Warning: Article contains spoilers for the new Black Panther sequel
While Black Panther: Wakanda Forever went through some major changes due to the passing of Chadwick Boseman, something that didn’t change was who the film’s antagonist was going to be. According to the film’s co-writer, Joe Robert Cole, in an interview with Rolling Stones India, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) was always part of their plans for the sequel.
“Ryan talked to us all about it in terms of expanding the world of the first Black Panther movie to really incorporate another civilization, another community of color to really broaden out the world. And we wanted, similar to Wakanda, to make Atlantis feel like a place that was real in the world.”
Of course, alterations have been made to the character for his depiction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, Namor, aka the Sub-Mariner, is the ruler of Atlantis. Within the MCU, K’uk’ulkan, aka Namor, is the ruler of Talokan. According to director/co-writer Ryan Coogler, the film did that to differentiate Wakanda Forever from past depictions of a city sunk into the sea.
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“So we had started that work of rooting Talokan to an ancient Mayan community, that kind of broke away and hid the depths of the ocean and really digging into the meso-American history of the Mayan people. That was always there, and we always knew we wanted Namor to be our antagonist. I think early on, they kicked around different ideas on who that might be. But by the time I was really in the fold, Namor was the guy.”
About midway through the film, Namor launches an attack on Wakanda that sees the city flooded and lives lost. In response, Shuri (Letitia Wright) becomes the new Black Panther. Having recreated the Heart-Shaped Herb, Shuri takes it and reunites with a family member on the ancestral plane. Instead of who she was expecting, she’s greeted by N’Jadake/ Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), the first film’s antagonist.
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“We always wanted to have Michael return, and I feel like it was always going to be in the ancestral plane with Shuri having taken the potion. The question was always like, how do you achieve the thing I think that you’re talking about? How do you make it more than just more than just, everyone’s excited because Michael’s amazing, and the character’s amazing? How is it relevant to Shuri’s journey and become a pivot point for her character?”
How did they accomplish that? Well, in the first film, Killmonger’s journey was about vengeance, anger, and frustration due to his father’s death. Those same feelings were what Cole and Coogler tried to lay in Shuri early on. The “anger of losing someone, the sense of loss.” And then how those feelings would escalate following Namor’s attack.
“We just tried to build on that, so that he is presenting her with a choice of: Is she going to move towards the direction that Killmonger would move? Or is she going to do something different? The idea was to successfully build the stakes for her so that would resonate. So it would feel earned that she would feel that sort of [yearning for] vengeance.”
The thing that Cole loved about the Killmonger scene in Wakanda Forever was getting his point of view on how he changed Wakanda:
“Killmonger came in and spoke to the question of, Am I my brother’s keeper? And how Wakanda had not looked out for the globe. Here you have Ramonda the Queen, who is diametrically opposed — she was much more isolationist than T’Challa was — who saves RiRi, this African-American teenager. There is an argument that prior to Killmonger, that might not have happened. So were able to make that scene not only relevant to Shuri’s character, but also relevant to the nation of Wakanda.”