Thor: Ragnarok exploded into theatres last week, serving as a breath of fresh air in the over-saturated Super Hero movie genre. The expertly blended action and comedy not only reinvented the character, but it displayed the breadth that the MCU is capable of. But it might have made things difficult for future films in the series, most notably Black Panther.
This range was on full display this year with the comedic space opera that is Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and the quaint tale of high school self-discovery that Spider-Man Homecoming tried to explore. But the next two films in the mega-franchise will serve as slight departures from the movies we’ve been enjoying recently.
Next up on the docket is Black Panther. It will bring its own style of Afrofuturism to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will feature the franchise’s first African American lead hero. We’ll get to witness how T’Challa claims the Wakanden throne and changes the landscape of the Marvel universe.
Black Panther will be followed up with a small-scale romp titled Avengers: Infinity War. The epic next chapter in the Avengers series will unite all of the heroes introduced so far and see every spandex wearing fighter team up to fight James Brolin’s Thanos as he scours the universe for the fabled Infinity Stones.
The question that is burning a hole in my mind is, what will Black Panther mean for the MCU? I’m not talking about the characters and locations it will introduce, but rather how another origin story will fit into this rapidly growing universe.
Almost every origin story that Marvel has released thus far has fallen into the same trap that kept the phase 1 films from achieving greatness. The character gains their abilities, fires off a few quips, struggles at first with the newfound responsibilities they now shoulder, and then eventually come to terms with their destiny in a dazzling fight against a foe with similar powers.
Don’t get me wrong, it works. It is a very classic adaptation of the hero’s journey, but it tends to get old and is one reason studios are thinking of ways they can move past origin films. The structure of the hero’s journey can be fleshed out further with more developed characters. Doctor Strange and Ant Man both struggled with this in the past two years. Yellow Jacket and Kaecilus are essentially carbon copies of the characters they antagonize, but they’re evil. Now, Black Panther looks like he will be going up against Erik Killmonger, who wields a golden version of the Black Panther suit. By all accounts, the films climatic battle will be between two foes with extremely similar capabilities.
My worry is that Marvel doesn’t know how to introduce its new characters very well. T’Challa and his secretive African country were first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, where he had already taken on the mantle of the Black Panther, but the film will still delve into the origins of the character becoming the divisive king and strategist he is in the comics.
A character’s beginnings are incredibly important, that’s why we often need to see them. They shape their motivations and dictate how they act in a given situation. But not every superhero origin is the same. Marvel has made 17 films in the past 10 years. They know what they are doing. They can show us how a hero got started without resorting to the same tropes.
With movies like Spider-Man Homecoming, where the studio made the conscious decision to skip the web slinger’s origin because it has already been done in two films, we got to see Peter Parker in the early stages of his career, without all of the drama surrounding Uncle Ben’s death and that pesky spider. That is a unique case, as Spider-Man has graced the big screen a number of times, but it makes the film feel a little more fast-paced, even though we are seeing this iteration of the character in his first solo movie.
The Black Panther movie will not only set the character up as an important part of the Marvel universe moving forward and a key member of the Avengers – especially since most of the original team will likely exit after the fourth Avengers film in 2019 – but will introduce Wakanda as a hidden civilization that possess technology to rival that of Tony Stark. Similar to the proper introduction of magic with Doctor Strange, a new variable is about to be introduced that will change the rules of the game, and right before the biggest match in the series.
As phase 3 comes to a close and some of Marvel’s most ambitious projects yet see the light of day, the future needs to be set for the changing of the guard. As Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and even the Hulk get ready to exit the series, replacements must be prepared. Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel and Ant-Man can all pick up the slack, but if they are to replace the heavy hitters that kick-started the franchise, their introductions matter.
Thor: Ragnorok was a brilliant end to that trilogy and a great way to set the stage for Infinity War, but Black Panther needs to show audiences what they have to look forward to outside of their favorite heroes coming together once every three or four years. Hopefully, Chadwick Boseman and the talented cast that will accompany him will break the mold and move the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward, unlike the original films that have preceded it.