Warning: Black Panther Wakanda Forever spoilers ahead.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is out in theaters now, and the long-awaited sequel had plenty of roles to fill. It had to be the next blockbuster installment in one of Marvel’s biggest franchises, a moving tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, and a launching pad for the next phase of the ongoing MCU saga. Not only does it introduce Namor and the inhabitants of Talokan, as well as lay the foundation for the Universe’s version of mutants, but it also features the latest in a long line of up-and-coming young superheroes who have been appearing throughout Phase 4: Riri Williams, known in the comics as Ironheart, who will appear in her own spin-off series on Disney + in 2023.
However, even though Riri’s debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is clearly meant to build anticipation for her own series and for her subsequent appearances on future team-ups, the way it is used in the film goes against that goal. Rather than being a whole person that audiences can engage with, Riri (played by Dominique Thorne) is treated as a plot device for all the characters and factions in the film to fight for, similar to how the films were used. Infinity Stones in the Infinity Saga. How has this happened? Let’s take a look.
Riri Williams: A Designated Debut
While at first glance, including a character like Riri Williams in Wakanda Forever isn’t a doomed prospect, the way it is introduced into the plot is incredibly forced. Following a prologue showing T’Challa’s funeral, the story proper begins with a vibranium detector being used by the CIA in the middle of the ocean to try to locate more of the miraculous metal, only for the US expedition team to find it. is attacked and killed by Namor and the warriors of the Talokan, an underwater civilization (and the MCU version of Atlantis). It is soon revealed that Riri Williams, an MIT student and engineering prodigy, is the one who designed the device. This puts her on Namor’s radar as a threat she needs to eliminate, something he orders Shuri and the Wakandans to do…or face an attack from her army.
However, Riri is not only unaware of all this until Shuri and Okoye arrive at her bedroom, but we barely have time to establish who he is or how he’s affecting things before the plot takes off.. The question of how the CIA got the detector in the first place without Riri’s knowledge is left up in the air. The more you think about it, the more you realize that the script juggles to justify the inclusion of Riri, and the film tries to distract the audience from this fact by quickly jumping into a chase scene involving Wakandans, Talokanils and the FBI. They try to claim it. Riri’s inclusion seems compelled not by the needs of the story, but by the simple fact that he apparently just has to be there, even if that means leaving the plot of the first act a tangled collection of scenes.
Questions but no answers
Although the way she’s shoehorned into the story is a mess, that it would be a manageable problem if Riri had a full story arc or served a coherent thematic purpose. However, it doesn’t do any of those things, instead functioning primarily as a chess piece for all the factions involved to come into conflict. The idea that Riri’s device could make the surface world aware of Namor’s kingdom is the reason he gives for needing to kill her, but this conveniently forgets the fact that the CIA already knows there is vibranium in the ocean. , and presumably they will try again to obtain it. Although the CIA blames the Wakandans for the attack on their expedition, any further investigation by the US government would undoubtedly reveal the existence of Talokan.
Shuri’s refusal to allow Namor to kill Riri is part of what drives a wedge between them despite Namor stating that he would prefer an alliance with Wakanda over conflict. Riri, for her part, is not a part of this conversation at all, instead being left in Talokan’s custody for the duration of this sequence while bigger characters discuss what to do with her. For a story with machinations built largely around where Riri is or who has access to her at any given time, is remarkably uninterested in what Riri thinks about everything that’s going on.. Do you regret having built the detector? Do you feel responsible for the growing tension between Wakanda and the Talokan? Are you angry with the government or your school for allegedly acting behind your back? If there are answers to these questions, the movie doesn’t deign to answer them.
We don’t really learn much about Riri’s personality, other than the basics: “she’s very smart” and “she’d rather not die.” It could be argued that most of her characterization is meant to take place in her solo series, where she is the lead and the story can spend more time developing her. This is true, but also further reinforces the way Wakanda Forever treats her as a plot device, not allowing it to have development and leaving the only rational purpose for its inclusion to be as an advertisement for its own series. What makes this even weirder is that Riri builds herself a superhero suit in the movie, but the story provides no motivation for her to model it after Iron Man, even though her superhero identity of Ironheart is literally a spin-off of him in the comics.
América Chávez and a dangerous boss
Nothing we’ve said so far about Riri and her use sinks Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as a movie. The fact that a secondary character, among many others, is belittled is something common in films of this magnitude. What makes the way Riri is treated remarkable is that it’s not the first time that “the new young hero making his film debut” is basically used as an object that all the heroes and villains scramble to capture. In fact, another instance of this occurred earlier this year with America Chavez in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In that movie, America is the being Scarlet Witch wants to take away because she needs the girl’s reality-hopping powers to find a universe where she can reunite with her sons, Billy and Tommy. Similarly, Doctor Strange tries to keep America out of Wanda’s clutches and thwart her plan. As with the Infinity Stones, America changes hands multiple times between the heroes and the villains. But unlike the Stones, America isn’t an inanimate object, and he’s not given many scenes where we learn a lot about who he is as a person. She has a brief backstory involving the possible death of her parents from the first use of her powers, and a brief story arc where she comes to believe in herself so she can hit Wanda in the ending, but as part of the movie in general it is more of a functional piece than a three-dimensional character.
The reason this matters is that both Riri and America are new heroines which are supposed to be part of the set that will carry this franchise through the next few years of stories. The MCU has made an effort to introduce a whole host of characters that could presumably be part of a hypothetical Young Avengers roster, such as the aforementioned Billy and Tommy Maximoff, Cassie Lang, Eli Bradley, Kate Bishop, and Kamala Khan. While some of these characters have been better developed than others, especially Kate and Kamala, who have already starred in their own Disney+ series, the fact that two major young heroines have been reduced to plot devices in their debut films is a worrying pattern. . If the MCU really wants us to root for these new heroes, they’ll have to find a better reason to include them in a story than “because the company asked us to.”
Here you can read all the questions that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has left us, and here our review of the movie.