I think it’s safe to say that Black Panther (2018) exceeded everyone’s expectations. In the world of superhero movies and the world of movies in general.
It earned about $1.4 billion and is ranked as number 14 on the list of the top grossing films of all time.
It was a triumph for writer/director Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman who starred in the lead role. It took the movie world by storm and the future looked bright until the tragic, untimely death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020.
Suddenly, everything came crashing down in flames and the filmmakers were faced with the daunting decision of what to do next.
The fans hung in the balance.
There was an option to have someone else step in and take over the role of Black Panther. It’s been done before.
I point to the James Bond series and the six actors who took on the role of James Bond over the years—6 actors spanning 6 decades. Purists argued that no one could step into the shoes of Sean Connery who first brought Bond to the big screen back in 1962 with the now-classic Dr. No.
But when Connery turned down the role, the producers forged ahead and continued with the franchise with a string of actors who had mixed success portraying the world’s most famous spy. The franchise survived and is apparently moving forward despite the death of Bond in No Time to Die (2021).
That’s a whole other story that warrants a whole other review with commentary.
But, in the case of Black Panther, the decision seemed to be that no one could step into Chadwick Boseman’s shoes. He was simply too well loved. No one could equal him, or top his performance. For the record, I’d never argue the point. He was the key to the movie’s blockbuster success.
That said, what remained was option number two in which his character would die as well. No spoilers here. Everyone has known this for a while.
On one level, Wakanda Forever becomes a touching tribute to Chadwick Boseman who is referenced several times in the movie, which opens with Black Panther’s funeral. He’s gone, but there is still evil that threatens Wakanda and the entire world.
The question arises about who will replace him. Fortunately, the first installment introduced characters who were logical choices including his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Both characters have depth and dimension, but neither are on a par with Black Panther.
He’s a difficult—if not impossible—act to follow. And so, the first two hours of this 2-hour 41-minute epic is devoted to the passing of the torch. Black Panther’s successor is not really established until about two hours of the movie have elapsed. I glanced at my watch.
It’s a lot of set up, trying to address the absence of the character whose name appears above the title of the movie. The attraction in Black Panther was Black Panther. I don’t know how else to say it.
That’s not to say that Wakanda Forever is a horrible movie. In terms of production quality, it’s on a solid par with the original with regard to the casting, performances, art direction, costumes, cinematography, editing, and directing. Visually, it is a worthy successor.
But what’s missing is the heart and soul of Black Panther, that is to say the absence of its main character. It’s interesting that everyone seems to be skirting around and ignoring the obvious here, but the very large elephant in the room is fact that the franchise superhero had been written out of the story.
In my estimation, it was colossal error.
As much as I enjoyed and respected Chadwick Boseman’s performance in Black Panther and recognize that his work may never be matched, fans of the character and series should not be short-changed in terms of longevity, magic and wide-spread appeal of this saga.
It was a story that resonated with so many fans, young and old because addressed so many issues and offered so much inspiration and hope. In short, it was a story bigger than one character (even if he’s the main character) or the man portraying him.
As unkind as it sounds, the better choice here would have been to find a replacement. The comparisons would probably never end over the years, there was and will only ever be one Chadwick Boseman, but—in the bigger picture-- the saga and its hero would have been able to appear in subsequent adventures, touching the hearts of everyone for years to come.
In the end, that might have been a better, more lasting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.
Photos copyright Marvel Studios. All rights reserved.