Spoilers ahoy for Black Panther!
The events of Black Panther — namely, the mid-credits scene — seem like they’ll be pretty significant in the grand scheme of the MCU. Which got me to wondering: what role will the Black Panther films play in the MCU going forward?
The three flagship franchises within the MCU have all concluded their trilogies, and it seems like at least two are done for good. Iron Man is finished, especially because Robert Downey Jr. costs way too much, and Marvel has seen in the last year that they can make absurd amounts of money without him. Thor just wrapped up a very satisfying trilogy in a very final way, and Chris Hemsworth seems ready to hang up his hammer and cape. Captain America may find a way to continue without Chris Evans, since it seems like every character in that franchise becomes Captain America at some point in the comics, but we don’t know either way.
Assuming Guardians of the Galaxy continues to be its own weird separate thing going forward, that leaves the freshman class of Phase 3 to carry on the torch. Putting aside Captain Marvel (we know nothing about her in the MCU, and the movie seems to not be set in present day), we are working with Black Panther, Spider-Man, Ant-Man/Wasp, and Doctor Strange. So what responsibilities will fall to whom?
Ant-Man and company will probably fill the shoes of Iron Man — films grounded in reality but with awesome technology, and more character focused stuff. Scott Lang still has plenty of issues to work through, dealing with his ex-con past and a tenuous relationship with his family. On the subject of the mommy/daddy issues that Tony Stark brought to the table, the Wasp can match him with her relationship with her father and the search for her mother. Even if Ant-Man never reaches the box office heights of Tony Stark (and given Marvel’s hot streak, he might reach those heights!), his franchise seems the natural successor. As a bonus, the Wasp is getting all the awesomeness that was denied Pepper Potts, so this could even be an improvement.
Doctor Strange looks likely to fill the shoes of Thor — heavy on the fantasy, and somewhat separate from the more grounded MCU films. Much like Thor was too powerful to include in Civil War, Doctor Strange’s timey-wimey stuff would derail most stories that the other movies try to tell. This connection is also being explicitly made by Marvel — the Doctor Strange movie was released in the same November time-frame as the second and third Thor movies, and Doctor Strange himself showed up in Thor: Ragnarok for a fun cameo.
But that still leaves the role of the Captain America franchise to be filled — the big “mythology” episodes that build on all of the MCU and actually change the status quo. Whereas the other MCU movies pretty much work as standalone franchises, the Captain America movies were the ones that dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. and tore the Avengers asunder, events whose repercussions echoed across the MCU. Whose movies will do that in Phase 4 onwards?
It’s doubtful it’ll be Spider-Man — the beauty of Spider-Man: Homecoming was that it was about close-to-home dangers and heroics, not world-altering macrocosmic wars. Spidey does a great job showing how all the earth-shattering stuff in the MCU movies affects regular people, and that’s an important thing needed to keep the MCU grounded amid all the Infinity Stones and aliens and other dimensions.
That leaves the Black Panther films to take up the mantle of steering the MCU in between Avengers films. While the first film is a relatively standalone affair, the end of Wakanda’s isolationism is the type of event that could have very far-reaching consequences across the MCU. Wakanda is where the technological, the mystical, and the political all intersect, and it seems like a natural fit for impacting the rest of the universe.
And as an out-of-universe reason, Marvel would be wise to hitch the MCU to a franchise that just smashed every box office record in sight. They don’t have to worry about people seeing Marvel films who haven’t seen Black Panther, and if that holds going forward, that’d make Marvel’s job a lot easier than trying to catch up the casual viewers.
What do you think — will the Black Panther films be the big event films of the MCU going forward, or would you rather T’Challah keep going on adventures with his inner circle without any encroaching Avengers?