Know Your Marvels — Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
In the latest Know Your Marvels, we discuss the upcoming sequel to the 2019 Oscar-nominated film, Black Panther; the aptly named Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
For all its many attempts, Hollywood doesn’t produce many perfect projects. I’d estimate that one happens every two or three years.
We’re talking about Die Hard, Matrix, Avengers: Endgame, and the like. These films tore up the box office and were critically acclaimed to boot.
To its credit, Marvel does claim a disproportionate number of these titles. However, perhaps the most stunning of all will get a sequel within the next year.
Yes, in the latest Know Your Marvels, we’re ready to talk about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the project that faced tragedy before it ever began.
What Is Wakanda Forever?
In 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced a new character in Captain America: Civil War.
Prince T’Challa of Wakanda acted antagonistically at first because he blamed Bucky Barnes for a murder. Specifically, Barnes appeared guilty of regicide.
Over time, the two characters worked things out, as tends to happen when superheroes fight.
Still, T’Challa’s alter ego, the Black Panther, proved a formidable opponent for multiple Avengers.
These encounters heightened expectations for a standalone film starring Black Panther.
Disney hired Ryan Coogler of Fruitvale Station to direct the project, and he brought along his star from that film, Michael B. Jordan.
In truth, Black Panther as a story relies on the performance of Jordan as the unknown Wakandan native, Killmonger, aka N’Jadaka.
The amoral Killmonger proved the perfect foil for the scrupulous T’Challa, and audiences fell in love with the hidden land of Wakanda.
That film earned an estimated $1.35 billion against a $200 million budget. As such, a sequel was always a foregone conclusion.
Alas, a quick turnaround proved impossible. Marvel was building to a finish, an Endgame, if you will.
For this reason, T’Challa turned into more of a supporting player as the leaders of the Avengers battled Thanos.
However, Marvel revealed its intentions for Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War. That country proved the setting for the climactic scene.
In fact, Wakanda will go down in film history as the place where Thanos snapped his fingers and undid half of all life.
Why Has the Film Taken This Long?
After Thanos finally suffered his comeuppance, Marvel finally planned a Black Panther sequel.
Alas, the universe had different plans.
Two startling events combined to delay Black Panther 2 indefinitely. Both of them are heartbreaking in their own way.
Chadwick Boseman, the star of Black Panther, died of cancer.
After this tragic event, we learned that he’d suffered from cancer WHILE he was starring in MCU films. That dude was tough.
Since Boseman factored heavily into all plans for a sequel, Marvel slowed down production while it decided how to proceed.
Eventually, the company settled on a plan, only for production to get delayed again. This time, the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on Black Panther 2.
Remarkably, those two tragedies weren’t even the last mishaps on the project.
Letitia Wright, who portrays Shuri in the MCU, had factored heavily into the new plans for Black Panther 2.
In fact, even before Boseman’s death, Marvel had explored the notion of making her the new Black Panther.
After his death, her ascension to that role appeared likely. However, during the filming of Black Panther 2, Wright suffered a grievous injury that left her concussed.
The actress also suffered a fractured shoulder, an injury that doctors misdiagnosed at first.
Wright returned to England, and that’s when the situation went plaid.
The actress wasn’t vaccinated during the pandemic, preventing her from returning to the United States.
Also, Disney had enforced a vaccination requirement for employees and couldn’t allow a recognizable celebrity to violate that policy.
Negotiations ensued, and we’ll never know what happened behind the scenes. Eventually, Wright returned to film the rest of her scenes.
By that point, Marvel had pushed Black Panther’s release date until late 2022, and even that target remains up in the air at the moment.
What’s the Plan for Wakanda Forever?
A scene in Avengers: Endgame hinted at the plot for Wakanda Forever.
In the storyline, this hidden country has existed for millennia. During that time frame, others have learned of it.
One of those groups is an even more mythical race. I’m referencing the lost city of Atlantis, whose leader, Namor, plays a huge factor in Marvel Comics.
Namor will reportedly join the MCU in Wakanda Forever, if not before then. A recent trailer for Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hinted at the Illuminati.
In the comics, Namor participates in that mysterious group of power players. We’re talking about Marvel’s elite, and he’s on the council.
So, you can tell how important Namor is to the MCU’s future.
To a larger point, a battle between Atlantis and Wakanda holds tremendous promise for comic book fans. It’s kind of a dream battle for many.
That’s only part of the plan for Wakanda Forever, though. In truth, I’d argue it’s the less significant aspect.
Marvel must also tell a story that naturally bridges to a new leader of Wakanda, someone worthy of the title of Black Panther.
Shuri had seemed like the most likely successor, but Wright’s real-life struggles may have forced Disney to reconsider.
Actor Winston Duke already stole scenes as M’Baku in the first film. He also competed for the powers of Black Panther in that story.
Marvel could organically build him up as a logical Black Panther as well. But, for my part, I remain convinced that Michael B. Jordan should carry the mantle.
After all, Black Panther is, at its core, a three-person production between Coogler, Boseman, and Jordan. So the other two should carry the torch for their lost friend.
I don’t think that’s the plan, though. Jordan allegedly isn’t in the sequel.
Who Stars in Wakanda Forever?
I’ve mentioned several of the performers thus far. But, remarkably, I’ve only scratched the surface on the talent involved.
Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o will return as Nakia, while Angela Bassett will portray Ramonda, the Queen Mother.
Frequent Marvel co-stars Martin Freeman and Danai Gurira will also appear as Everett K. Ross and Okoye.
The other character of note is Dominique Thorne, who will make her MCU debut as Riri Williams, the future Ironheart. That’s a big deal.
Tenoch Huerta of The Forever Purge is rumored to play Namor in the film. Marvel hasn’t confirmed that, though.
Overall, we’re talking about one of the deepest and most accredited casts of any superhero movie ever.
I’m of two minds on this subject.
If you had asked at any point from 2018-2020 about Black Panther 2, I would have sworn there was no way it could disappoint.
During the pandemic, I would have described Wakanda Forever as a cursed project…because it is.
Any of four different setbacks with this production would qualify as a significant issue for any other projects.
Letitia Wright’s struggles don’t even scratch the surface compared to what happened with Boseman or the pandemic, though.
As I write this, the film is performing reshoots that could force another delay.
The current schedule calls for a November 2022 release, but insiders deem that date optimistic.
None of us wants Wakanda Forever to break our hearts…and I’m hopeful that it won’t.
However, a Black Panther project without Chadwick Boseman seems strange on its own.
Then, we factor in the other stuff, and the odds seem stacked against Wakanda Forever. I believe in Marvel, though.
I just don’t think the company would allow the legacy of Chadwick Boseman to be sullied by allowing the Black Panther franchise to fall into disarray.
So, I still have high hopes here.