The sequel to the 2018 film chronicles the rise of Wakanda's new protector after Chadwick Boseman's death in 2020.
When Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died in 2020, it left Marvel Studios with two choices: recast the character or forge forward without him. When Marvel announced they wouldn't recast or digitally recreate T'Challa for the film's sequel, director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole crafted a script that not only pays tribute to both actor and character, but also chronicles the journey of the successor to the Black Panther mantle.
Read on below for major spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
The new Black Panther is the only natural choice, Princess Shuri. Not only is it a decision taken right out of the comic books, but it makes the most sense considering the tradition of the Panther mantle being passed on through royal lineage. However, while T'Challa's genius younger sister played by Letitia Wright was her brother's light in the darkness in Black Panther, her path to the mantle is much more complicated and wrought after his death in Wakanda Forever.
The film begins with the death of King T'Challa offscreen as Shuri frantically works in her lab to develop a synthetic substitute for the Heart-Shaped Herb previously destroyed by Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). Her hope is that the recreation of the miraculous plant that gives the Black Panther their powers might be the key to saving her brother.
But her fruitless attempts are interrupted by her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who quietly breaks the news that the princess's older brother has succumbed to his mysterious illness.
It's the final straw for Shuri, who throws herself into her work to avoid the pain and anger that consume her in her grief. A year after T'Challa's death, Ramonda attempts to help her heal by taking her to burn their ceremonial clothing from his funeral, a Wakandan tradition meant to signal the end of mourning, but Shuri is not interested in letting go of her pain. She admits that she finds it hard to find solace in the religious rituals and beliefs of her home, calling them a "construct" used to comfort people like her mother.
Ramonda counters by asking if the construct Shuri created when she thinks of her brother offers her "comfort or punishment." The answer becomes glaringly obvious when Shuri later admits to Namor (Tenoch Huerta) that she resents how she couldn't save her brother with her genius or advanced technology.
When Shuri finally does embrace tradition, it's a decision born of vengeance after Namor attacks Wakanda and ruthlessly murders Ramonda. She crafts a synthetic Heart-Shaped Herb using elements within a bracelet gifted to her by Namor and takes it, hoping to see her mother or brother in the ancestral plane.
But when she arrives, she's confronted by none other than her late cousin, Killmonger. Killmonger -- born N'Jadaka and the son of N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), the brother of T'Challa's father T'Chaka (John Kani/Atandwa Kani) -- died in Black Panther after his plans to claim the Wakandan throne in revenge for his father's death, as well as a global revolution, were thwarted by T'Challa.
Killmonger feeds off the anger, guilt and uncertainty in Shuri's heart, telling her that they share more in common than she'd like to admit. He calls her father a hypocrite and mocks her brother's nobility, referencing his granting mercy to Helmut Zemo, who killed T'Chaka in Captain America: Civil War.
Noting that she wanted to avenge her loved ones, much like him, Killmonger asks Shuri how she plans to handle Namor and his army -- nobly like them or ruthlessly like him.
Killmonger's words bolster the rage burning within Shuri whose new Black Panther abilities only come second to her brilliant mind. She convinces the council to approve of her plans to attack Namor and dismisses M'Baku's (Winston Duke) words of wisdom against kicking off what could be an eternal war.
In the end, Shuri is her mother's daughter and Ramonda reaches her from the ancestral plane with advice echoing her words to T'Challa in Black Panther: "Show them who you are." Shuri spares Namor's life and strikes a truce with the kingdom of Tālokān, promising that Wakanda will protect Tālokān from invasion.
After the battle and tying up loose ends, Shuri travels to Haiti, where she reunites with Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o). She decides to finally burn her ceremonial clothing from T'Challa's funeral, officially letting herself contend with her grief and anger at his death. The moment is made more poignant by a touching montage of Boseman as the film comes to a close and Rihanna's "Lift Me Up" plays through the credits.
Wright, who has been open about the depth of her grief following Boseman's death, told ET that she wanted to reprise her role to carry on the film and its legacy for the late actor.
"If it was up to me, I'd run away and roll in a rock and do my grieving there. But it has to go somewhere," she explained. "You need to place it somewhere. And I think the script and Ryan and the why -- going back to the why, like what's gonna pull you out from this place of dealing with this by yourself, but to apply it to this project and to do honor to your brother. And it's exactly that."
Calling the character of Shuri a "blessing," the actress added: "I promised myself that I would honor God and I'd honor Chad because I have a talent and I have to use it. The reason why I have the role of Shuri is because of Chadwick because he said, 'This my sister, stop auditioning people.'"
Reminiscing on her audition with Boseman, Wright noted that the "why" came back for her to continue with the sequel. "I'm doing it for him. And as a family, collectively, we came together to do that and hoping that people feel that when they see it."
Admittedly, it wasn't an easy task for her to return to the role, as Shuri was notably the comic relief for much of the first film.
"If I'm honest, when I was thinking about ways in which we had to come back to continue, I was struggling with the thought of having to come back with Shuri being that ball of light and fun and energy," Wright shared. " was a bit scared of that. I was like, I don't know if that's what I can do right now. Because that version of Shuri... that's like a lot, you know, to exude that amount of energy. And I couldn't figure out how to do that without my brother."
"So when Ryan let me know the way in which we were gonna follow it is through just Shuri's perspective, I kind of decided that it was best for me to to pour my heart into it, like every bit of it and just tell the truth," she added. "And give that to you guys and pray that you feel it and pray that there's some sense of healing at the end."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.