Can Marvel strike Oscar gold twice with the “Black Panther” series? Yes — in fact, as yet another Best Picture contender, “Wakanda Forever” could even surpass the first film’s three historic craft wins and six nominations. That’s because director Ryan Coogler not only made an emotionally stirring tribute to late “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, but also raised the stakes with the introduction of the ancient underwater civilization of Talokan.
The sequel is set against Wakanda princess Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) rite of passage and the power play of Talokan King Namor (Tenoch Huerta). The Atlantis-inspired Talokan functions as a powerful parallel kingdom and a major threat to Wakanda, requiring its own ambitious and meticulous world building.
“Black Panther” represented an Oscar breakthrough for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s culturally dominant superhero films. Production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter — the architects of the MCU’s Afrofuturistic version of Wakanda — became the first Black artists to win their respective categories, while composer Ludwig Göransson won his first Academy Award by taking a deep dive into African music. All three could win again.
Additionally, “Black Panther” earned nominations for original song (“All the Stars”), sound editing, and sound mixing (the last two awards now consolidated into the single category of Best Sound). Look for “Wakanda Forever” to reprise these nominations, with Rihanna’s beautiful tribute to Boseman, “Lift Me Up,” standing a good chance of winning Best Original Song.
And it’s likely “Wakanda Forever” could top its predecessor: DP Autumn Durald Arkapaw (“Loki”) looks to snag the MCU’s first cinematography nomination while also being in the hunt to finally break the Best Cinematography glass ceiling. In addition, nominations could come to previously overlooked VFX and makeup/hairstyling, the latter led by the returning makeup artist Joel Harlow and hairstylist Camille Friend. Both crafts are made more complex by the interplay between Wakanda and Talokan.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Beachler returns to Wakanda, where the citizens mourn the tragic passing of T’Challa. She was tasked by Coogler with giving us glimpses of new locations within the country, such as the capital city of Birnin Zana, where all the districts of Wakanda converge. In addition, we venture into a vestige of Wakanda’s past, the North Triangle, which was inspired by ruins in Zimbabwe.
For Talokan, Beachler prepared a 400-page bible (similar to the one she devised for Wakanda) over the course of two years. The filmmakers decided to make Talokan more grounded than the mythical Atlantis, rooting it in Mesoamerican civilizations (mainly the Mayans). They determined its location and how the characters learned to survive undersea. The city is modern, constructed primarily of stone, and indicative of Mayan architecture, colors, and iconography.
The wardrobes for the Wakandans are an extension of what Carter established in the first film. In returning to her Oscar-winning work, she wanted to “groom it.” This included dressing everyone in white for T’Challa’s mourning procession — making it more celebratory in the process — as well as showcasing a wardrobe upgrade in tech and armor to combat the Talokan.
Carter began her plunge into the underwater civilization by consulting with historians about Mayan culture. This allowed her to infuse the looks with the same kind of authenticity that Wakanda had. And yet because of the fantasy element, she also had the latitude to incorporate deep-sea elements into their looks, since this civilization had existed under water for thousands of years. Namor’s costumes make it appears as if he’s traveled through time; Carter and the costume team used a lot of kelp to make his headdress and hand-woven cape, and added shells and beads.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Durald Arkapaw was tasked with conveying the visual looks of Wakanda and Talokan, each possessing its own warmth and beauty above and below water, with some very striking color palettes. But there is greater scope here, given the epic destruction and battles, and also greater intimacy, given Shuri’s emotional journey. At the same time, a sense of grief infuses the cinematography with darkness and golden nostalgia.
The cinematographer captured the action magnificently, in the visceral style that Coogler requires. The spotlight car chase from “Black Panther” receives a more thrilling encore with multiple vehicles and Dominique Thorne as genius inventor Riri Williams/Ironheart in her Iron Man-like high-tech suit. Plus, the large-scale hand-to-hand fight sequences boast more complicated choreography and camera work than seen in the previous film.
Makeup and Hairstyling
Oscar winner Harlow (“Star Trek”) continued to pull from traditions and rituals of actual African tribes for his Wakandan makeup work. The same level of focus was required when extrapolating the Mayan culture for the Talokans, which had its roots in the traditions of the past but also valuable tech access to vibranium. The look of the makeup choices were directly pulled from each civilization, but if a look couldn’t be traced back to real traditional looks then it was eliminated.
Friend’s hairstyling for the Wakandans was once again inspired by such African tribal groups as the Senegalese warriors, Zulu tribe, and Maasai people. Worshiping the sun and moon was a common thread connecting the Mesoamerican tribes and cultures who influenced Friend’s Talokan looks, and the round shapes in their hair are meant to evoke the celestial bodies.
For “Wakanda Forever,” Göransson rediscovered lost Mayan music in Mexico City and then reimagined it to convey the Talokan culture. Recording sessions took place in Mexico and Lagos, Nigeria, for other influences. By day in Mexico City, Göransson began recording the distinctive Mayan sounds of the indigenous flutes, shells, shakers, and drums. At night, he worked with contemporary Mexican artists, rappers, and singers, writing songs for the movie that appear on the soundtrack.
“Árboles Bajo El Mar,” one of the key songs, co-written and performed by Vivir Quintana with Mare Advertencia, is a haunting piece that occurs during Namor’s origin story, in which his mother is forced to move into the ocean to escape the brutal assault of the Talokan.
Anticipation was high for “Lift Me Up”: Rihanna’s first solo release since 2016 immediately shot to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, her highest ever debut as a lead artist. Coogler wanted to collaborate with the singer/songwriter, knowing she was at a point in her life when she was balancing career with motherhood. This was an important link to “Wakanda Forever,” in which the women of Wakanda move to the forefront of leadership with the passing of T’Challa. The track’s ties to the production run deep, too: Coogler and Göransson are co-writers alongside Rihanna and Tems, and Durald Arkapaw directed the music video.
In devising the sound of Talokan, the returning sound team of Steve Boeddeker (supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer), Benjamin Burtt (supervising sound editor), David C. Hughes (sound designer), and Brandon Proctor (re-recording mixer) took a similar approach to Wakanda. Whereas the sound of Wakanda was built around tech, ships, and weapons mostly based on African birds, animals, or instruments, the sound of Talokan has a constant theme of water throughout, but also Mesoamerican and Caribbean sounds.
For example, the caves contain the sounds of drips, water, and waves passing above along with sounds of animals and percussion sprinkled throughout. The masks of the Talokan “rebreathers” presented a challenge: The team was initially concerned about selling the idea of using these masks, but figured out a way of making the sound of water simultaneously believable and scary. In addition, the sound of Namor’s high-flying ankle wings were made stranger by adding rattlesnakes.
Wētā FX, ILM, Cinesite, and Digital Domain are back along with production VFX supervisor Geoffrey Baumann to tackle the war between Wakanda and the Talokan. Among the highlights: the Williams/Ironheart suit of armor and another high-tech surprise, as well as everything associated with the underwater city and its vibrant culture. This was done by Wētā and includes the mining mission in the opening scenes, and sub-surface shots in the final battle. There’s dynamic use of photoreal water throughout.
For Shuri’s tour of Talokan, there are extensive CG environments that boast a bustling population, gardens, marketplace, temple, sports ground, and hydrotube transport links. There was special care to ensure the scenes below water were as realistic as those above.
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