Black Panther is staged to change the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever. Ticket sales show an unprecedented excitement for one of Marvel’s solo adventures, and the film's brought together some of today’s greatest talents in acting, directing, and music. There is a real sense that this movie could be as much of a game changer for superhero movies as the upcoming mega-event Avengers: Infinity War. It’s possible that it could even be the start of a major shift in the franchise’s dynamics with Black Panther becoming the leading man at Marvel.
Looking at the past 10 years of Marvel movies and their plans moving ahead, it’s clear that change is coming. Here’s why Black Panther is the character to lead these movies into another decade of exciting adventures.
The MCU Needs a New Leader
Marvel Studios has been led by a core trio of heroes that built to the original Avengers through their solo films: Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. None of these characters has been more important than Iron Man though. It was Iron Man that launched the franchise and introduced the concept of an Avengers movie. More importantly, it was the character of Iron Man who first provided the glue to connect all of the heroes. He offered resources, influence, and history that made him a natural centerpiece for assembling the team. While Captain America might be the Avengers’ heart, it was Iron Man who was both the brains and the money.
It seems that many of the actors behind this first wave of Marvel heroes are either taking a less active role or retiring altogether. Chris Evans has begun to direct some of his own projects and Robert Downey Jr. is producing many of his own films. Downey Jr. also happens to be one of the most expensive stars in the world, specifically in the context of his Marvel contract. It is unlikely we will see more Iron Man films and his cameos may become less prevalent, especially as he continues to age out of action star status.
Marvel Studios needs a replacement for the Iron Man role in their movies. As new heroes continue to be introduced and the Avengers battle new threats, there has to be a centerpiece to drive the action forward. Even if Iron Man or Nick Fury stick around to some degree, there needs to be a more present hero leading the way. That hero should be Black Panther.
Reasons on the Screen
The most obvious reason to see Black Panther as the next leader of the Marvel movies is that he’s a natural leader. T’Challa is a king and earns that title in every possible way. Before even becoming a worldwide superhero, he has led the political and scientific advancement of an entire nation. His interest lies in the protection and welfare of his people, exactly where a superhero’s focus should be, and he guides thousands of people to achieve those ends within the Wakandan government. Black Panther arguably has the same long-term planning, strategic, and organizational strengths of Nick Fury on top of being a full-blown superhero. There’s no better person to guide and coordinate the Avengers as they prepare for future threats that could now include Doctor Doom and Galactus.
Being a great leader isn’t the only key element of filling Iron Man’s shoes. Story-driven reasons must be present too, but that’s no problem for Black Panther. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, Wakanda has stepped onto the world stage in a big way, and T’Challa is the king who will lead it there. The nation is so advanced that it will be an important component of global peace and strategy, and an arguable contender for joining the U.N. Security Council. Wakanda’s end of isolationism now means Black Panther’s interests must expand to protecting all of Earth, so his presence in America during other adventures makes perfect sense.
Leading Wakanda also provides him with the resources necessary to both guide the Avengers and aid new superheroes in their development. Finding a new base or funding a quinjet is a simple matter of asking with the riches of a nation at his disposal. The vibranium-based technology of Wakanda also means that T’Challa has just as much to offer as Tony Stark in terms of upgrades and gadgets. There’s an entire world of technology that Stark and Banner could only have dreamed of within reach of the Black Panther. Whether he’s leading the Avengers after the events of Infinity War or making a cameo to offer input or a useful device, Black Panther’s presence could naturally extend across Marvel movies very soon.
Reasons Behind the Screen
Black Panther is a great leader on screen, but Black Panther is a great model for what Marvel Studios’ films could be in the future. Throughout the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there have been changes to the model of how they were produced. Some bumps in the road occurred during the first phase as directors and the various studio figures butted heads (see: Iron Man 2). However, these were largely ironed out for the second and third phases as a studio-driven model took shape, and it has resulted in a slate of films that were generally successful both with critics and wide audiences. That model has become familiar though, and the equation has started to become a bit too apparent in the current scripts. Black Panther is poised to seriously shake things up.
Ryan Coogler appears to have been given more control of the hiring and direction on Black Panther than any director since Jon Favreau led the first Iron Man. Casting, set design, costuming, and music all fall outside of the predictable norms at Marvel Studios. A few years ago, the idea of Kendrick Lamar producing an original soundtrack for a superhero movie would have seemed absurd, but it became one of the most anticipated soundtrack of 2018. There’s a clear vision for Black Panther, and it really seems to stem from Coogler and his appreciation for the source material.
Black Panther has also embraced diversity within every aspect of its production. The world that is conceived looks entirely unique, and the many creators behind-the-scenes have taken influences from Africa to create a unique cultural atmosphere for Wakanda. In spite of other studio’s concerns about casting primarily non-white casts, Black Panther’s ticket sales show that audiences are more than prepared to support a film with a predominantly black cast and crew. Black Panther is the movie that proves diversity isn’t just desirable for its own sake, but profitable for Disney and other entertainment companies.
Both on the big screen and behind the scenes, Black Panther is showing Marvel fans what the future of their favorite film franchise can look like. The brilliance of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther combined with a director-driven, diverse film reveal that Marvel Studios’ still has a lot of room for growth and exploration. Iron Man set the tone for the first decade of Marvel movies to widespread success, now let Black Panther do the same for the next few phases.