Warning: Black Panther spoilers ahead.
Black Panther may be taking the box office by storm, but that hasn't stopped many people asking, "Where has Bucky Barnes been all this time?" Thankfully, director Ryan Coogler is here to answer that very question.
The 18th MCU movie should neatly lead us into the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War; though without the reveal of the final Infinity Stone, Black Panther carved its way as more of a standalone than just a Thanos prequel movie. Although it did set up Bucky Barnes' involvement in Infinity War, Coogler chose to sideline him in favor of Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa. Given that Black Panther played a relatively minor part in the Winter Solider-packed Captain America: Civil War, it seems only fair to return the favor, but some have been left questioning why Coogler made the decision.
A post-credits scene revealed that Black Panther's sister Shuri was working to undo Barnes' mental conditioning by HYDRA to right the wrongs of Civil War, but why was Bucky saved until the very end? Speaking to the Empire Film Podcast, Coogler sat alongside producer Nate Moore to reveal that it was always the plan to include Barnes in some way, just not necessarily how fans might've wanted:
“That was something that was always—it was a Shuri thing, because in our world we kind of figured that Bucky Barnes would be her assignment. We kind of drop the hint at that when they bring Ross in and she’s like, ‘Oh another one.’ So we dropped hints in there, but what we kind of decided was that her cracking his mental code, if Shuri’s as smart as she is, that wouldn’t really be a big problem."
Alongside Boseman's T'Challa, the arrival of Letitia Wright as Shuri was one of Black Panther's best additions. With a brilliant brother-sister bond and her challenging even Tony Stark for intellect, Shuri will surely become a major part of the MCU's future. Also, by now seemingly putting her in charge of Bucky Barne's rehabilitation, it gives them both a segue into Infinity War.
Remembering back to Civil War, a post-credits scene had Cap and Barnes alongside T'Challa in Wakanda. Given that superhero ensemble ended with Barnes conveniently placed in cryosleep until Black Panther needed him, Coogler could've had him appear at any point in the movie. However, it makes sense that he didn't want to detract from the importance of Black Panther as a solo film. Just like cameos from Ulysses Klaue and Everett Ross, they managed to weave around the main storyline without taking too much away from the main cast. Continuing about his decision, Coolger joked that an extended appearance for Bucky may have caused more harm than good:
"Bucky would have horrible PTSD, he would need spiritual guidance. The last thing he would need to do is jump into that Civil War, and so that was kind of the thought process there. And it could be potentially problematic if it’s a bunch of Africans fighting and you bring in a White dude, he comes in shootin’ people (laughs). We were aware of that. Bucky’s not trained to neutralize people peacefully, he’s an assassin. We were like, ‘I don’t know if we can do that…’”
With Black Panther wrapping its own story, it also set the stage for a return to Wakanda in Infinity War, and what we can only assume will be another solo movie somewhere in Phase 4 or Kevin Feige's 20+ new films he has planned. Either way, it was great fan service to see Shuri get that little bit of extra screen time while also bringing back Barnes to tie off the dangling plot threads of Civil War. We will just have to wait and see whether the Winter Soldier will be fully defrosted or a little of his old life still remains.
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