From tragedy to triumph: Making the impossible sequel to 'Black Panther'

The sudden news of Chadwick Boseman’s death in August sent shock waves around the world.

His portrayal of T’Challa, king of the fictional nation of Wakanda and its protector, the Black Panther, captured the hearts and minds of fans on a global scale. Initially introduced in "Captain America Civil War," it was his leading performance in the Ryan Coogler-directed "Black Panther" which cemented his place as a Hollywood icon and champion to communities who felt underrepresented on the silver screen.

Kevin Feige and the creative team at Marvel Studios were seemingly set on Boseman leading the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward, with both Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans bowing out of the franchise in the dying moments of Avengers Endgame. It’s no surprise that T’Challa, flanked by the army of Wakanda, were the first heroes to emerge from portals in the raucous finale. So, when the Oscar- and posthumous Emmy award-winning actor passed away after a secretive battle against cancer, it was no surprise that question was asked in between bouts of tears and the writing of eulogies: What would happen to the role of Black Panther in both the real world and the fictional world of Earth-616?

Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever movie cover

“It just felt like it was much too soon to recast…[t]he world is still processing the loss of Chad,” Kevin Feige told Empire Magazine. Production was swiftly delayed to give the cast, crew and fans time to process their grief and with a script rewrite required, Ryan Coogler set out to ask the question of what a "Black Panther" sequel looks like without its titular character. Echoing Stan Lee’s sentiment that the Marvel Universe was created to replicate the world outside our window, Feige and Coogler set out to make a sequel that dealt with grief, loss and legacy, elevating the side characters and the culture of Wakanda while acknowledging the impact Chadwick Boseman had on the world outside of comic book adaptations.

T’Challa’s sister and resident science whiz of the technologically advanced African nation, Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), steps into the forefront of the sequel, and if trailers and comic book lore are anything to go by, Shuri seems destined to pick up the mantle of Black Panther. But her journey to leader of Wakanda won’t come easy.

“Trials and tribulations make you who you are,” said Wright. “You either fold or you get up and go again. I feel like Shuri kept looking at me every day, asking me if I was gonna fold or go again.” It’s increasingly clear that the cast’s real emotions over the loss of their mentor and friend informed the performances on set.

Celebrating the legacy of Boseman is one thing, but a memorable hero’s journey requires an equally formidable antagonist. With Michael B. Jordan’s killer performance as Erik Killmonger still lingering in audience’s minds, it was key for Coogler that they found another “villain” whose sense of righteousness caused audiences and our lead characters to question their allegiances.

Enter King Namor.

Originally introduced by Marvel Comics in 1939, Namor fought the Axis powers alongside the likes of Captain America and Bucky during World War II. In the decades since, he has taken on the role of arrogant anti-hero, villain to the Fantastic Four and more recently, foil to T’Challa – two kings desperate to do what is right for their respective kingdoms and often coming to blows. Coogler’s initial script for "Black Panther" had a Namor post-credit scene, teasing an eventual clash of kingdoms and this tease informed the clash at the heart of "Wakanda Forever."

T’Challa’s decision to open up Wakanda to the rest of the world has unforeseen consequences for the underwater kingdom of Talocan, springing King Namor to take action against the surface world and putting him in direct conflict with Shuri, Queen Ramonda, Okoye, M’Baku, Nakia and the people of Wakanda. If Talocan sounds unfamiliar to long-time readers of Marvel Comics, that’s because Coogler and Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta wanted to reimagine Atlantis, doing for the culture and history of Mesoamerica what the original film did to showcase the vast iconography and soundscapes of the vast African continent. Huerta makes no secret of hoping that his portrayal of Namor changes how Latin American characters and their culture are portrayed on the big screen.

"Latin Americans are always the bad guys in Hollywood movies. And now we are the heroes — or an anti-hero, in this instance," Huerta said.

Honouring the legacy of a fallen icon while introducing an underwater kingdom, a new Black Panther, and furthering the overarching plot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is no mean feat, and we can’t wait to discover how it all unfolds in Marvel Studios' "Wakanda Forever," showing at Camana Bay Cinema from 11 Nov.

Oh, did we forget to mention the introduction of Iron Man’s successor, too?

This article was originally published in the November 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

You may also like