Prior to the release of Avengers: Infinity War later this year, there will have been 18 films released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everything that has come before Infinity War has been leading us to this moment, but what does it look like afterwards? The release of Black Panther gives fans a snapshot of what we can expect.
Many of us, myself included, are in denial about the loss of characters and the seeming changing of the guard. It’s a safe bet that the big names and faces that have defined the MCU from the beginning will no longer be with us moving forward. We can expect that Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans) are most likely bidding us adieu, but what does this universe look like without them?
***SPOILERS BLACK PANTHER AHEAD. STOP READING IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED***
Black Panther does a great many things well, one of which is establish the world of Wakanda within the MCU as a viable place for characters to grow. If in fact we are losing Iron Man and Captain America post-Infinity War, The Avengers are going to need someone to step up and assume the leadership position.
The events of Black Panther sets up King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as the perfect person to lead them. It begins with T’Challa’s coronation as a young King, unsure of himself and his ability to lead the people of Wakanda. A trip to the ancestral spirit world finds him questioning his father, the former King T’Chaka, about how he can do this without him and feeling confident that he has raised his son well, T’Chaka sends T’Challa from the spirit world with hope. Throughout the film, T’Challa goes from maintaining the status quo to questioning everything he has believed about the people of Wakanda and his father’s reign.
T’Challa’s journey forces him to confront the mistakes of the past in order to navigate the events of the present, leaving him with an outlook for the future that is bright. From a scared young man hiding his people from the world in the beginning, to a confident, strong King addressing the UN; telling them Wakanda will become one of the leading nations to bring about progress and goodness in this world. A wise leader he already is and when The Avengers need someone to look to, T’Challa will be there.
The mark of a good leader is not only the leader themselves, but the counsel in which they keep. Black Panther introduces us to T’Challa’s closest advisers — Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Okoye (Danai Gurira).
Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, is the leader of the Wakandan Design Group. She is their innovator, their scientist, the one who develops all of their modern technology and the one who will undoubtedly create Cap’s new shield in Infinity War. Shuri possesses genius level intellect rivaling that of Tony Stark. Should The Avengers find themselves without Iron Man, Shuri would seamlessly fill that role as designer and innovator. We could find the Avengers making camp in Wakanda or, at the very least, see Shuri travel frequently to their base in Upstate New York (or work out of the Wakanda Outreach Center in Oakland, CA).
Okoye, the General of the Dora Milaje (the fierce warrior women) and the head of their Armed Forces, is a loyal protector who isn’t afraid to question her King but will defend him with her life. Okoye and her army are a formidable force, strong enough to serve as aids to The Avengers much in the same way that Black Widow or Hawk Eye do. While they may not possess superpowers, their training and strength assures they can go toe to toe with any villain.
Nakia, Wakandan spy, member of the War Dogs, and love of T’Challa’s life, is the moral compass of Black Panther, as well as a capable partner to T’Challa. She inspires his change of thought and helps him open Wakanda up to the world. A fierce ass-kicker on her own, Nakia isn’t some damsel in distress that T’Challa has to rescue.
When we first meet her, it isn’t a rescue mission, it’s an extraction; she is working with the War Dogs to help the people of Africa. Her strongest conviction is that she use her strengths to help people in need and she imparts this upon T’Challa. The MCU doesn’t always do couples well and this was a welcome change as she wasn’t just his love interest, but rather someone that pushed his boundaries and brought about reflection and change. She is what Peggy would have been for Steve, had he not been frozen for 70 years.
Speaking of Captain America, Civil War saw Steve leave his best friend Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier, with T’Challa in the post credits scenes. If like me, you were wondering where he was hiding this whole movie, Shuri makes reference to him when T’Challa brings in Agent Ross, saying something to the effect of, “great, another broken white boy for me to fix”. She doesn’t explicitly say Barnes’ name, but we know T’Challa promised Steve he would take care of him at the end of Civil War.
The post credits scene shows Bucky coming out of a tent in Wakanda and thanking Shuri. It was evident in those few moments, that Shuri has in fact healed Bucky Barnes. There is precedent in the comics for Bucky to be the next man to take on the mantle of Captain America and who else would Steve Rogers want to carry on his legacy besides his very best friend. There is precedent for Sam Wilson, Falcon, to take on the mantle, but my money’s on Bucky considering we spent the entirety of Civil War rescuing him and chose a post-credits scene in Black Panther to confirm to the audience he has been healed. Trailers for Infinity War have shown Bucky to be fighting alongside the Wakandan’s and its a safe bet that he’ll play a pivotal role in the future.
Basically, if you were in any way, shape, or form concerned about what the MCU looks like post-Infinity War, have no fear, King T’Challa’s here. Black Panther fully develops T’Challa as a strong, capable leader while introducing us to characters like Shuri, Nakia, and Oyoke who prove their skills and assets will be integral to the future of The Avengers. Should Infinity War leave us with a few less heroes, Black Panther has prepared us for the loss well.