Almost ten years ago, Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a parting shot that had Tony Stark telling the world, “I am Iron Man.” Now, in Black Panther, it’s time for T’Challa to step into the spotlight.
In a poetically symmetrical ending that calls back to Iron Man, the ending of Black Panther may also define the next ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s what the ending of Black Panther was all about, and how it may change the MCU.
Spoilers for Marvel’s Black Panther ahead.
In the comics, Wakanda and its riches were never that much of a secret. In fact, during Christopher Priest’s run in the Black Panther comics, one of T’Challa’s biggest plays in his fight against Killmonger was to nationalize Wakandan assets, which sent stock markets into freefall. The world knew how wealthy Wakanda was, so when the Wakandan dollar fell, the world took notice.
In the end of Black Panther, Erik Killmonger is is dethroned and disposed, allowing allowing T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to to resume his rightful place as king of Wakanda and carrier of the Black Panther mantle. But the war with Erik had T’Challa thinking long and hard about responsibility. Is it not on the powerful to help the powerless?
In the end of Black Panther, Wakanda is a bigger secret in the MCU. It poses as an extremely poor country, in order to keep its people safe as well as its precious resource, Vibranium. Klaue (Andy Serkis) even calls Wakanda “El Dorado,” the mythical city of gold in Latin America that was “actually in Africa the whole time.”
In this comic book fantasy about a powerful, isolationist country with a superhero for a king, Black Panther grapples with difficult subjects that even high school history classes gloss over: That of the terrible legacy of colonialism. Erik’s entire mission was to spread the wealth of Wakanda, to upend the status quo. But the Black Panther — a superhero, an archetype entirely defined by protecting status quos — took on a “Prime Directive” approach to foreign relations. Posing as a poor nation of farmers allowed Wakanda to thrive for the good of its own people.
Fighting Killmonger seems to have changed T’Challa’s mind, not to mention making friends with the Avengers. At the end of Black Panther, T’Challa sets up a new Wakandan consulate in Oakland, California, a city with a profound history regarding the African-American experience; the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland in 1966, a few short months after T’Challa appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four #52.
Press conferences are a thing in the MCU. Recall there was another one at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming, where Tony would have announced Spider-Man as a new Avenger until Peter Peter had bigger ideas in mind.
But setting up shop in Oakland isn’t the end. In the mid-credits scene, T’Challa represents Wakanda in a press conference at the United Nations. In a resonant speech that takes jabs xenophobic nationalists who want to set up walls than build bridges, T’Challa reveals that Wakanda will be an isolated country no longer. When a diplomat questions what a poor nation of farmers can offer the world, T’Challa smiles. They’ll know soon enough.
The scene calls back to Tony Stark’s press conference at the end of Iron Man. At the end of that movie, Stark dropped the bombshell that he was the mysterious red-and-gold vigilante that single-handedly brought down a terrorist group in Afghanistan trafficking Stark Industries weapons.
What’s different about T’Challa’s conference versus Stark’s is that the impact of the former could be seismic. Stark’s toys are quaint compared to the technology of Wakanda, in particular those made by Shuri. Shuri makes Stark look like a middle schooler at a science fair. With Wakanda opening its doors, as well as its minds, Wakanda could actually change the world in profound ways.
Or not, if Thanos knows how to use those Infinity Stones correctly. Based on what Avengers: Infinity war looks like, that might actually be the case.
Marvel’s Black Panther is in theaters now.