Look! Up In the Sky!: Josh Pearce and Arley Sorg discuss Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Wakanda Forever follows the events of the original Black Panther as well as some of the other Marvel titles, but importantly, it also follows the real-life event of Chadwick Boseman’s death – the actor who played Black Panther/T’Challa. The opening of the film is a tribute to Boseman, as well as the way he embodied the title character. Making effective use of silence, sound, imagery, and the raw emotions of the people who worked with Boseman, if you had any attachment at all to the first film or the actor (maybe even if you didn’t), you’ll find the tribute to be a powerful one.

With T’Challa gone, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) expects Shuri (Letitia Wright) to take up the mantle of both the Black Panther and rulership. Shuri isn’t sure that she wants to do either. Meanwhile, pressure is building from the outside world, as those without Wakanda’s technology and most precious resource, vibranium, start making demands.

Arley: I went into this knowing very little about what was in store. I didn’t even know who the antagonist was. All the surprises made the experience even better. I recommend doing the same, especially if you are a comic book fan! We can’t really review this movie without giving away a fair number of things. We can try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you haven’t seen Wakanda Forever yet and you want to maximize the pleasures of being surprised, cut out now.

Josh: The whole time I was watching Wakanda Forever I was like, Namor is just Mr. Nimbus from Rick and Morty.

Arley: Yeah, Mr. Nimbus is based on Namor from the comic books.

Josh: Good, I’m glad I got the right reference. I don’t know what to say about this movie. I liked some parts of it. The scenes and the messages about grief and mourning and loss are all really good. A lot of the movie was Shuri dealing with the loss of her brother, and her mom dealing with the loss also. And the whole nation mourning. It’s like what I said about the last Marvel film we saw: this is a good movie that keeps getting interrupted by Marvel stuff.

Arley: I loved everything about this movie!

Josh: Really.

Arley: I don’t think there’s anything I didn’t like. Beginning with the visually striking opening. The tribute to Boseman had me really emotional.

Josh: I was like, this is not something you really expect from a big corporate movie, to take that kind of personal note. But they did and it was nice.

Let’s talk about the elephant – or in this case, the fish – in the room. Similar to images of the Greek/Roman god Hermes/Mercury, the film’s aquatic antagonist, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), has itty bitty wings on his ankles.

There are different kinds of viewers for movies like these: comic book readers, superhero cartoon lovers, people who like most superhero content but who don’t like everything, and folks who are probably a bit more selective about which superhero content they’ll watch. Some people will be excited to see Namor, itty bitty wings and all. Some won’t know much about Namor but are used to going along with superhero logic, which is often… full of holes. But some will see those wings as silly, and will be seriously distracted by them through the entire movie.

Namor was first introduced in 1939 (two years before Aquaman), itty bitty wings and all. Even back then he had a problem with the surface world. He was one of the top characters during the “Golden Age” of comic books, along with Captain America and the Human Torch. Unlike those characters, who presented nearly saccharine heroism, Namor was relatively cranky, not to mention eager to fight the surface world. Arrogant, brash, unforgiving, he was an “antihero” long before it was a popular trope. Across the history of comic books he has been involved with pretty much every major team Marvel creators have thrown at readers. Following his popularity in comic books, he also made appearances in popular super hero cartoons.

If you’re a fan of these other iterations, a lot about the character in the movie will ring true, and you’ll be elbowing your friends and grinning throughout. For moviegoers who don’t come with a generous helping of superhero buy-in, wings on ankles and maybe one or two other Namor-related things might be pushing it.

The opening scenes are beautiful and moving, and it’s hard to imagine that the emotions on display are just actors doing their job. Everything feels warm and lovingly done. Once you move past this, Wakanda Forever gets into Shuri’s fairly standard hero’s journey: a struggle to decide what kind of hero she will be, along a path lined with doubt, and culminating in a big decision. Wright’s performance goes far towards bringing the viewer into the journey, as does the fact that her journey coincides and sometimes intersects with the journeys of other characters, most notably those of Namor and Okoye (Danai Gurira), and to some extent, a few others. Wakanda itself is on a similar journey, as one of the larger questions of the film is: what kind of relationship will Wakanda have with the rest of the world? The writing skillfully manages all these threads, so that you don’t really think about them unless you start looking for them.

If sensawunda is your thing, this is one of the better Marvel movies to watch. From settings to all the little innovations, from big science fictional craft to superpowered armor to intricately designed outfits, this is a feast for the eyes, with enough on display to reward rewatches. Moreover, in an era where we’ve seen a lot of superhero fight scenes (many of them being “meh”), the action sequences here were interesting and fun. Unlike so many superhero titles, where it just looks like CGI characters throwing punches at each other, or where there’s really no sense of risk or stakes, you can get a sense of limitations with these characters, and of vulnerability, which lends a greater tension to everything.

Importantly, for folks who haven’t really been centered by the mainstream film industry, Wakanda Forever continues and expands upon the work that was begun with the first film. Black characters, and in particular strong Black women, run the bulk of the movie, and the fictional Wakanda is a greater focus than it is in other Marvel movies.

Arley: There’s this larger conversation going on in this movie. One of the themes, I would say, is about marginalized people dealing with colonialization and racism. It shows the different ways these things can look, the ways that greedy people often take action. The subterfuge and betrayal by the Europeans acting against Wakanda and the overpowering and enslavement of Namor’s people, with resources at the center of it all. Importantly, it looks at the ways marginalized people can come into conflict with each other even though they have similar problems with colonizers. From the outset, they’re directly tying together Namor’s people and Shuri’s people and saying, you know, you are all linked in some ways, and have some similar problems with people who would take from you and control you.

Josh: It reminded me of what Bill Moyers says Lyndon B. Johnson told him, “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Creating conflict between different classes – in this case, it’s colonizers – but the exploiters in the situation just get away with it because everyone else is fighting each other. I thought the shift in the story was going to be when they start realizing what their commonality is, and that they’d attack the surface world, but that’s not exactly what happened. But, yeah I agree with that theme.

Arley: There are some minor themes running through the story. Like the conflict of technology versus tradition, which I think they touched on a little bit in Black Panther as well. Here they teased it out a little bit more and made it important to the central character’s journey. For example, Shuri doesn’t want to do the vision part of becoming the next Black Panther, she doesn’t want to follow the traditional steps, because she doesn’t believe in the spiritual.

Josh: I do like that. She had her vision and it was unexpected but cool. I liked that they kept unclear how they were going to resolve the central conflict between the two characters. I wasn’t sure what Shuri was going to do, so there was a nice balance in tension.

Arley: I saw it coming from the beginning, I never doubted. To me it’s a pretty standard character arc. But there were other surprises I didn’t see coming!

If you are a comic book fan there are so many things that will delight you in this movie, from the characters they use to personalities to body language. Folks who didn’t read these comic books but who enjoy superhero shows in general (and especially if you watch/watched superhero cartoons) will probably vibe on things as well. If you like a little more science – some might say “sense” – in your superhero stuff, there are a few moments that might have you shaking your head.

This one also takes huge liberties with the source material. Where Marvel comics based Namor’s people on Atlantis and Greco-Roman culture, this film relocates Namor, drawing heavily on Mayan (specifically Yucatecan) culture. Unlike Wonder Woman 1984 which has a white guy talking about Mayan civilization as if there are no Mayans around, Wakanda Forever develops truly imaginative world building and utilizes Mayan actors.

Josh: I liked how it was so multilingual. When they switched languages, the subtitles would change color, that was really cool. They smoothly showed how competent characters were, or how well they can execute whatever they’re doing. There were some great details in that. Did you like this one or do you like the first one better?

Arley: They’re completely different movies, so it’s hard to say if I liked one or the other better. But I would say this is one of my favorite superhero movies of recent times. I also feel like, even though they changed a lot from the source material, I love the changes. And it still feels closer to the comic books in so many cool ways than most of the recent Marvel movies, sort of like I was saying with Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness.

Josh: For me, there were some major sticking points, like the wings, which are kind of goofy. But everything else was pretty good. I think there’s got to be a balance and for some people, it will work, and for some it won’t. It didn’t miss as badly as Samaritan, that was worse. This is also a really long movie.

Arley: It is! But I barely noticed (laughs).


Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole, based on characters by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and Bill Everett

Starring: Letitia WrightLupita Nyong’oDanai GuriraWinston DukeAngela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Alex Livinalli, and Mabel Cadena

Black Adam: Arley’s Short Take

I enjoyed Black Adam but it’s probably even more for the real superhero nerds than Wakanda Forever. Dwayne Johnson is undeniably a great pick for this role. He has the physique and the face for it. The role itself doesn’t call for a huge range in terms of acting – I think Johnson can be a terrific actor, but this one doesn’t need any special level of performance. Bodhi Sabongui does a good job as Amon Tomaz, a kid who immediately sees Adam as a hero and wants him to fulfill his hero potential, similar to the kid in Samaritan and many, many other narratives featuring a male superhero lead. In most ways this film is standard superhero fare, albeit with an antihero. Similar to what often happens with Namor stories, the antihero is immediately thrust into conflict with other superhumans. Comic book fans will be both surprised and delighted to see the Justice Society as the ones at odds with Adam. Well, it’s the Justice Society, more or less, in similar ways that many superhero films take liberties with which characters they use and how they are presented. Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) here, to me, feels more Thanagarian (an alien race, which would make this more probably the Hawkman from the Justice League….) than anything, and some important Justice Society members that you might expect to see for an event like this are not only missing but never mentioned. I’ll leave the rest of the tweaks and embellishments as surprises, but one change I was thoroughly glad to see was having a Black actor play Hawkman. Still, as “courageous” as some of the casting choices in superhero films have been lately, the most iconic superhero roles seem to remain reserved for white actors. Comic book details aside, the action in the first third of the movie is pretty fun, the rest levels out to fairly expected stuff. The effects are mostly good, with moments of obvious CGI, but never getting bad enough that you are pulled out of the movie: it just requires a bit more superhero buy-in. There are pops of humor and some cool visuals, and the plot is… alright. There are also some cool cameos. Definitely stick around for the post credits scene. All told, Black Adam has more in common with Shazam! than, say, The Batman, but less humor than Shazam! had. There is an interesting sociopolitical commentary going on in this one, not just about what constitutes a hero, but also about the idea of heroism and police or military-kinds of action(s) being imposed on or brought into other cultures. The subtext is: you assume you know what we need but you never asked us, you just came in and did what you want to do. Anyways, if you really enjoy superhero content, you’ll probably enjoy Black Adam. It’s Justice League-ish, I suppose, if anything. But less dark. If you’re a comic book reader who loves these characters, and who is excited to see the DC cinematic universe expand a little more, good news: a lot of the things they do here are better than many of the other versions we’ve seen.

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by: Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, based on the characters by Otto Binder & C.C. Beck and reenvisioned by Jerry Ordway, Geoff Johns, and David S. Goyer; Justice Society created by Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Quintessa Swindell, Marwan Kenzari, Bodhi Sabongui, Mohammed Amer, James Cusati-Moyer, Jalon Christian, and Benjamin Patterson

Josh Pearce, Arley Sorg (by Laurel Amberdine)

ARLEY SORG, Senior Editor, has been part of the Locus crew since 2014. Arley is a 2022 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award recipient. He is also a 2021 and 2022 World Fantasy Award finalist as well as a 2022 Locus Award finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. He is a 2022 Ignyte Award finalist in two categories: for his work as a critic, and for his essay “What You Might Have Missed” in Uncanny Magazine. Arley is Associate Editor and reviewer at Lightspeed & Nightmare magazines, columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and interviewer at Clarkesworld Magazine. He grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and lives in the SF Bay Area. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he can be found at arleysorg.com – where he has started his own “casual interview” series with authors and editors – and on Twitter (@arleysorg).

JOSH PEARCE has stories and poetry in Analog, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cast of Wonders, Clarkesworld, IGMS, Nature, and more. Find him on Twitter: @fictionaljosh, or at fictionaljosh.com. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.

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