Ryan Coogler is ready to return to Wakanda.
It's been more than four years since Black Panther hit theaters, shattering box office records and becoming a global superhero smash. Now, Marvel is revisiting the powerful African nation with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the highly-anticipated sequel debuting Nov. 11. Even as the release date creeps closer, plot details have largely been kept under wraps, with Marvel sharing a tantalizing teaser earlier this summer at San Diego Comic-Con. But the new Wakanda Forever trailer, released Monday, is the best look yet at Wakanda's future — and how the nation is grappling with the loss of its king, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020).
Coogler is back as the director and co-writer of Wakanda Forever, and EW caught up with him to break down some of the trailer's biggest reveals. Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, the sequel finds T'Challa's beloved homeland grappling with its grief, while also navigating new threats. The trailer reintroduces several familiar faces, including Angela Bassett as the regal queen Ramonda, Lupita Nyong'o as the "war dog" spy Nakia, Letitia Wright as the brilliant princess Shuri, Winston Duke as the warrior M'Baku, and Danai Gurira as Dora Milaje leader Okoye.
After Boseman died, Marvel Studios announced that it would not recast the role of T'Challa. Instead, a new character would take up the Black Panther mantle. The trailer ends with a stunning look at the new Panther suit — but it doesn't reveal the identity of its wearer. (One clue: The new Panther appears to be a woman.)
Coogler began outlining the sequel soon after the first Black Panther hit theaters in 2018, only to rework it after Boseman's death. Returning without his friend and lead actor was emotional, but he describes the filmmaking process as "cathartic" — especially as a way to connect with the many cast and crew members who were also grappling with grief.
"I had to find a way that I felt like I could keep going and a way that our Black Panther family could keep going," Coogler explains. "I started to come up with a film that had elements of the film that we had just finished writing, but also applied the themes that the people who were hurting just as much as me could actually perform and execute and come out on the other side whole."
The trailer begins by juxtaposing shots of Wakanda and a new world: the underwater kingdom of Talocan. It's ruled over by the powerful leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta), making his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut. Coogler says he's long been a fan of the character, dating back to his childhood as a comic fan. "I would read them all the time before I became a full-time jock when I was younger and was just playing sports all the time," the director explains. "Even when I was doing that, I was still engaging in pop culture, watching Batman: The Animated Series or Power Rangers or the Batman movies. But I wasn't knee-deep in it, reading every book. Then, when I got to college, I found myself with a little more time to reengage with it again."
Instead of ruling over Atlantis, as he does in the comics, the Namor of Wakanda Forever hails from a new kingdom called Talocan, created for the film and inspired by ancient Mayan culture. It's a distinct nation with its own long history, but Coogler notes several key similarities between Talocan and Wakanda, describing both as a sort of "El Dorado" — an advanced civilization "hiding in plain sight."
For Namor himself, Coogler says he wanted to embrace the character's iconic look — right down to those signature ankle wings. "I think with making these types of movies, you've got to lean into the weird stuff, or you risk missing what makes it fun," Coogler says with a smile. "He's got really unique features and things that don't necessarily go together. He can breathe underwater, obviously, but he's got these little wings on his ankles. He's got pointy ears and walks around in his underwear. It's all fun, man."
The trailer also introduces Dominique Thorne as American inventor Riri Williams — a.k.a. Ironheart. The American teenager is a brilliant mind, much like Shuri, and she's using her incredible intellect to follow in the footsteps of the late Tony Stark. (After making her debut in Wakanda Forever, she'll star in her own Disney+ series, Ironheart, next year.) "The film deals with a lot of things, but one of them is foils — people who exist in contrast, but there's a thread of similarity," Coogler explains. "In this film, we get to see Shuri meet someone who has some things in common with her, but is also very, very different."
The lavish world-building of Wakanda Forever is on full display, and key Black Panther crew members like production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter (who both won Oscars for their work on Black Panther) are both returning for the sequel. Loki alum Autumn Durald takes over from Rachel Morrison as the sequel's cinematographer, and Coogler says he wanted to maintain the first film's rich world while also exploring new visual ideas. He points to the sequel's use of water and the color blue, as well as a switch from using spherical camera lenses to anamorphic ones.
"I think this film has the fog of loss over it, and anamorphic lenses warp the image a little bit," he explains. "Sometimes when you go through profound loss, it can warp how you look at the world."
The result, he hopes, is an emotional blockbuster that feels both epic and intimate. "What we were after was just making it feel tactile, even though it felt like a dream," Coogler explains. "The film should feel like a really wild dream that you would have, but where everything felt like it was really there."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters Nov. 11. Watch the trailer above, and stay tuned to EW.com for more exclusive coverage today.