After a two-year break, the Marvel Cinematic Universe blazed back into theaters this month with Black Widow. Yet amid all the hype of Marvel's Phase 4 — including the franchise's first Asian headliner and a whole bunch of chatter about the multiverse of madness — the biggest questions hover around the hotly anticipated Black Panther 2.
The Marvel blockbuster factory has completely changed the cinematic landscape since Iron Man debuted in 2008, but none became a bona fide cultural phenomenon quite like director Ryan Coogler's Black Panther.
The afrofuturist tale of noble warrior king T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the technologically advanced hermit nation of Wakanda wasn't just a $1.3-billion hit, it was a zeitgeist-seizing moment for blockbuster cinema, leading to a Best Picture Oscar nomination and three Academy Awards. Its focus on strong Black characters — including Marvel's best villain in the form of Michael B. Jordan — made it the kind of tectonic paradigm shifter that only comes every decade or so in blockbuster cinema.
A follow-up was inevitable, but things became infinitely more complicated with the unexpected death of series star Chadwick Boseman, who succumbed to colon cancer in August 2020. Marvel kept quiet about the future of the franchise as fans mourned.
Then, in May of 2021, the company launched a sizzle reel announcing that Black Panther 2 isn't just on track: It's coming sooner than we all anticipated.
Here's everything we know about Black Panther 2 so far.
What will the movie be called?
The film's official title will be Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, taking its name from the Wakandan battle cry made famous by Boseman. The mantra — adopted frequently by Boseman — became less a catchphrase and more a powerful signifier of Black unity.
What is Wakanda Forever about?
Coogler kicked off production in Atlanta late in June, but so far official details are sparse. The film will reportedly explore Wakanda as it opens itself to the world after generations of thriving in the shadows.
Rumors have long swirled that the film will put the kingdom of Wakanda up against the inhabitants of the Lost City of Atlantis. Specifically, it's been heavily speculated that the film will mark the feature debut of Namor the Sub-Mariner, with Narcos: Mexico Tenoch Huerta reportedly in talks for the role of Marvel's version of Aquaman.
According to a plot synopsis reported by gossip site We Got This Covered, the film will concern Namor's quest to procure the precious metal vibranium — a resource only available in Wakanda. That could put the two secret nations at war with one another after years of peace, and lead to chaos both above and below the water.
Naturally, this should all be taken with a grain of salt.
No word yet on how Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will tie into the branching timelines Marvel has set up through Loki and upcoming films Spider-Man: No Way Home and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Black Panther was distinct in the MCU in that it managed to tell a more contained story relatively unrestrained from the tie-ins to other films. It could be a matter of letting Coogler do his own thing and letting Wakanda Forever inform what comes next rather than the other way around.
Will Chadwick Boseman appear in the film?
Given parent company Disney's history of ghoulishly resurrecting deceased actors Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher through the magic of CGI in Star Wars, many fans were concerned that Marvel would attempt to build a SFX Boseman for the new film. Those fears are apparently unfounded.
“We’re not going to have a CG Chadwick and we’re not recasting T’Challa,” Marvel head Kevin Feige told Deadline earlier this year.
In a separate interview with the BBC, Feige expanded on the statement, saying "(Boseman's performance was) iconic and transcends any iteration of the character in any other medium from Marvel's past… and it's for that reason that we will not recast the character."
As it stands, Boseman's final live-action performance was his Oscar-nominated turn in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. He will, however, appear as T'Challa one more time courtesy of a voice performance in the Disney+ series What If…?, which premieres August 11.
Who is returning for Wakanda Forever?
Coogler's sequel will continue the story of Wakanda's debut on the world stage, and much of the original cast will return. That includes Letitia Wright as T'Challa's tech-genius sister Shuri, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o as warrior/love interest Nakia and Angela Bassett as T'Challa's mother, Ramonda.
The film will also mark the return of Martin Freeman's bureaucratic Everett Ross and Winston Duke's tribal ally M'Baku. Additionally, Danai Gurira is confirmed to return as Dora Milaje warrior Okoye, a character who will also return in an in-development Disney+ series about Wakanda's all-female army.
Recent Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya has been playfully cagey regarding a return to the series, while Jordan has outright dodged questions about whether his sympathetic villain Killmonger would return in flashback or in the vivid afterlife landscape revealed in the film.
Who is joining the cast?
Though Huerta's casting is still just a rumor, the film officially confirmed that Michaela Coel has signed on for an unspecified role. The British actress is best known for her breakout role on HBO's searing I May Destroy You and for her supporting work on the iconic Black Mirror episode USS Callister.
Who will be the new Black Panther?
Just to reiterate: Marvel will be sparing us from the horrors of a CGI Boseman, and will not re-cast the character like they did with Hulk and War Machine.
The mantle of Black Panther is an inherited one in the film and comic, a protector role adopted by T'Challa after his father's death in Captain America: Civil War. As such, various characters within the story could already be lined up to don the Vibranium suit either through hereditary succession or worthiness.
Upon Boseman's death, Wright's fan-favorite Shuri became the frontrunner for the role due to a combination of smarts, humour and savvy that posited her as a more down-to-earth Tony Stark. However, Wright may have shot herself in the foot after sharing anti-vaccination misinformation online, defending herself from criticism with a defiant "“if you don’t conform to popular opinions. but ask questions and think for yourself….you get cancelled.” She has since been silent.
Shuri hasn't gotten the full Cara Dune treatment, but given the negative response to the actress posts — and the fact that the actress was pushing anti-science rhetoric while playing a world-class scientist — it could have hindered her chances of becoming the Panther, especially given the controversy arose as the film was reportedly being fully overhauled in the wake of Boseman's death.
The film could also see Nyong'o's Nakia rise to the hero status, a move that would keep on Marvel's trajectory of introducing more female heroes even if it meant keeping Wright in a supporting position. Nyong'o's character actually makes more sense as Black Panther, given her history with the Dora Milaje warrior women and her experience in global espionage. Plus, Nyong'o is a certified A-lister and powerhouse more than capable of leading a blockbuster. Promoting her to the headliner would also continue Marvel's tradition of subverting expectations, given Nakia breaks bad in the comics.
The film could also grant Panther status to any number of Dora Milaje warriors, though given her spinoff is on the horizon, Gurira is an unlikely candidate. And then there's the matter of Coel, whose role is a complete mystery that will no doubt fuel speculation that she's the heir to Boseman's throne.
Regardless of how the story shakes out, it's looking like Black Panther's, like Marvel's, future is female.
When will Black Panther: Wakanda Forever release?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is slated to hit theaters sooner than anyone expected: July 8, 2022.