Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn’t just mark the end of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the beginning of a strange new era for the franchise. The long-awaited sequel to Black Panther has received largely positive reviews, with most of the early acclaim attributed to the contributions of its director, Ryan Coogler.
Coogler, whose previous films include Creed and Fruitvale Station, is one of the few genuine auteurs who’s worked with Marvel in recent years. His talent and specific perspective have been instrumental to the creative success of both Black Panther and Wakanda Forever.
For that reason,Wakanda Forever’s release warrants both celebration and concern for the MCU.
The MCU’s Future — In recent months, Marvel Studios has cleared away most of the mystery surrounding its slate of upcoming projects. Barring a few unexpected surprises, MCU fans know exactly what they can expect to see from the studio over the coming years.
Where there are several exciting titles in Marvel’s Phase 5 and 6 lineups, the studio’s future lacks artists on the same level as Coogler. Outside of Wakanda Forever, the only other MCU title set to be helmed by a filmmaker with an approach as specific as Coogler's is the James Gunn-directed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Gunn is leaving Marvel behind for DC after the release of Vol. 3. Coogler, meanwhile, has yet to confirm whether he plans on returning to helm a third Black Panther film. Right now, most fans seem to believe he’ll take a break from the MCU in favor of working on something else.
That means Phases 5 and 6 of the MCU are set to be largely devoid of distinct creators like Coogler, Gunn, Sam Raimi, Chloé Zhao, and Taika Waititi.
The Absence of Auteurs — The MCU has been repeatedly criticized for being far too bland for its own good. Even when more distinct films like Eternals haven’t been entirely successful, the contributions of filmmakers like Coogler, Zhao, Raimi, and Gunn have done a lot to inject new life and creative energy into the MCU.
Peyton Reed, Matt Shakman, Jake Schreier, and Nia DaCosta are all capable filmmakers in their own right, but none are quite as stylistically distinct. The fact that Marvel’s fifth and sixth phases are currently devoid of films made by artists like Waititi and Coogler only makes it seem more likely that the upcoming years will be the MCU’s blandest yet.
The Inverse Analysis — Marvel Studios has, for better or worse, perfected a factory-style approach to filmmaking that’s allowed it to maintain a tonal and visual consistency across the MCU. None of this is to say that their upcoming films will all be bad or inept. For as bland as they could be at times, the Russo Brothers’ contributions to the Infinity Saga were mostly well-executed.
There is, however, a real chance that the MCU is only going to become more unimaginative and monotonous from here on out. For all the Marvel fans out there who were hoping to see more variety in the MCU, that means the next few years are looking particularly dire.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.