A family reunion was had in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Just not one anyone expected.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the gifted Shuri (Letitia Wright) steps up to make sure there will always be a Black Panther to protect Wakanda. After the offscreen passing of her brother T’Challa, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, Shuri constructs a synthetic herb that replicates the abilities of the Black Panther. This includes the ritualistic journey to the Ancestral Plane all Black Panthers experience before waking up as a superhero.
While Wakanda Forever teases a reunion with Boseman’s T’Challa (however gauche that sounds), the movie instead brings back another figure from Marvel’s past. This time, a villain. While it’s an unexpected choice, for Shuri, it makes sense why she would see them instead of her dear brother.
Warning: Spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ahead.
In Wakanda Forever, Shuri reluctantly accepts her responsibility to become the new Black Panther. Driven by the urgency of Namor the Sub-mariner (Tenoch Huerta) on their doorstep, Shuri learns to split the difference between Wakanda’s superstitious traditions and its scientific progress.
In the first Black Panther released in 2018, the villain Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) burned all of Wakanda’s deposits of heart-shaped herbs. When Shuri creates her artificial herb and tests it on herself, she is more or less prepared to enter the Ancestral Plane and see someone familiar. Perhaps, hopefully, her brother. Anyone who can guide her in her fight against Namor.
Shuri meets family all right: Killmonger, with Michael B. Jordan back as his iconic Marvel villain who had some salient points about Wakanda’s protection of vibranium.
Why Shuri sees Killmonger in the Ancestral Plane
Mirroring T’Challa’s own story in Black Panther, Shuri spends most of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever deciding between duty and doing the right thing.
On one hand, Shuri knows she must protect Wakanda from Namor. He not only floods Wakanda but also murders Shuri’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). For Shuri, protecting her homeland and satisfying her vengeance are the same thing.
Therein lies the key to Killmonger meeting Shuri in the Ancestral Plane. The difference between T’Challa and Shuri is why they took the herbs. For T’Challa, taking the herb and becoming Black Panther was simply carrying on royal tradition; any threat to the kingdom, including Killmonger, was not yet known to T’Challa. For Shuri, taking the herb and becoming Black Panther are the means to accomplish a specific goal laced with lethal intent. The difference between T’Challa and Shuri is that Shuri is becoming Black Panther with the intention to murder Namor.
That’s why, as Killmonger tells Shuri, she actually secretly wanted to see him all along. Because she knew that someone like Killmonger — a person Everett Ross once described as having murdered so many people “like it was a video game” — would give her the guidance she seeks to do what she wants. Shuri wants to end Namor’s life. The only one ever in her royal ancestry to feel the way she does is Killmonger, for he too sought vengeance for his father.
One can make the argument that T’Challa felt vengeance once towards a certain Bucky Barnes for murdering his father (only to learn later it was actually Baron Zemo). But T’Challa learned quickly to know the difference between forgiveness and justice. Shuri never had to learn this lesson until Wakanda Forever.
Of course, Shuri denies all of this on the surface. She acts resentfully that she’s seeing Killmonger at all. But Killmonger knows why he’s there. In their scene together, Killmonger challenges Shuri to either be “noble” like T’Challa or do what needs to be done like Killmonger. When Shuri wakes up, it’s obvious why she refuses to tell anyone who she saw. She thinks Killmonger is right.
This internal conflict is reflected quite literally in Shuri’s Black Panther costume, a suit that’s mixed with both silver and gold ornaments. In the first Black Panther, T’Challa wore traditional, minimalist vibranium silver on his costume. It was in stark contrast to Killmonger. Prone to showing off style unnecessarily, Killmonger donned a more ostentatious gold necklace when he became Black Panther. Shuri appears wearing both silver and gold, which symbolizes that she has within her two extremely different ideas about what it means to be Black Panther. It’s only later in her fight with Namor that we see which side Shuri chooses.
The future of Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is yet to be fully decided. Shuri may have taken up the Black Panther mantle just to stop Namor. After Wakanda Forever, she could surrender the title to someone else — someone who might have better intentions with it than herself. Alternatively, Shuri might have learned exactly what her brother learned, and may choose to remain as Black Panther for years to come. Whatever the case, when it comes to being Black Panther, Shuri knows just how heavy is the head that wears the mask.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.