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There was very little doubt that it was coming, but news that Ryan Coogler has signed on to write and direct makes it clear: There will, of course, be a Black Panther 2. And the most exciting thing about it is, it’s entirely unclear what it will be about—and even who will be in it.
I’m not referring to the fact that, in current Marvel Cinematic Universe chronology, half of the universe has been wiped out by Thanos as a result of Avengers: Infinity War. After all, T’Challa himself (Chadwick Boseman) was one of the characters killed in that event, all but guaranteeing that it’ll be reversed by the end of Avengers 4 next year. (Indeed, it only makes sense that Black Panther will be one of a new generation of Avengers founded at the end of that movie, potentially opening up space for some high-profile guest stars if Coogler wants to use them in his second outing; the character has long been an Avenger in his comic book incarnation.)
Instead, what makes the future of Black Panther as a movie property so wonderfully, excitingly impossible to predict is the combination of three coinciding factors, the sum of which is far greater than the individual parts.
There Is no definitive Black Panther comic book canon
For a character who’s been in existence for more than half a century, the Black Panther has appeared in a number of enjoyable comic book runs, not least of which is the current incarnation of the series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates (with ancillary comics written by the likes of Roxane Gay and Evan Narcisse). But the comic book lineage of the character is anything but straightforward, with tone and even secondary genre varying wildly as different creators got a hold of the character. There’s no core Black Panther narrative to follow, and with the comic book portrayal of T’Challa veering from troubled monarch fighting white supremacists to bold adventurer who fights yeti and samurai alike to superior strategist outthinking Iron Man and ever onward, there are any number of directions a second Panther movie could take and still claim to be true to the comic book source material.
The cinematic mythology isn’t following the comics
Of course, fidelity to the source material isn’t necessarily primary in Coogler’s aims when it comes to Black Panther as a cinematic construct. The first movie reinvented three of the hero’s biggest villains, altering all three from their original forms as best suited the story Coogler wanted to tell. (Ulysses Klaw even ended up dead for his troubles, taking the antagonist off the board without the anticipated showdown with T’Challa even occurring.) Assuming that this attitude carries over into the second movie — and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, especially given how thrilling Coogler’s willingness to stay true to his vision of the World of Wakanda, even at the cost of comic book consistency, was in the first movie — any attempt to predict where he wants to go next feels like it is, at best, a waste of time and effort. Let Coogler go where he wants to; the audience will follow.
The Black Panther is one of the biggest stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Although T’Challa has been part of the Marvel comic book universe since 1966, he’s been at most a B-level character; his solo comics have rarely been best-sellers and, indeed, have been published sporadically at best during the past five decades. He’s a character fans are aware of and may, indeed, love, but he’s not one of the guiding lights of Marvel’s comic book adventures. By comparison, Black Panther is the most successful movie of 2018, outgrossing even Avengers: Infinity War, at least domestically. With a $700 million haul, it is also the highest-grossing Marvel Studios movie at the domestic box office. There is a strong argument to be made that he’s the biggest hero Marvel has, which puts him — and Coogler, more importantly — in a strong position to do whatever the hell he wants to, going forward.
Will Black Panther be the new Iron Man, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe re-centering around him and Wakanda, or with Black Panther relocating to the U.S. to be closer to the rest of the superheroic action? Will Coogler be given the opportunity to push forward on the Afro-Futurism that thrilled audiences in the first movie, or will he be required to keep those elements in the background to play more with concepts and characters in the wider MCU plans? It’s entirely unclear, and not just because T’Challa is still, theoretically, dead.
When Black Panther 2 begins production, more will become obvious about what is expected of the character and his creative director as the MCU marches forward. But, for now, it’s far more difficult to try and predict what happens next — which makes it all the more exciting for the audience.
(But, really: Let’s see a lot more of Shuri, please.)