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'Wakanda Forever' hopes to replicate the success of 'Black Panther'


Marvel's Black Panther has returned to the screen, minus the star who originally brought him to life. Actor Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in 2020. But the film "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" will attempt to replicate the record-breaking success by telling a new story and honoring Boseman's legacy at the same time. Glen Weldon from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast is here to tell us all about it. Glen, welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: You know, Glen, when I saw the original "Black Panther" movie, I was a little concerned when I walked away from it. I was already thinking about the sequel and how often sequels disappoint from the original.

WELDON: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: So it has big shoes to fill.

WELDON: Oh, it really does. Look; this film just hit people in a different way. And in this movie, the sequel, the absence of Chadwick Boseman is palpable. You know, his death is dealt with head on. It drives the plot, actually, because the world now sees Wakanda as defenseless and starts making moves to exploit its resources. But it does shift the focus away from T'Challa, played by Boseman, to his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. And actually, the film does that a lot. The - divides the action between a lot of the women in Black Panther's life, like his mother, Queen Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, who gets a lot more to do in this movie, which is great, and she does it fiercely. She is serving.


ANGELA BASSETT: (As Queen Ramonda) We know what you whisper. They have lost their protector.

WELDON: Oh, she's so good.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And you know what? I think there was a lot of emotion when Chadwick Boseman died about recasting the character T'Challa. I always knew that that was not going to happen because there's...

WELDON: Right.

MARTÍNEZ: ...Always going to be a Black Panther hero. I mean, T'Challa took the mantle from T'Chaka, his father. So they traded one hero for several. But heroes are really only as good as their villains, so who's the bad guy in this one?

WELDON: All right, that's Prince Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta. He is the ruler of this undersea realm that goes to war with Wakanda for reasons it's best not to think too hard about. They don't quite hang together.


TENOCH HUERTA: (As Prince Namor) This place is amazing. The air is pristine. My mother told stories about a place like this, a protected land with people that never have to leave, that never have to change who they were.

WELDON: Now, A, you know the comics, right?


WELDON: So you know Namor has a very distinctive look. He's got these green Speedos and these little wing ankles to let him fly. They look great on the page, but in live action, you have to work a little harder to bring real gravitas when you're standing there hovering, trying to be imposing.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

WELDON: Meanwhile, your little feety wings are going - (imitates fluttering). It's tough to pull off, but he does.

MARTÍNEZ: I've seen the trailers of him flying around. I kind of dig it. So that's just me.


MARTÍNEZ: So, Glen, do you think this new film captures that same magic without Chadwick Boseman?

WELDON: I mean, that's the real question, right? "Wakanda Forever" is bookended by scenes in which the characters get to grieve and celebrate both T'Challa and Boseman. Those scenes are there for a reason. They're to let the characters do that. But they're also to let the audience do it as well. And, A, I do think there is something special about the whole idea of Wakanda as a place. Here's this advanced Afrofuturist utopia that's been hidden from the world, so it offers a vision of Black experience, of Black excellence that is untouched by colonialism, untouched by slavery. There is a very simple power in that idea.

And if you think about it, all superhero stuff asks, what if? That's its appeal. That's what it does - wish fulfillment. What if I could fly like Superman? Here, though, the what-if just comes from a deeper place. It comes from pain. And I think the vision of Wakanda works on people a lot more profoundly than a lot of other superhero stuff does. "Wakanda Forever" knows that and really taps into it.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Glen, thanks.

WELDON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.