The world grieves for a cultural icon who was beloved on and off-screen in Chadwick Boseman. But the lingering question for fans, and especially Disney is: how does Black Panther move forward without him? Well, I think we have some options – three of which are bad and one that will be really great — but very hard…
Before we get into the thought exercise of trying to plan out a path for Black Panther 2, and the MCU writ large, I would like to address the elephant in the room head on – I am sad. I am legitimately sad about Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death.
Enough has been said on the internet about his unique talent, and his incredible part in bringing African American culture — in many different roles — to the forefront of the American consciousness. I simply don’t have the vocabulary to add anything unique to that very earnest, intentional, and genuine conversation. So I will settle with this – Boseman’s thoughtful performances, in all his films, especially Black Panther, are a beacon of light for our nation which is at a near breaking point in terms of social issues and the current state of our divided politics. Though, as King T’Challa in particular, Boseman was a role model for a huge swath of people: kids, adults, black people, white people, and, even our nation in general.
So, yes, I’m sad. We lost an incredibly talented man, but also a living, breathing, goal of unity, strength, and respect.
Please know that I’m not trying to minimize Boseman’s death in this exercise. It’s awful and I am genuinely heartbroken for his family.
While it is natural to want to take a step back and mourn the terrible loss we’ve experienced, the sad truth of the matter is that movie-making is still a business. With this in mind, the reality of the larger creative scope demands that the people at Disney, Kevin Feige at Marvel, and director Ryan Coogler, are now under an enormous amount of pressure to start making some quick decisions because there is A LOT at stake for the MCU.
The first Black Panther raked in over $1.35 BILLION dollars in the international box office and even earned the first ever Best Picture nomination for Marvel Studios. Even more concerning for Marvel Studios is they have already announced Black Panther 2 — which is not only slated to be released May 6, 2022, but the production was scheduled to begin a mere six months from the day this article is being written. There’s a lot to consider in terms of money, story, and how to most appropriately handle this very sensitive situation — all while trying to keep the giant beast of the MCU moving forward.
While I do not particularly care about the immediacy of the business side for Disney and Marvel studios, though it is very important, I do care about the story Black Panther 2 has to explore and what it means for the characters within that universe.
As I write this, I’m trying to keep Boseman’s words in Black Panther in mind: “In my culture, death is not the end. It’s just the stepping off point.” So, let’s look at the Black Panther franchise together, and figure out how to move forward in Chadwick Boseman’s memory.
The goal is to theoretically step in director Ryan Coogler’s perspective and be accountable for the direction of how to move the Black Panther forward without Chadwick Boseman. And, not only that, but address it in spite of the overwhelming grief.
If Boseman’s death doesn’t necessitate a full re-write of Black Panther 2, I am sure it comes awfully close and now the creative team has to tackle Boseman’s absence on top of it all. So this potential rewrite is going to need A LOT of effort, story savvy, and it has to be done within a very compressed time period to meet Marvel’s extensively planned out calendar of releases.
So, here are the best options I can see right off the jump in no particular order:
Option 1: The re-cast
While Marvel is never above recasting a role (see: Terrence Howard as Colonel James Rhodes in Iron Man), I don’t see this as the answer for Black Panther 2 for a couple of reasons. First, it was much easier to recast Rhodey in Iron Man because he was not the lynchpin of a multi-billion dollar franchise. Secondly, whoever lands the role as T’Challa will inevitably draw comparisons to Boseman that is neither fair to that actor, nor to Boseman’s legacy.
Recasting is the brute force method that would work if the public maintained an open perspective, but that very rarely happens – especially with roles as beloved as T’Challa. To that end, recasting could allow all aspects of the production to remain the same in terms of schedule, story, and would require the least amount of work to retool the franchise. Save for, of course, finding the next T’Challa — which would be a whole production unto itself. Odds: slim.
Option 2: The Crazy button
You remember the easy button from Staples? Well, this is the crazy button: find a way to bring back Michael B. Jordan as a reformed Killmonger. Does it make sense? Nope. Would it undercut many of the themes and undo the powerful ending of the first Black Panther? Yup. But, this is a comic book movie where logic is rarely employed and the writers can bring anyone back in any form they please.
I’m not in love with this option either, but is there a world where Killmonger was somehow enlightened by his experience in the first film and could potentially be brought back to life with some magical force that exists within the MCU (say by Dr. Strange)? Yeah, I think there’s a compelling, (albeit insane) argument to be discussed.
On a side note, Michael B. Jordan is an incredibly gifted actor with enough chops, star power, and inherent story DNA from the first Black Panther, to inherit the title character from Boseman. Part of me would love to see Jordan take the role and make it his own through the lens of a reformed Killmonger just because of the sheer audacity and story guts it would take to produce. This is, however, the crazy button and I do not see it happening.
There would be some pretty big obstacles to overcome in terms of writing, getting the actors on board, rearranging hectic schedules, and finding just the right balance for a marketing campaign. It could be done, but I seriously doubt it would sit well with people. Odds: No frakking chance.
Option 3: Cancel or postpone Black Panther 2
Canceling or postponing Black Panther 2 is probably the right choice to move Black Panther forward without Chadwick Boseman. Let everyone take a step back, breathe, and give the proper amount of time to digest not only the tragedy, but a proper plan on what to do. Will it happen? NO WAY. There’s too much money to be made. There are too many jobs at stake, and there’s the larger storytelling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be considered.
Not only are the MCU story beats planned out far in advance, but there is now a huge void left to fill with the departure of massive stars like Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, and especially, Robert Downey Jr.. The MCU needs it’s stars to keeping filling seats and it is obvious that Boseman, as Black Panther, was the planned choice to be the face of the Avengers franchise going forward to fill void left behind.
Canceling Black Panther 2 would put a damper on those plans and it would make the lives of those who run the MCU that much more difficult as it relates to the overarching MCU scheme. While it is the most respectful choice, postponing the film is just kicking the proverbial can down the road while still damaging the ever important MCU schedule. Odds: What’s lower than slim but above ‘no frakking chance’?
Option 4: The Queen Of Wakanda
Now this is an . . . elegant . . . option. Let’s make the fan favorite, Shuri (Letitia Wright), the new queen of Wakanda, and the Black Panther. This would require a FULL REWRITE, but we’re probably there anyway – so what would be the big deal?
How To Get There
With permission from Boseman’s estate, you go the route J. J. Abrams paved with Star Wars and Carrie Fisher. Like with Fisher in The Rise Of Skywalker, Coogler could use Abrams’ method of cutting in unused footage from Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War, and both Avengers films in which Boseman starred. Cobble together a sequence of events that would require King T’Challa’s death or self-sacrifice to save Wakanda (with a little aid from digital wizardry) and Shuri is next in line to take the throne as she is his sister.
Once the story deals with T’Challa’s death/self sacrifice at the beginning of our imagined Black Panther 2, the movie can be freed up to deal with whatever fresh narrative it wants to tell with Shuri. But, the film can exist on two levels. First, as Shuri’s origin story. Second, as a memorial to Boseman the man, as well as T’Challa the King (think Paul Walker and Fast And Furious 7). Perhaps we can have a fitting send off for T’Challa in the same way we had for Tony Stark (albeit in whatever form that most befits a king as opposed to a self centered billionaire.)
In our film, the spine of the story will be Shuri being forced to overcome challengers, political maneuvering, vicious battles, and after a long internal struggle – accept her role as the heir.
Shuri’s journey is to make immature mistakes but also find the strength to discover her own power, self confidence, and the mental wherewithal to overcome her brother’s memory and fulfill the role as Queen of HER people and the Black Panther.
Immediately after her brother’s unexpected death, however, Shuri would be upset, depressed, and angry. T’Challa’s death changes something in her – she goes from being the plucky strong woman we witnessed in previous films to someone who is far more jaded.
Most of all, though, Shuri will be angry. She’ll be angry at her brother for dying. She’ll be angry at Wakanda for being open to the world and using that as a crutch to blame for T’Challa’s death. But mainly she’ll be angry with herself because she feels she cannot be the leader her brother ever was. Perhaps she initally she refuses the call of being the hero because she is happy with her life as a scientist and devotes her life to her work. Maybe her first goal is to bring her brother back, or even find a way to prevent death. But, then, something happens to throw her world upside down.
Perhaps one of the aforementioned challengers forces her to take action because of a threat to T’Challa’s memory. Let’s also say she even wins the challenge in a unique way that only Shuri’s technological prowess would allow her to do — which would help bridge the gap between the old Wakandan ways her brother so devoutly upheld, and the new age of Wakanda her brother eventually put into motion. But wait, all this sounds very familiar, right? Yep, because it was in the comics.
Within the pages of the Black Panther #5 vol. 1 and 2, Prince Namor of Atlantis (alluded to in Avengers: End Game) tries to recruit King T’Challa for a group a supervillains but T’Challa turns him down. As such, Namor and a group of his cronies fight T’Challa leaving him comatose and unable to fill his role as king. Per wikipedia:
Queen Ororo nominates Shuri as [T’Challa’s] successor, and she successfully completes the various trials, granting herself access to the heart-shaped herb. However, when she consumes the herb, the Wakandan Panther God does not imbue her with the powers of the Black Panther, instead rejecting her due to her lifelong jealousy of her brother’s mantle and her arrogance in its presence. When the powerful villain Morlun threatens to annihilate Wakanda entirely, Shuri takes on the Black Panther identity and outfit anyway, and manages to both save Wakanda and resurrect her comatose brother.
There you have it, that’s your story for Black Panther 2.
There would, of course, have to be a few changes – such as Shuri reviving her comatose brother. That would have to go. But, the direction is right there – the inciting incident of the film is Namor vs. T’Challa, Namor defeats T’Challa but is eventually beaten back by Wakandan forces and is forced to retreat from their borders. All within the first two acts we deal with the fallout of the battle, Shuri’s self doubt (maybe she considers cutting Wakanda off from the world again?), the rejection of the Wakandan Panther God, there’s a big funeral/ memorial and then after the funeral (or maybe even during it), the real big bad shows up to overtake Wakanda. The arrival of the big bad, and all it entails, is what pushes Shuri on the path of the quintessential hero.
There is a real sense of growth and change for Shuri, Wakanda, and the Black Panther identity within even the very beginnings of this construct.
Since we already have a strong affection for the characters and setting (due to the last films) we don’t have to waste time with more setup than we need. The stakes are personal, yet large enough to warrant the kind of change we need in the film, and it allows Shuri to discover why she’s important.
We’ll also have to change the main villain of the film from Morlun to someone else – but we’ll get there in a second. Let’s first chat the most important aspect of the film we’re making, and why we’re here in the first place: theme.
What is the theme?
The first Black Panther worked so well because it was a story about self discovery that just happened to feature superheroes. T’Challa had to discover why he was right to hold the title of Black Panther and what it took to be a leader in the wake of his father’s death. It also asked us what it meant to be black in America and what separated the haves from the have-nots.
Our Black Panther 2 will feature a similar theme of finding ones identity in a world left in shambles, but it will ask the central question of what does it mean to actually BE the Black Panther? What is the Black Panther? Does the heart shaped flower give the power? Or does it come from within? Do you need the suit to be Black Panther? Does being Black Panther mean the you can fight really well, or does being Black Panther mean you have to be willing to sacrifice everything you love for the sake of your people?
Remember, Shuri will see T’Challa sacrifice himself for Wakanda at the beginning of our imagined Black Panther 2, and maybe she hates him for it because of the burden and self doubt it imposes on her. But at the end of our film, she finally understands that it is not the flower, or even the Wakandan Panther God, that bestows power to the Black Panther. But, rather, it’s the self-sacrifice and burden of being the Black Panther that imbues it power. That is a fantastic personal arc and completely redefines the title of Black Panther itself. Instead of brute strength and the incredible fighting skills, the Black Panther transforms into a goal any person can achieve with whatever skills they best employ.
The theme also ultimately serves the memory of Chadwick Boseman himself. As a man of integrity, he helped give a voice to people who felt disenfranchised, and also helped curate a conversation on social awareness as well as the impact of many voice uniting as one. Through Shuri, we can see that many voices can act as one under the title of Black Panther – all equal and able to bear the mantle with whatever talents they possess.
Ok – Who’s The Big Bad?
Who’s the villain in our potential sequel? While Namor The Atlantian is a cool idea – it reeks too much of what DC is doing right now with Aquaman and that is a route from which I would want to distance myself. This, of course, doesn’t mean we can’t feature Namor in this film, but think of him as the catalyst for the events of our film like Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in Captain America: Civil War.
Here’s a cool fact from the comics too – remember the group to which Namor tried to recruit T’Challa? It was called “The Cabal”. It’s a secret council of supervillains run by none other than Victor Von Doom, aka: Doctor Doom.
That’s right, instead of Morlun being the big bad for this film, it should actually be Doctor Doom – who is one of the top five greatest villains in the history of Marvel.
Doom makes sense because Disney recently acquired the rights of the Doctor Doom character (along with the Fantastic 4 , X-men, Deadpool and others) with their recent purchase of 20th Century Fox Studios.
By introducing Doom into the MCU via Black Panther 2, it now has an organic way to involve the other characters they just acquired. Perhaps opening Wakanda gave the world the tech to further develop space travel which would allow for more metahumans like the Fantastic Four, the appearance of Silver Surfer, even draw the ire of one Galactus (who could serve as the next big bad and take the place of Thanos). This exposure of Wakanda is important because it’s T’Challa’s legacy but it also gives a reason to be fearful of intruders. Namely, Doctor Doom.
Why would Victor Von Doom care about Wakanda? Because his vanity is what makes him terribly dangerous, and he looks for anything to prolong his life and make himself indestructible (hence the metal armor hiding a tiny little scar on his face.) Wakanda holds the source of all the vibranium on the planet, and it’s only fitting that Doom would want the vibranium to make himself indestructible.
Why does Doom work?
The villains of the MCU have always served as mirrors for our heroes – whether it was Red Skull and Captain America, Loki and Thor, T’Challa and Killmonger, Tony Stark and The Mandarin, and so on. So too will Victor Von Doom serve as a mirror for Shuri.
Like Shuri, Doom is obsessed with technology, is the ruler of a little known country, Latveria, and possesses genius intellect. While he may be the rightful heir to Latveria, he actually chose to go down a more academic route to pursue his knowledge, and turns down the role of ruler.
Of course in our version of Black Panther 2, Shuri also intially turns down the role of Queen for her own pursuit of knowledge. So, in our world, Doom shares a lot of traits with Shuri. But, at the same time, he is her opposite.
Doom uses his power for his personal gain, where Shuri uses her intellect to provide for her people and save those who need help (see: Bucky and Vision) But the mirror doesn’t stop there, Jack Kirby created Doctor Doom in the image of Death himself. “It was the reason for the armor and the hood.” said Kirby. He continued, “Death is connected with armor and the inhuman-like steel. Death is something without mercy, and human flesh contains that mercy.” We have seen Shuri be nothing but compassionate and merciful in her efforts throughout her appearances in the MCU – again, see: Bucky and Vision. She is not evil by any stretch. Kirby, though, says that Von Doom, too, was not always evil; but it that was his perfectionism that drove him there. He stood at a crossroads and made poor choices that pushed him down the evil path.
Does this not sound like crossroads Shuri finds herself staring down in our version of Black Panther 2? Doom is the result for Shuri if she makes all the wrong choices she found herself making at beginning of the film after her brothers death.
Doom is the perfect mirror and catalyst for Shuri to understand her value, her brother’s sacrifice, what it means to rule her people and what it really means when she says, “Wakanda forever”.
But Doom doesn’t have to die at the end of this film. In fact, he shouldn’t.
What’s the end?
In this version, Shuri only defeats Doom by using his vanity against him – using a source of tech that would make him think he took over Wakanda (think along the lines of what Mysterio does to Spiderman in Homecoming). This would also reflect how she won the title of Queen against her challengers at the beginning of the film. In this case, it’s not force that wins the day, but, rather, it is what makes Shuri uniquely Shuri that provides the win.
Though in her victory, Shuri sees her mother sacrifice herself to help aid Doom’s defeat. Ororo’s death echos the sacrifice T’Challa makes at the beginning of the film with Namor and that further drives home the theme of sacrifice which makes Black Panther a true leader — not just a flower, or suit.
So at the end of the film we see Shuri accept her role, save her people, and vow to find Doom.
Since Doom is only defeated and not killed, he (and perhaps Galactus) will be the main force of evil for the next phase of Avengers films. His escape could continue to haunt Shuri and give us the personal stakes for the overall story we need as we get introduced to all the characters Doom’s involvement in the MCU affords.
Now, let’s take a macro look at our imagined Black Panther 2. The MCU has a new rising female star in Letitia Wright as Black Panther, a new big bad, personal stakes for it’s new star, it can organically grow because of the new characters that will be introduced from FOX, and can invite a whole crop of brand new stars to help Wright fill the void left behind by the original Avengers.
After Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death, making Shuri the new Black Panther is the clear cut right choice for the new film. It just happens to be the hardest choice too.
But, remember, death is not the end. It’s just the stepping off point.
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