grief is also a substitute for the audience’s grief: Chadwick Boseman was an immensely popular actor, and his sudden passing has been difficult for his fans to come to terms with.
War With Atlantis
The trailer also gives fans their first look at the underwater civilization of Atlantis. In the comics, Wakanda and Atlantis have been enemies in the comics. In the 2012 Avengers vs. X-Men storyline, Namor, the Prince of Atlantis, uses his powers to flood the country of Wakanda at the behest of the destructive Phoenix Force. This tragic event claimed thousands of lives and made Namor and his people sworn enemies of the Wakandan royal family.
Wakanda Forever may partially adapt this storyline, judging from some of the scenes in the trailer. We can briefly see images of Wakanda’s Golden City flooding, despite Wakanda being a land-locked country. In one shot, the throne room is shown filling with floodwaters as flames crawl up the walls as Shuri observes the destruction.
The apocalyptic-looking scenes from the trailer could also clue viewers in on the tone of the upcoming film. Marvel Studios has confirmed that Wakana Forever will be the final film in Phase 4–an era that, up to this point, has had little in the way of an overarching narrative. Perhaps this film will see destruction on such a massive scale that it ends Wakanda as we know it, only to leave the door open for a multiversal reboot of the Black Panther series?
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
The trailer also shows a few scenes with Namor, played by actor Tenoch Huerta. In the MCU, it looks like the fictional underwater nation will draw inspiration from Mesoamerican cultures such as the ancient Mayans. Namor’s attire resembles ceremonial Mayan garb, and the character can be seen observing mythological Mesoamerican paintings in some shots from the trailer.
Notably, Namor was the first-ever mutant in Marvel Comics. He made his debut in the 1930s and fought alongside other early Marvel superheroes like Captain America and the first iteration of the Human Torch. While Stan Lee wouldn’t go on to create the X-Men until the 1960s, he retroactively confirmed that Namor possesses the same X-Gene mutation as the characters from those comics.
With Marvel finally able to use its X-Men properties in its own films again, the Studio is free to call any of its characters “mutants” and lay the groundwork for an eventual MCU X-Men film. Already, the studio has used the term to refer to characters in its Disney+ series like Kamala Khan and Echo, teasing audiences about the future of mutants in the MCU. Perhaps Namor will offer audiences their first look at the state of mutants in the mainline Marvel 616 universe.
The trailer also gives fans their first glimpse of newcomer Riri Williams, a character known in the comics as Ironheart. Ironheart, here played by Dominique Thorne, is a genius student at MIT (Tony Stark’s alma mater) and one of the few people capable of walking in Iron Man’s footsteps. In the comics, Riri reverse-engineers her own suit of power armor by examining designs from Stark Industries’ Iron Man project.
In the trailer, we see Ironheart greeting Shuri–perhaps evidence that the once-reclusive Wakandans are now reaching out to superheroes and geniuses from other countries for help in their fight against the Atlanteans? It’s quite likely we’ll also see Riri suit up in the film, as the trailer includes a shot of her forging something out of metal, and punching a heart-shaped hole into a sheet of iron.
Riri will also get her own series on Disney+ in 2023, aptly titled Ironheart. Fans of the more grounded side of the MCU, like the Iron Man series, will certainly welcome a return of the cutting-edge super science that Riri will bring to the table.
Who’s in the Suit?
The trailer ends on a shot designed to excite fans on social media. As the music transitions from “No Woman, No Cry” to “Alright,” another protest anthem from the first film’s soundtrack producer, Kendrick Lamar, we see a brief shot of someone wearing the Black Panther armor. Fans immediately noted that the armor looks like the black-and-gold variant suit worn by the villainous Killmonger in the final battle of the 2018 film.
However, Killmonger died after his battle with T’Challa and asked that he be buried at sea to honor his ancestors. T’Challa, an honorable and honest man, likely fulfilled this wish, leaving little room for Killmonger to make a stunning recovery from his injuries. Notably, the shot of the suit-wearing figure appears when the song line “and when I wake up” plays, which could suggest that the Wakandan royal family finds a way to resurrect a former champion to carry the mantel once again.
Others have posited that the figure could be Shuri, taking on her role as the temporary Black Panther as she did in the comics. Either way, it’s a compelling mystery that will certainly keep fans guessing until the film hits theaters on November 11, 2022. From the looks of things, director Ryan Coogler and the cast seem to have made a touching tribute to the life of Chadwick Boseman and a fitting send-off to the iconic character he helped bring to life on the big screen.