Warning: This story contains multiple spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
As audiences leave the fantastical hidden kingdom of Wakanda at the end of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may find themselves wondering if the high-tech African nation will play a greater role in the comic book universe at large. Will the world of the Black Panther, now that we know the fate of that mantle, spread further into the greater MCU, or will it remain a more isolationist corner? (Suffice it to say, spoilers ahead.)
Ever since Wakanda was introduced into the MCU, it’s been very clear that creatively it occupies territory that’s hallowed and shielded both geographically and canonically: yes, T’Challa was welcomed into the uber-franchise with a strategic introduction in Captain America: Civil War, and yes, Wakanda provided a potent battleground for Thanos’ invasion in Avengers: Infinity War. But unlike other, frequently crossing-over corners of the MCU, the world of Wakanda has remained largely sacrosanct, kept under the thoughtful, innovative stewardship of writer-director Ryan Coogler.
On a storytelling level, Wakanda seemed poised to integrate more fully into the MCU at the end of the first Black Panther film, and out of the gate T’Challa, Nakia, Okoye and M’Baku emerged as key players in the fight against Thanos. But post-Endgame, greater interaction with other heroes and villains seemed to be put on pause: first, due to the tragic reality of the passing of Chadwick Boseman, which put the creative fate of Wakanda into turmoil; and second, because Black Panther was a global phenomenon that reached people on a deep and profound level, it made sense to proceed with caution and care to ensure the integrity of Wakanda’s next evolution.
Wakanda’s place in the broader MCU was only briefly teased, with an intriguing but relatively limited appearance by Dora Milaje general Ayo (Florence Kasumba) resolving some dangling plot points in the Disney+ series The Falcon And The Winter Soldier.
But now that Coogler has had the chance to address the loss of both Boseman and T’Challa—and allow the characters and the audience to process their grief—the world of Wakanda is wide open again. There are a lot of opportunities on the newly reset table, and several key characters with the potential for bright futures in the bigger-picture MCU and indeed Black Panther producer Nate Moore has strongly hinted that Wakanda-spun projects are on the table. But we can also expect both Coogler and Marvel to take a less-is-more approach to Wakanda proper, and save its emotional depth (not to mention superheroic spectacle) for future Black Panther films.
Moving forward, certainly Letitia Wright’s Shuri, now that she’s accepted the mantle of her country’s protector, is poised to be strategically deployed within the broader MCU; expect her to appear, perhaps in small doses, perhaps not in full costume, in shrewdly planned moments to help other Avengers in moments of high-tech need—perhaps during Secret Invasion and/or Armor Wars, most certainly alongside Riri Williams at some point in the upcoming Ironheart series. But bet on seeing Shuri as the full-blown Black Panther again when it really matters, most likely during the culmination of the Multiverse Saga with Avengers: Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret War. After all, she has affairs of state to attend, and, it now seems, a future successor to help train.
The place within the MCU of Riri Williams—and Dominique Thorne, who winningly plays her—is, of course, assured as she headlines her own Disney+ Ironheart series, which presumably will provide more definition and flavor to her backstory even as it pushes her forward. Ironheart is a character full of crossover potential: with her Wakanda ties now firmly established, it remains to be seen how integrated she might become in the armor-clad world of Stark Industries, especially with the passing of Tony Stark. The Armor Wars film certainly seems like a place she could be expected to show up, where Williams could possibly build an intriguing dynamic with Don Cheadle’s War Machine.
Marvel also hasn’t tipped its hand as to what, exactly it has planned for the growing crop of youthful, second-generation heroes that have recently emerged or are on the way—Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye II, America Chavez, Stature, Thor’s foster daughter Love, and possibly even the Scarlet Witch and Vision’s twins—but if there are Young Avengers or Champions plans percolating, Riri would fit right in.
It was pretty strongly underlined that Martin Freeman’s agent Everett Ross will likely play a role in the unfolding storyline involving his ex-wife, CIA head Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and the presumptive band of Thunderbolts she’s been assembling (Black Widow Yelena Belova, the U.S. Agent, Taskmaster, Ghost, and Red Guardian). As he wrestles with Val’s agenda, it’ll be fun to see Everett moving closer to the down-on-his-heels persona established in his comics appearances. Given that there’s been explicit comic book connection between Everett and Val, let’s maybe start getting excited about the possibilities inherent in that he shares a surname with Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, now played by Harrison Ford.
Among the Wakandan natives, now that Okoye has assumed the Midnight Angel armor—coupled with the fact that she’s already essentially served as an Avenger during The Blip—it would seem she has the greatest potential to expand her presence beyond her nation’s borders. Danai Gurira is such a formidable and appealing screen presence she’d be welcome in just about any corner of the MCU, and rumors of a Midnight Angels-centric Disney+ series promise the most intriguing possibilities to return to Wakanda itself outside of a third Black Panther film—especially with Kasumba’s Ayo and Michaela Cole’s Aneka in tow. M’Baku, played with such charismatic relish by Winston Duke, would be a natural fit here as well, and is also a Wakanda that would fare well if used throughout the MCU.
Less likely, though, would be any screen return—beyond a strategic cameo—for Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia until a third BP feature. Now revealed as the mother of T’Challa’s secret son, Nakia has a valuable role to play in helping move that key piece of story forward, and spreading her throughout the MCU would likely dilute her role in the future of the sub-franchise.
As for Nakia’s son Toussaint/T’Challa II, expect big things from that character down the line. It seems almost inevitable that one day—perhaps sooner than anyone expects—he’ll pick up the mantle of Black Panther from his Aunt Shuri.
Finally, there’s Tenoch Huerta’s Namor, the noble, sometimes misguided antihero whose role has the greatest promise in the big, broad MCU. Just like his comic book counterpart, whose been both hero and villain, depending on the moment, Namor’s zeal to protect his own kingdom and his inherent arrogance makes a perfect brew for him to come into heated conflict with just about anyone in the expanding universe. His role as undersea sovereign comes with the promise of big confrontations with the existing nations that already populate the MCU—including Wakanda, New Asgard, Sokovia, and Madripoor—and others that may yet emerge, like Latveria, Attilan, and Genosha.
Namor’s got mutant bona fides if and when the X-Men formally join the MCU, and he’s got history with the Hulk and Doctor Strange as the anti-super-team the Defenders. Additionally, the comic book version’s ever-burning desire for Invisible Woman Susan Storm poses all kinds of possibilities when the Fantastic Four finally show up. And certainly if Chris Evans ever feels like strapping into his retro-40s Captain America gear again for a wartime flashback film, as the Sub-Mariner Namor fought the Nazis at Cap’s side as a member of the Invaders!
One way or another, even if we don’t get a good glimpse at his rivals in Wakanda for a while, the MCU is far from finished with Namor.