After a long wait, we finally know who the new Black Panther is and how the legendary comic character Namor fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever impressed critics and audiences alike, but one question still remains: what do its multiple reveals mean for the future of the MCU?
There are several new heroes in the mix following this film, including the new Black Panther and Namor. Wakanda Forever introduces the Midnight Angels, Ironheart, and even hints at some of the plot points we might see in the upcoming Thunderbolts film. How might all these new characters fit into the rapidly changing universe of Marvel?
Today, we’re going to break down some of the biggest reveals from Wakanda Forever and give some background on what they could mean for the MCU going forward.
This should go without saying, but consider this a massive spoiler warning for Wakanda Forever, and for most of the MCU’s Phase Four projects. And, in case we’re too accurate with our predictions, this article could even “spoil” some future MCU projects. Just a heads-up!
The New Black Panther
Thanks to some unwitting help from Namor, Shuri was able to synthetically recreate the heart-shaped herb and became the newest Black Panther, taking up her brother’s mantle. Empowered by the herb and fresh off her Ancestral Plane chat with Killmonger, Shuri is ready to take on the world and nearly kills Namor before realizing that the cycle of violence that dragged Killmonger and her father down isn’t worth pursuing.
The film’s ending suggests that Shuri won’t be spending much time on the throne, despite her mother’s death leaving her as the obvious Queen of Wakanda. Instead, M’Baku challenges for the throne in her stead. It’s likely that Shuri will be spending too much time in the lab and in her new role as Wakanda’s protector to also act as the head of state. If so, this could free her up for more superhero action.
There’s also the matter of T’Challa’s son, Toussaint, who is living in Haiti with Nakia. His “secret” name is also T’Challa, and he’s likely to inherit his father’s mantle at some point in the future. His introduction could be a chance to set up a future Black Panther for a Young Avengers storyline, teaming up with the likes of Kate Bishop, Hulkling, and Wanda’s children Billy and Tommy.
Namor and Talokan
Wakanda Forever takes some inspiration from recent Marvel comics and casts Namor, the Sub-Mariner, as the enemy of Wakanda. In a 2011 comic run, Namor floods Wakanda while possessed by the Phoenix Force, leading to a long-lasting animosity between the Atlanteans and the Wakandans. In Wakana Forever, Marvel Studios has reinterpreted Namor as K’uk’ulkan, a Mayan deity worshipped in antiquity.
The film also does away with the name “Atlantis” and instead calls the underwater city “Talokan,” the name of an afterlife in Mayan mythology. This Mesoamerican reinterpretation of the character and his origins makes Namor a fascinating counterpoint to Shuri–both are royal people from hidden kingdoms and represent pushback against Western Imperialism. They also each come from civilizations defined by their connection to vibranium, the mythical metal that powers Wakanda and Talokan technology.
Interestingly, Namor doesn’t lose his life in the climax of Wakanda Forever, a rare sight in an MCU film. This means filmmakers might have the Sub-Mariner return for later battles. He seems to suggest that he’s not done with his plans to wage war on the surface world. Perhaps he’ll have a bigger role to play in future Avengers films? If Shuri joins the ranks of the Avengers like her brother did, they’ll likely hear about Namor one way or another.
Val and the Thunderbolts
One of the strangest things about Wakanda Forever is that it features an extended cameo from Val, the mysterious government agent seen in Black Widow and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. She’s not recruiting any morally-dubious superhumans this time, though. She’s apparently the new Director of the CIA and Agent Everett Ross’s ex-wife. Rough stuff, Ross. Imagine fumbling a relationship with Julia Louis-Dreyfus of all people.
Val seems to be intent on equipping the US with vibranium. In a telling exchange, Ross proposes how terrifying the world would be if America was the only country with access to vibranium. Val chillingly tells him that’s a scenario she “dreams about,” leaving him looking on in horror.
While it’s somewhat framed as a throwaway line, might this be part of Val’s plan in the upcoming Thunderbolts film? We know she’s amassing a team of misfit heroes like John Walker and Yelena Belova. Maybe Ulysses Klaue left some stolen vibranium in storage somewhere and the Thunderbolts team will have to secure it to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Which, as far as Val is concerned, would be the hands of anyone besides the CIA.
The Midnight Angels
A new pair of heroes join the MCU in Wakanda Forever: the Midnight Angels. This group of battle-hardened Dora Milaje was first introduced to the comic book universe in the 2010 Doomwar limited series. The group, comprised of elite soldiers from Wakanda’s special forces, serves as the Black Panther’s own honor guard.
Clad in vibranium battle armor and empowered by the will of the King of Wakanda, the Midnight Angels are mighty heroes in their own right. They’re something of a cross between Iron Man and Black Panther. So, seeing Okoye and Anekka take on their iconic roles as Midnight Angels was quite the treat for audiences when Wakanda Forever hit theaters.
However, it’s not very likely that we’ll see the Midnight Angels much outside of properties connected to the Black Panther herself. Given that the group is so secretive and works at the direct command of Shuri, it’s hard to imagine much beyond a cameo in a Disney+ series or a one-off mention in another superhero’s movie.
The Invincible Ironheart
Fans of Tony Stark’s high-tech brand of superhero action were deeply saddened by the character’s death in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. While Tony served as the introduction to the MCU with 2008’s Iron Man, he gradually sank into the background and became more of an elder statesman in films like Spider-Man Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War. Since his departure from the MCU, there’s been a Stark-shaped hole in the Phase Four projects.
Thankfully, Riri Williams is here to remedy that. A brilliant MIT student who has created her own armor suits with some help from Stark blueprints, Williams is the high-tech superhero Ironheart. Her surprise introduction in Wakanda Forever was complete with a slew of Tony Stark callbacks, including the half-finished armor exoskeleton she used to escape the approaching CIA with Shuri and Okoye. In the comics, she even has an AI companion modeled after Tony Stark that helps mentor her in her new role as a superhero (something that fans would adore to see in the MCU).
Riri will return in the Disney+ series Armor Wars, which is likely to tie up a number of loose ends relating to Tony’s estate and the fate of his various suits of armor. Fans are hoping to see some closure with characters like Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, and Happy Hogan. Meanwhile, the series will likely also serve as a proper introduction to Riri and her family and will give fans some background information on how she created her first suit of armor and why she’s the person who’ll take over the Iron Mantle in Tony’s stead.
A Touching Tribute
More than all of these Easter eggs, callbacks, and superhero set-ups, though, Wakanda Forever serves as a genuinely touching tribute to the life of Chadwick Boseman. His untimely passing in 2020 struck fans out of nowhere, and it clearly had a profound impact on the production of Wakanda Forever. The film opens with a moment of silence and the Marvel logo is completely overtaken by images of T’Challa from various scenes across Phase 3.
The movie spends much of its runtime ruminating on themes of grief and loss. Shuri doesn’t even believe the Ancestral Plane exists, setting up her character arc in the film as she literally confronts the ghosts of her past. One of the movie’s most effective story beats comes at the end of the second act when Shuri ingests the heart-shaped herb and finds herself face-to-face with the ghost of her cousin, Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan’s sudden appearance is shocking because Shuri expected to see her mother, Ramonda, and audiences readied to see a CGI recreation of Chadwick Boseman–thankfully, neither of those events came to pass.
Killmonger’s appearance and his taunts are enough to spur Shuri to be a different kind of Black Panther than he was, or than her brother was. She’s not a noble knight like T’Challa, but she’s also far from the murderous maniac that Killmonger was. Instead, she’s going to forge her own path, following Ramonda’s advice. “Show them who you are,” she tells her daughter from the Ancestral Plane. In the film’s final scenes, Shuri remembers her brother and burns her funeral attire, finally moving forward with love in her heart. That’s who she is.