‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ co-writer Joe Robert Cole talks about the blockbuster’s most shocking moments in spoiler-filled chat [Exclusive Video Interview]

SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE AND VIDEO INTERVIEW!

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole had to sit down and re-conceive the Marvel blockbuster in the wake of star Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death in the summer of 2020. A lot of their initial ideas remained in place. Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) and his undersea home of Talokan were always part of the “Black Panther” sequel script, as was the introduction of Riri Williams a.k.a. Ironheart (Dominque Thorne), and – most important – the reveal that T’Challa (Boseman) had a son with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) who was kept hidden from public view.

“The previous draft, prior to Chadwick passing, his son was a part of that narrative. And so I think we knew we wanted young T’Challa to be revealed at some point within the film,” Cole tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. “And the question along our journey of writing the script was when and how much of a presence should he have in the new iteration of the story?”

Cole says they toyed with introducing the young T’Challa, who shares his father’s namesake, earlier in the finished film – a notion that was a key part of the original script. “The first film really was much more introspective and focused on T’Challa’s journey and, in a lot of ways, his sense of grief in time loss,” Cole says. “He lost time during the blip [when Thanos finger-snapped half the universe out of existence in “Avengers: Infinity War”] and lost time with his son during that event. So it was much more of an intimate exploration of his journey.”

But with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” eventually becoming about how the collective community, particularly T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), moves on in the way of the king’s death, the idea to reveal young T’Challa as the concluding moment became clear.

“It was a really great coda to the movie and of speaking to the future. And that was one thing that Chad [believed]. He was such an optimistic person and always one of the ways that I think we wanted to honor him is that kind of forward-looking,” Cole says. “The movie’s about getting through grief and overcoming loss and finding a sense of optimism on the other end and the reveal of T’Challa’s son offers that in a very emotional way.”

Set in the aftermath of “Black Panther” as well as “Avengers: Endgame,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” focuses not just on Wakanda and its place in the hostile world, but Talokan, where Namor has ruled for centuries and kept his people safe from interlopers. The legendary Marvel character has a long history with heroes like Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four – but while he’s often positioned as a villain, Cole says they didn’t think of Namor as a bad guy.

“The approach to every character is about empathy – trying to understand their point of view, trying to get into their shoes and to see their actions and their words through their lens,” Cole says. “We apply that to all characters, but in applying that to an antagonist – no one sees themselves as a bad guy, so we try to find a point of view that is understandable and in some ways relatable.”

Cole says he and Coogler learned this trick while writing Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the original “Black Panther” and extended it to Namor for the sequel. It’s “this idea that it’s how the antagonist wants to go about dealing with their issue that moves them into the villainy, the area of villainy, more than their point of view itself,” he says. “Emotionally, that can help root you with that antagonist so that when they’re competing with your hero, there’s just emotion on both sides and it’s not just a one-sided fight. You think about a movie like ‘Heat,’ and De Niro and Pacino at the table. Who are you rooting for?”

“Wakanda Forever” is filled with twists and turns – none perhaps more shocking than the death of Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett in a performance that has generated some awards buzz already). Cole says the choice to kill the Wakandan leader after the death of T’Challa as well was “definitely a conversation,” but it needed to happen to help buttress the arc for Shuri.

“She’s a beloved character. She’s obviously an amazing actress. But when we were looking at Shuri’s arc and her journey and how we get the most impact in taking her to vengeance – giving her a darker turn as she continued to be resistant as she was working through her sense of grief, what could take her to a darker place? And that really felt like the most impactful thing that could happen to her,” Cole says. “She’s lost her brother, she’s lost her father, and now she’s lost her mother. So that takes her to a place where it feels earned when she wants to kill Namor…. It felt earned that she’s presented with the choice that she ultimately makes when she’s fighting Namor, one of reconciliation versus vengeance and war. To make it feel earned, we felt like we needed that emotional loss that the impact of what that would be.”

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is out now.

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