[nextpage title=”15 Black Panther Reveals that will Shape the MCU”]The long wait is finally over. Black Panther is now in theatres, bringing some much-needed (and long overdue) diversity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The groundbreaking Ryan Coogler film stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda and the titular Black Panther, telling a deeply personal story will have major ramifications for the rest of the MCU. Black Panther is packed to the brim with great action and great characters (check out our review), so we’ve compiled this handy recap to help you keep everything in order.
We recommend you see the movie first, but just in case, this your official SPOILER WARNING.
These are the 15 most important reveals in Black Panther, presented in (roughly) chronological order. Read at your own discretion:
15. Wakanda is a nation in transition
T’Challa first appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where he chased Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes after the Winter Soldier was framed for the terrorist blast that killed T’Chaka (John Kani), the reigning king of Wakanda and T’Challa’s father. Black Panther opens shortly after those events, with T’Challa preparing for his coronation alongside his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and their mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett).
The transition is a time of great uncertainty for Wakanda. T’Challa is worried about living up to his father’s legacy, while the rest of the nation is waiting to see what kind of king he is going to be, especially with regards to Wakanda’s longstanding isolationism. For centuries, the country has hidden from the rest of the world, erecting an invisible forcefield to deflect outside interest and safeguard its supply of vibranium. In the wake of Civil War, there is a growing sense that that laissez-faire approach may no longer be sustainable, becoming a theme that will resonate throughout the film.
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14. Nakia is T’Challa’s Ex
When we first meet T’Challa, the king-in-waiting is teaming with the Dora Milaje General Okoye (Danai Gurira of The Walking Dead fame) to bring Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) back to Wakanda for the coronation. Nakia is a War Dog, a Wakandan spy sent to keep tabs on the rest of the world. She’s also T’Challa’s former lover, and while they are on good terms, her experiences as a War Dog have placed literal and metaphorical distance between them. Wakanda is a futuristic utopia. Nakia is unwilling to remain in hiding while people elsewhere continue to suffer, making her one of many encouraging T’Challa to take a more active role on the global stage.
13. Vibranium makes Wakanda a technological superpower
If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll know that Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation in the MCU (no small feat in a world with Tony Stark). In Black Panther, we learn that Wakanda’s futuristic gadgets are all powered by vibranium. The country was founded at the site of a meteor crash and Wakandans have been mining the alien rock for the precious metal for generations.
Wakanda’s vast reserves provide an extraordinary scientific advantage. In Captain America: The First Avenger, the US government’s entire supply of vibranium was barely enough to outfit Cap with his iconic shield. Subsequent Marvel movies suggest they haven’t found much more if it in the years since. Meanwhile, Wakanda’s top scientists – including T’Challa’s brilliant sister Shuri – have pioneered innovations that far outstrip the efforts of researchers outside the Wakandan bubble. Shuri’s laboratory features an array of gadgets that would make James Bond jealous, most of which have never been seen outside Wakanda. Relevant highlights include a fleet of hover ships, T’Challa’s retractable Black Panther suit, and a tactile remote piloting system.
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12. T’Challa’s uncle N’Jobu betrayed Wakanda
While the majority of the action takes place in Africa, Black Panther opens in an apartment complex in Oakland (the setting for Coogler’s debut film Fruitvale Station) in 1992, where King T’Chaka’s brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) is serving as a War Dog. N’Jobu is going over plans with an associate when T’Chaka arrives to explain that Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, the arms dealer last seen losing an arm in Avengers: Age of Ultron) has stolen a massive cache of vibranium, triggering a massive explosion that killed hundreds of Wakandan civilians.
T’Chaka’s quest to catch Klaue and recover the vibranium gets more complicated thanks to Wakanda’s tight security. All Wakandans have a vibranium biological passport, so a foreigner would not have been able to enter the country without the help of an insider. It turns out that N’Jobu was Klaue’s co-conspirator, motivated to break Wakanda’s isolationism after experiencing the Civil Rights Movement and witnessing the struggles of black people in the United States. N’Jobu believes Wakanda has an obligation to help those in need, and is willing to betray his country (and his family) to act on those convictions.
11. T’Challa gets his powers from the Heart-Shaped Herb
During T’Challa’s coronation ceremony, we learn that the Black Panther mantle is not entirely hereditary. T’Challa gets his powers from the Heart-Shaped Herb, a gift from the Panther God that imbues human beings with superhuman speed, strength, and agility when consumed.
The catch is that those abilities can also be taken away, as they are during T’Challa’s coronation. Wakanda’s population is drawn from five distinct tribes that were at war until the first Black Panther unified the nation. Custom dictates that any tribe (or anyone of royal blood) can initiate trial by combat and challenge for the throne when a new king is chosen. To make it a fair fight, T’Challa subjects himself to a ritual under the guidance of an elder named Zuri (Forest Whitaker) that forces him to face his challengers without his enhanced abilities. The winner of the contest becomes the new Black Panther and claims the right to rule Wakanda.
Fortunately, T’Challa is a skilled warrior in his own right, and is able to overcome a threat from Winston Duke’s M’Baku, the leader of the Mountain Tribe. Zuri restores T’Challa’s status as the Black Panther shortly after his victory during the ordeal.
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10. The CIA is trying to buy vibranium
Ulysses Klaue and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) enter the movie with a heist in which they steal a mislabeled vibranium artifact from a museum. Though the take seems small – they only get their hands on what looks like a moderately sized sledgehammer – it is enough to attract the attention of Okoye, who monitors all vibranium activity in order to limit the availability of the metal outside Wakanda.
Okoye, Nakia, and T’Challa track the sale to South Korea and discover that Klaue’s buyer is Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), the CIA agent charged with interrogating Bucky Barnes in Captain America: Civil War. The Wakandan trio is able to thwart the deal and capture Klaue, though not before Ross begins to suspect that there is more to the African nation than he has been led to believe. He isn’t too happy when T’Challa and Nakia try to keep him out of the loop, especially after he helped cover up T’Challa’s secret identity after Civil War.
9. Killmonger kills Klaue
At first, Killmonger seems to be a common mercenary, working with Klaue in the interest of convenience and profit. In truth, Killmonger is far more ambitious and more sinister than his associate, as he demonstrates when he breaks Klaue out of prison only to murder him once they’ve made their escape.
A former black ops agent for the CIA, Killmonger wants to use Klaue to gain access to Wakanda. Since Klaue is a wanted man, his corpse becomes a bargaining chip, offering Wakandans revenge and closure for Klaue’s original crime. Killmonger’s gesture curries favor from those dissatisfied with T’Challa’s ineffectual efforts to bring Klaue to justice. That group includes W’Kabi (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya), the leader of the Border Tribe who lost family members during Klaue’s first heist and who subsequently becomes Killmonger’s most vocal backer when T’Challa returns.
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8. Killmonger is T’Challa’s cousin and usurps his throne
Though Killmonger has never been to Wakanda, he does have the trademark biological passport given to all citizens. The vibranium marking is a gift from his father N’Jobu, which means Killmonger is T’Challa’s cousin and a long lost member of the Wakandan royal family.
Custom dictates that all members of the royal family are allowed to challenge for the crown, and Killmonger states his claim as soon as his heritage becomes known. The ruthless operative defeats T’Challa in trial by combat (T’Challa is again stripped of his powers), which concludes when Killmonger throws his cousin over a waterfall to what appears to be his death. (Zuri intervenes and is killed for another revelation – more on that in a minute). Killmonger then ascends the throne and consumes the Heart-Shaped Herb to become the new Black Panther.
7. T’Chaka and Zuri abandoned a young Killmonger
Killmonger’s first act as king is a declaration of war. He wants to ship vibranium weapons to revolutionaries like his father, helping them overthrow their global oppressors and placing Wakanda at the head of a new world order.
Though his cause is political, his motivations are deeply personal. In a flashback to N’Jobu’s Oakland apartment, we learn that a young Zuri was N’Jobu’s associate at the beginning of the film, another War Dog reporting to T’Chaka as a double agent (that’s how T’Chaka found out about N’Jobu’s collaboration with Klaue). N’Jobu attacks Zuri after realizing he’s been betrayed, forcing T’Chaka to step in and kill his own brother to save Zuri.
Instead of bringing N’Jobu’s son back to Wakanda, T’Chaka decided to abandon him in Oakland, arguing that Wakanda’s isolationism must be preserved at the expense of a young Wakandan orphan. Needless to say, Killmonger has a far less favorable view of that policy. He regards the isolationism as a cowardly and selfish unwillingness to uplift those in need, especially given Wakanda’s humanitarian capabilities. As king, he plans to unleash that potential, making Wakanda a dominant, dictatorial force on the international stage.
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6. Killmonger burns the Heart-Shaped Herb
After consuming the Heart-Shaped Herb, Killmonger takes steps to ensure that no one will be able to follow in his footsteps. He orders Wakanda’s religious leaders to burn the remaining Heart-Shaped crop, eliminating the resource that would give power to potential rivals.
Thankfully, the Nakia manages to steal a single Herb before Killmonger’s orders can be carried out, giving some short-term hope to the heroes of Black Panther. The ramifications for future films in the MCU are a bit more ambiguous. There could be more Heart-Shaped Herbs elsewhere in Wakanda. If not, the destruction of the garden represents the termination of the Black Panther line, a fact that would likely be addressed in any Black Panther sequels.
5. Killmonger triggers a Wakandan civil war
Killmonger’s warmongering creates an immediate schism within the Wakandan government. Though some (like W’Kabi) support his agenda, others are more conflicted. That’s particularly true for Okoye, whose position with the Dora Milaje obliges her to defend Wakanda’s king even though she considers T’Challa to be the better ruler.
The issue comes to a head when T’Challa unexpectedly returns to finish Killmonger’s challenge. Though everyone believed T’Challa dead, the former Black Panther was fished out of a river and kept alive by his former rival M’Baku. He regains his powers with the help of Nakia, who escaped the Wakandan capital city of Birnin Zana with Shuri, Ramonda, and Ross and brought the stolen Heart-Shaped Herb to M’Baku in the hopes that his Mountain Tribe would provide an army to overthrow Killmonger in a potential civil conflict.
M’Baku initially refuses, but arrives to turn the tide during the decisive battle, during which the Dora Milaje also side with T’Challa against Killmonger and the Border Tribe. Team Black Panther eventually manages to secure the field, leaving Okoye and W’Kabi to sort out the issues in their relationship.
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4. Everett Ross bridges Wakanda and the rest of the MCU
Everett K. Ross isn’t quite as hapless as he was in Civil War (or the first half of Black Panther). The CIA agent is first taken to Wakanda for emergency medical treatment after he takes a bullet for Nakia during Klaue’s prison break. Okoye is skeptical about T’Challa’s decision to bring an outsider to Wakanda, but Ross soon joins team Black Panther and the visit erases many of his previous misconceptions.
Ross was also a decorated Air Force pilot before joining the CIA. That background comes in handy during the film’s climax. With a major assist from Shuri’s remote cockpit, Ross is able to take over one of Wakanda’s airships and prevent Killmonger’s shipments of vibranium weapons from leaving Wakanda’s borders and entering the black market. He proves his mettle (and his loyalty), becoming a valuable liaison between Wakanda and the rest of the Marvel universe.
3. T’Challa defeats Killmonger and reclaims his throne
Shuri attempts to subdue Killmonger with some sonic gauntlets of her own design, but the movie inevitably culminates with a one-on-one showdown between T’Challa and his usurper, both infused with the power of the Panther. T’Challa improves on his previous efforts, making sure that Killmonger won’t be returning for the sequel.
After a pitched battle on some futuristic train tracks, T’Challa strikes a lethal blow and brings Killmonger’s challenge to an official end. T’Challa offers his rival medical aid, but Killmonger refuses, preferring death to prison or subjugation. However, the two cousins do share a Wakandan sunrise, offering a glimpse at what might have been had T’Chaka not abandoned his nephew in Oakland all those years ago.
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2. T’Challa ends Wakanda’s isolation
Wakanda’s conservative isolationism reverberates throughout Black Panther. Early on, it’s the primary obstacle separating Nakia and T’Challa. Later, it spawns the film’s primary antagonist in the form of Erik Killmonger, a mistake that both Killmonger and T’Challa attribute directly to the mistakes of King T’Chaka.
That’s why it comes as no surprise when T’Challa resolves to learn from that example. Hoping to correct the sins of the past, T’Challa concludes Black Panther with a speech to the United Nations, vowing to end Wakanda’s isolationist policy and promising to share the country’s scientific knowledge with the world. The gathered dignitaries don’t yet appreciate the magnitude of that offer – they still view Wakanda as a backwards farming nation – but the decision to drop the borders will have a powerful impact on the future of the MCU, especially once the rest of the Avengers discover the full potential of vibranium.
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1. The Winter Soldier makes a cameo
It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a post-credits reveal. This time around, we check in with Bucky Barnes, last seen on ice after the events of Civil War. Despite his name, the Winter Soldier is no longer frozen and is in fact living in a hut somewhere in Wakanda, having a quiet conversation with Shuri and learning a bit more about Wakandan culture and technology.
Bucky’s presence is another mark of Wakanda’s independence, indicating that the country acts with a certain distance from international affairs (like the Sokovia Accords from Civil War). That could fuel conflict in future films. The animosity between Bucky and T’Challa has been resolved, but Tony Stark may not be quite as forgiving when he learns that T’Challa has been keeping secrets and siding with his rivals.
The scene doesn’t give us much more than that, but it’s safe to assume that T’Challa and Bucky will play an important role when Thanos arrives in Avengers: Infinity War later in the summer.
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