Director Ryan Coogler had a thin line to walk for his sequel to Black Panther.
Following up 2018’s mega-hit that was unlike any Marvel superhero we’d seen before, reaching out to audiences and cultures that previously felt underserved by blockbuster entertainment, would have been difficult enough. Coogler had an opportunity to direct a sequel to 2015’s Creed, but passed on it to jump into the Marvel sandbox and bring comic books’ first Black superhero to the big screen.
Topping himself and continuing the story of Wakanda’s King T’Challa was going to be much more difficult — logistically and emotionally — after the death of star Chadwick Boseman two years ago. How could Marvel and Coogler, along with the amazing cast and crew that brought the fictional African nation to vivid life, keep the story going without the Black Panther himself?
Out of respect to Boseman, Marvel decided that T’Challa wouldn’t be recast. That was probably the correct decision, especially so soon after the actor’s death. Asking fans — and those who worked with Boseman — to accept a new face in the role would have been difficult. (Though during the past two years, sentiment — online, anyway — has turned toward recasting and advancing a character that was so iconic, so important to audiences.)
So Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole (who collaborated on the first film’s screenplay) embraced the real world’s intrusion on Marvel mythology and acknowledged Boseman’s death in the story by giving T’Challa much the same traffic fate. As a result, Wakanda Forever serves as a tribute to the actor, allowing fans and colleagues to mourn and perhaps find closure with the loss.
Dwayne Johnson is a damn good salesman, which you likely knew. Black Adam is a testament to his star power. This movie almost certainly doesn’t get made, nor does the character headline his own film, without Johnson making it happen.
And without Johnson, this movie probably wouldn’t be that compelling — except to comic book diehards thrilled to see secondary DC Comics characters like Hawkman and Doctor Fate brought to life on the big screen. But they’re a big part of the story and look great. So does Johnson and his real-life superhero physique in a role that seems to have been made for him.
Set in the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Kahndaq, Black Adam immediately sets itself apart from other superhero stories taking place in New York, San Francisco, or fictional cities like Metropolis or Gotham City. (Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the best DC films are set in locations including Atlantis and the Amazon island of Themyscira.)
The movie also benefits from director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter, The Shallows) having plenty of experience with action movies that keeps what story there is moving with little time given to exposition and character moments. Black Adam pretty much goes from one action sequence to another with momentary chances to give the audience a breath. But even “quiet” scenes have action like Johnson busting through walls rather than using doors.
I’m just guessing that Ned Beatty wouldn’t want his role as Otis, Lex Luthor’s bumbling sidekick, in Superman: The Movie to be the first thing mentioned when looking back at his career. (I’m imagining Alec Guinness rolling his eyes when he was immediately attached to Obi-Wan Kenobi by so many when he passed away.)
But maybe Beatty wouldn’t have minded either. Generations of fans remember him fondly in that film and it provided much needed comic relief among Christopher Reeve’s big blue boy scout and Gene Hackman’s megalomanical villain (who bullied poor Otis a bit too much). There are worse legacies for an actor to leave behind.
I can’t remember much useful from school (which inspired me to try and put together a high school reading list while in quarantine), but something that reminds me of comic books I read as a kid gets my brain working.
On Wednesday, HBO Max announced the development of a limited series built around the Peacemaker character that John Cena will play in James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad film.
But the key art released with the news trigged memories of an image that’s apparently stuck in my brain over the past 30 years. The headshot of Cena’s Peacemaker, drawn like a comic book illustration, looked a lot like John Byrne’s rendition of Captain America for the signature corner boxes that Marvel Comics put on its covers from the 1960s through the 1990s.
Getting back on track, we clean up on topics from the previous week including Avengers: Endgame and its many endings for beloved characters, Def Leppard’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and redemption, the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera blaming others for his lack of home runs, and the passing of the legend inside the Chewbacca suit, Peter Mayhew.