Legacy is a key part of superhero stories. When one hero falls, another rises to take their place, often adopting the same code name and costume as their predecessor. In Marvel Comics, we’ve seen that when Bucky became Winter Soldier after the death of Steve Rogers or when James Rhodes took over as Iron Man from Tony Stark. Those dynamics are happening in the MCU as well, as actors leave the franchise and others join. We’ve already had a taste of this dynamic with Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson becoming the new Captain America after Chris Evans retired.
But perhaps the most important legacy question surrounds Black Panther. Director Ryan Coogler and MCU boss Kevin Feige were well into planning for the sequel to the blockbuster 2018 movie Black Panther when its main star Chadwick Boseman died. For a moment, some thought Feige and Coogler would recast the part. After all, both the aforementioned Rhodes had been recast, first portrayed by Terrence Howard and then Don Cheadle, and Mark Ruffalo is the third actor to play Bruce Banner, taking over for Eric Bana (from the non-MCU Hulk) and Edward Norton from The Incredible Hulk.
In a recent interview with Empire, Feige explains why they did not go the recasting route for Black Panther. “It just felt like it was much too soon to recast,” he admitted. More than a practical decision, Feige understood that recasting would take away the reality of Boseman’s death. “[W]e had talked about how, as extraordinary and fantastical as our characters and stories are, there’s a relatable and human element to everything we do,” Feige explained. “The world is still processing the loss of Chad. And Ryan poured that into the story.”
We get hints of that acknowledgment in the outstanding trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Although the trailer does point to some aspects of the movie’s plot and new characters, namely the introduction of antagonist Namor and the debut of hero Ironheart, it largely establishes a mournful tone. Beyond simply advertising a movie, the trailer captures the feeling of great loss following the death of an incredibly talented actor who embodied one of the most compelling on-screen heroes. The audience relates to Nakia’s sadness, to Ramonda’s anger, to Okoye’s resilience because we have responded similarly to Boseman’s death.
As he and Coogler wrestled with questions about how to follow up Black Panther, Feige also needed to honor Boseman’s legacy, “what he had done to help Wakanda and the Black Panther become these incredible, aspirational, iconic ideas.” By not recasting T’Challa, Wakanda Forever will deal with the weight of his heroism, as characters struggle to carry on his mission. Of course, part of that carrying on will include taking on the mantle of Black Panther. At this point, we still don’t know who exactly will be under the mask, although Shuri continues to be the most likely candidate. But it’s already clear that every character will be carrying on the Black Panther legacy, regardless of which codename they use.