When the cameras start rolling for Black Panther 2 in July, eleven months will have passed since Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43 from colon cancer. That's arguably not too soon for Marvel to start work on a sequel to a movie that made $1.3 billion in 2018. And by the time the movie does come out — 2022 at the soonest, though no release date is yet known — time will have certainly passed.
Still, to hear news of Black Panther 2 in November 2020, one can't help but feel like Marvel is still missing a step here. And it's a misstep that could have unintended consequences as Marvel endures a year without a significant presence.
What Happened? — In a story dumped on Friday afternoon by The Hollywood Reporter, the magazine revealed that Marvel will begin filming Black Panther 2 (title to be determined) in July 2021. Ryan Coogler is returning direct, and Narcos: Mexico star Tenoch Huerta has joined the film in an unknown "antagonist" role. There was no release date announced.
Little is known about the plot of Black Panther 2. But it is possible (if not confirmed) that Huerta may play the role of Namor, an anti-hero from the Marvel Universe who not only crossed paths with Black Panther in the comics (including flooding Wakanda) but was also teased in a throwaway line in 2019's Avengers: Endgame.
Returning cast members from the first film are also said to reprise their roles, with Letitia Wright taking on "a more prominent role." You can already hear the sound of fans buzzing over the possibility of Shuri assuming the Black Panther mantle from her brother T'Challa in an adaptation of a comic book story where Shuri took over as the Black Panther.
Why now? — Getting to work on Black Panther 2 is all fine and well, except for the fact that Chadwick Boseman died three months ago. While we joke about time losing all meaning in 2020, the truth is it wasn't that long ago. In the brutal reality that is Disney trying to please shareholders with the billions it can make from Black Panther 2, it's difficult to shake off a ghoulishness that comes with proceeding with the sequel now of all times.
It was a year ago at San Diego Comic-Con where Marvel's Kevin Feige only casually confirmed a sequel to Black Panther, and only after drumming up hype for movies that were already in development (like Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and The Eternals). But the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has thrown a disruptive wrench in Marvel's plans, as surefire hits like Black Widow were punted into 2021. The year was also going to be big for Marvel TV with shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier bringing more subscribers to Disney+.
Black Panther 2 was always going to be a big deal. But based on what Disney was willing to talk about in 2019, it didn't seem like a top priority. It seemed like a distant promise, a bridge to cross when the rest of the way was traveled.
And then Covid-19 happened. Maybe Marvel went into panic mode, maybe it didn't. (The Hollywood Reporter further quoted sources saying that the Disney+ shows are now "the priority" and that “ramping them up takes a lot of focus. The movie machinery is well established.”) One thing's clear, Black Panther 2 is suddenly a project that needs to get done in a time getting anything done in Hollywood is a herculean task full of risks and potentially bad decisions.
We know some decisions the studio will avoid. It's reported Boseman's likeness will not appear in CGI out of respect for the memory of Boseman and his loved ones. Recasting doesn't seem to be a possibility; there continues to be debate across social media if recasting would or wouldn't be appropriate, and if it would come at the expense of Letitia Wright's Shuri becoming the star of the franchise. As Dr. Jason Johnson of Morgan State University observed on Twitter, recasting Chadwick Boseman's role doesn't preclude Shuri's assumption of the mantle.
We also know a Black Panther sequel would have started pre-production by now had Boseman gotten over his cancer (as the actor himself thought he would prior to his condition worsening). In a eulogy on Marvel.com, Ryan Coogler confirmed he had a whole script for the movie prepared that the world will now never see.
“I spent the last year preparing, imagining, and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see," Coogler wrote in a tribute.
The Inverse Analysis — It's not an enviable position to be in to decide what to do with a huge, money-making franchise when a star like Chadwick Boseman, a once-in-a-generation talent whose essence captured the incalculable weight of the material, is dead suddenly. Nothing will ever completely be "the right call."
Whatever the case, it is an ineffably dark thing to see Marvel be insistent on Black Panther 2, now of all times. In a story published by THR in early September, not long after Boseman's death was confirmed, the magazine reported the studio was "processing its grief" and "having to face the economic realities of forging ahead."
When the story was published, Disney was said to be focusing on paying tribute to Boseman and not making the sequel. That was September. It's November now, and those in charge believe the tribute's been paid. There is absolutely a time to move on, but how soon is too soon? We'll never know, and Marvel doesn't want to find out.