You've probably heard this by now, but let us repeat it just in case you haven't: Black Panther is an incredible film. As of this article, the film has made over $500 million in the global box office, pushing Walt Disney's annual cinematic profit to $1 billion in just the second month of the year. You can't go online without seeing new content about the film, whether it's another positive review, the latest cast photo shoot, a critical analysis on the film's numerous complex themes, or a thirst post about Winston Duke (no shade). And the film only came out about two weeks ago. It is an unmitigated success.
For the last decade, we've grown pretty comfortable with Marvel's standard cinematic formula. Sure, the storylines might be frustratingly predictable at times, and perhaps the characters don't really shine as they did when we saw their familiar archetypes in last summer's blockbuster, but these well-loved elements always came together for a fairly enjoyable ride. And yet here is Black Panther, a watershed moment of change in the entire superhero film industry. No matter your personal opinion, you cannot deny all the ways this film has fundamentally changed the MCU, both in its cinematic content and operational execution for the foreseeable future.
*Center image in feature can be found HERE.
15 IT'S RACIALLY DIVERSE
The superhero film industry is absolutely saturated with white, male actors. We can't totally blame this particular genre for the issue, since it merely reflects Hollywood and the comic industry's systemic lack of diverse creators and characters. However, as the times change and society become more progressive, so too should the mediums we love. Superhero fans have been calling for more diverse heroes for years, and the long wait is finally over.
Black Panther is easily the most fundamentally and explicitly diverse superhero film of all time. Its production team boasts the talents of director Ryan Coogler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who each have contributed to black film canon throughout their careers. And since this film focuses on the African character T'Challa, the cast primarily consists of the best black actors the world has to offer. It's a simple, but powerful, win for representation on screen.
14 IT'S FEMINIST
Another longstanding complaint from fans of the superhero film industry has been the genre's startling lack of female characters. Sure, Black Widow and Wonder Woman lead the movement for more female representation on screen, but this shift still remains maddeningly slow. And even when we do get female characters, their storylines are much more limited when compared to their male counterparts -- they're Strong Female Characters, love interests, or dead far too many times to count.
With Black Panther, the amount of female characters with unique roles and substantial character development is unprecedented. Wakanda is a kingdom with strong matriarchal direction in all its operations. There is the sagely Queen Romanda and the Dora Milaje who uphold the nation's interests. Princess Shuri spearheads incredible technological advances. Nakia serves as a spy and activist for global black issues. And all these women help shape T'Challa and his leadership for the better.
13 IT HAS A COMPELLING VILLAIN
When superhero fans go to the movies, they're glued to their seats for their favorite heroes, cool action scenes, maybe a little bit of snark... but very rarely do they go to see the film's villain. There are a few sparkling examples of course, from early films like Iron Man to more recent examples in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But overall, despite Marvel's impressive roster of comic book antagonists, its cinematic interpretations have always strangely failed to do them justice.
But Black Panther has captured something truly compelling in Erik Killmonger, the deadly American soldier with an incredibly personal grudge against Wakanda. Not only does Killmonger bring an exciting chaos to the film, but his narrative also provides an interesting look at the black diaspora and the nuance of global black liberation. Not even Loki elicits the kind of fear and sympathy that we've seen audiences shower Killmonger since last week.
12 IT INTRODUCES A NEW POLITICAL ERA IN THE MCU
For all its fantastic elements and fictional sociopolitical events, the MCU has a very distinct real-world theme present in all its films since Iron Man. This cinematic universe was created in the shadows of 9/11, so it's no coincidence that the past 10 years have focused on issues like terrorism, government oversight, and how to protect your country and the people you love without devolving into oppression and destroying human rights.
In many ways, Black Panther feels like a new political arena for Marvel. Hidden in the film is a continued commentary on global politics, but the conversation is much more intimate due to its focus on Wakanda. This film is all about a cultural civil war in an African country, so its political message focuses on the legacies of colonialism and a nation's accountability to its people around the world. It's an interesting response to our current political climate.
11 WAKANDA IS A NATION IN TRANSITION...
Beyond its surprisingly profound contribution to numerous real-life political discussions, Black Panther has some far-reaching consequences for the political world in the MCU. The biggest changes in this film all originate with Wakanda. The first is that Wakanda is in the throes of serious instability following the death of King T'Chaka in Captain America: Civil War. His son T'Challa is trying to adapt to his new responsibilities as king, but internal opposition and external claims to the throne stall his plans.
Eventually, with the establishment of his royal rule finally legitimized, King T'Challa makes a shocking decision about Wakanda's future. Inspired by Nakia's activism and the tragedy of Killmonger, T'Challa brings the isolationist Wakanda to the United Nations, promising to open its borders and provide resources to people in need. The controversial decision is sure to draw the ire -- and Jabari howls -- of many Wakandans sooner or later.
10 ... MEANING WORLD POLITICS HAS BECOME MORE COMPLICATED...
While well-intentioned, Wakanda entering the world stage brings a lot of new political complications to its fictional world. For one, Black Panther indicates that Wakanda will have a close relationship with the CIA, given the collaboration between T'Challa and special agent Everett Ross throughout the film. This development will be highly beneficial thanks to Ross' clear sympathies toward Wakanda as it dips its toe into world affairs.
Having a powerful international ally will help Wakanda in superheroic affairs as well, considering T'Challa isn't as amiable to the Sokovia Accords as his father was. The Black Panther is a symbol that is only dispatched into the world for Wakanda's self-interests, not collective government whims as mandated by the Accords. Furthermore, Wakanda is harboring Bucky Barnes as a favor to Captain America, who are both international fugitives. It's a rather... fraught position for the MCU to be in, to say the least.
9 ... ESPECIALLY WITH THE REVEAL OF VIBRANIUM...
Vibranium is one of the most coveted natural resources in all the MCU, and for centuries Wakanda fed the world the lie that it was a rare oddity with an increasingly diminishing supply. Unfortunately for Wakanda, the nefarious arms dealer Ulysses Klaue knew the truth about Wakanda's limitless quantity of vibranium and its transformative nature -- and he spilled the beans to anyone who would listen, such as Agent Ross.
While it's currently unknown how far Klaue's mouth ran, Wakanda's friendlier borders all but guarantee that the glorious realities of vibranium will soon be known throughout the MCU. On one hand, this will certainly give the nation extensive leverage and influence in the world. The technological advances that will come from vibranium's global usage will revolutionize all life on Earth. However, this discovery may also spark a new age of conquest the MCU universe has never seen before.
8 ...AND THE POWER VACUUM CAUSED BY KLAUE'S DEATH
Should a Scramble for Vibranium occur in the MCU, it will be undeniably chaotic due to one missing player in the game: Ulysses Klaue. Despite only appearing twice onscreen before his demise, his impact on current affairs goes back at least three decades. He was a prolific arms dealer and smuggler of illegal contraband, casually destabilizing governments around the world through his criminal activities.
Hell, he was even relatively friendly with Tony Stark during his warmonger days, which only solidifies the power of his former global influence. We don't know much about his criminal operations, but there is sure to be a power vacuum in the underworld without his leadership. Who will try to rise up and take his place in the black market? How will this further complicate our heroes' lives? Only time will tell, but it's definitely an issue that the MCU will grapple with in future films.
7 T'CHALLA HAS RISEN AS A NEW SUPERHERO PLAYER
While he definitely made quite the impression in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther is very clearly T'Challa's breakout role. It is in this film that he has a complex character arc, as he tries to juggle his grief, his kingship, and the sins of his country's past that have come to him for retribution. And this entire film occurs in a matter of days, immediately after the tumultuous events in Siberia.
Yet through it all, T'Challa is the image of grace and compassion under pressure. Not only does this prove him a capable king, it's also an incredibly promising look at his future in the superhero community. We all know that there's going to be a body count by the end of Avengers: Infinity War, so the necessity for new heroes might mean that T'Challa rises up as a leader for the next generation in the MCU.
6 PRINCESS SHURI IS THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE MCU
Step aside Tony Stark: there's a new genius in the MCU, and she is Wakanda's teen princess Shuri. Black Panther had a sensational cast of characters, but Shuri is hands-down its breakout star. She singlehandedly maintains Wakanda's infrastructure, and she continuously develops new mechanisms to increase the nation's operational efficiency. Thanks to her, Wakanda is centuries ahead of the rest of the world in its technological advancements.
As Wakanda's new international R&D representative, Shuri will surely bless the world with her intelligence and industrial prowess. The ways in which she can aid the superhero community are limitless as well, from amazing suit upgrades to all new gadgetry. She could also bond with other up-and-coming heroes who have similar intellectual interests, such as Peter Parker. Shuri's wit immediately made her a fan favorite, but her impressive mastery of technology is what really solidifies her bright future at Marvel.
5 BUCKY BARNES HAS RETURNED
If you've already seen Black Panther -- and considering the massive spoilers in this article, this writer really hopes you have -- then you know the second post-credit scene featured the surprise return of Bucky Barnes. Fans initially feared his brief and marvelous tenure in the MCU was over, since he was put on ice for his own mental protection and others' physical protection in Captain America: Civil War.
Thankfully, it seems that Shuri has cracked the code of his mental programming. Bucky has awakened in Wakanda as a mentally free man ready to rejoin the world. He's just in time to provide some serious support to his old friend in Avengers: Infinity War, as we saw in the trailer. And it looks like he is abandoning the Winter Soldier moniker for a new codename: the White Wolf, which is a surprising upgrade for the original comic character.
4 THE SOUL STONE IS STILL MISSING (?)
Diehard Marvel fans noticed something peculiar in Black Panther: its total lack of continuity with the MCU superheroes' search for Infinity Stones. With every new film, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy have found themselves deeper in the mystery of these strange objects. With the Soul Stone still missing, and Avengers: Infinity War on the horizon, Black Panther really should have introduced the stone by now.
But the stone still seems to be missing, which means our heroes will need to spend a significant amount of time searching for it in Infinity War. Or, as some fans have theorized, the Soul Stone was hidden in plain sight in the film. Wakanda was founded on an ancient meteor crash site that brought the people a mystical, heart-shaped herb that transports their souls to the astral plane. That... seems like a pretty conspicuous plot point to be further explored.
3 IT SHOWS THE LIMITLESS POTENTIAL OF FAN PARTICIPATION
Black Panther was a cultural phenomenon before it ever hit theaters. Social media users around the world dominated every possible online avenue with hashtags like #BlackPantherSoLit and #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe. Movie critics who saw advanced screenings kept the hype going well before the premiere. And this writer's timeline was inundated with every new cast interview and set photo as soon as they came out.
But that's not all. Everyone from ordinary people to actual celebrities organized special Black Panther showings for local underprivileged youth through the Black Panther Challenge. People dressed up in everything from dashikis to outright cosplay for the premiere. Now that the film is out, the typical fandom response of fanart, fanfiction, meta, and jokes has been wondrously overwhelming. There has never been a social response as passionate or as positive as the one Black Panther inspired among fans, and it's a clearly lucrative blueprint for future MCU films.
2 IT HELPS DEVELOP A NEW KIND OF MARKETING STRATEGY
It's not surprising that Marvel capitalized on all its traditional marketing strategies when it came to Black Panther. After premiering the first action-packed trailer at SDCC 2017 to drum up excitement, Marvel then spent the next several months buying lots of commercial airtime and running reminder advertisements about the film. Marvel has never had trouble getting its cinematic news out there, but it definitely went above and beyond with this film.
Fan hype was free marketing in and of itself, which means that Marvel will reach out more to its fans in the future. Marvel also developed a clever approach to merchandising through unique collaborations with popular consumer products. Marvel sponsored an exclusive PUMA sneaker line, let Funko go nuts with its figurines, and even gave Kendrick Lamar creative control of the film's soundtrack. The financial success of these ventures has definitely added a new page in Marvel's marketing playbook.
1 IT OPENS THE DOOR FOR NEW KINDS OF STORIES
The MCU just celebrated its 10 year anniversary, and Marvel Comics will soon mark its 80th anniversary. Marvel has enthralled its fans all this time with stories of courageous people who fight for what's right despite the opposition that stands in their way. This powerful message has always been somewhat diluted by the focus of Marvel's stories, which has primarily been straight, cisgender white men.
But it's 2018, and change is in the air. The comics now have an extensive cast of diverse superheroes with important narratives to tell Marvel readers. Black Panther is the cinematic equivalent of this change, signifying that characters of colors can lead incredibly successful films just as well as any white hero. If Black Panther has achieved anything, it's effectively opened the doors to films that star new kinds of heroes -- and that is the most important game changer for any thriving movie franchise.