Is There An Explanation For Black Panther's Continuity Issue?
Unlike Doctor Strange, which was completely disconnected to the point it's multi-year story didn't quite gel, or Civil War and Homecoming both saying they were set eight years after Iron Man and The Avengers respectively, there is at least the possibility of an in-universe explanation.
One key detail to notice is that it's never actually stated that Bucky is in Wakanda during Black Panther. This means that Steve Rogers could have reached out to T'Challa but is yet to arrive in the country; Shuri is simply referencing the impending arrival of Bucky, rather than acknowledging working on him now.
The other explanation, albeit it a bit more strained, would be that the scene takes place during the early portion of Black Panther, just offscreen (presumably because it doesn't fit into the main plot and would thus be empty universe clearing). It would require ignoring the dating of the Prelude comic, but mostly fits; the warning Captain America gives to T'Challa - "if they find out he's here, they'll come for you" - plays equally well before or after his U.N. speech. Neither of these is ideal, but they at least wrap things up.
What Black Panther's Continuity Flub Really Means
Of course, whatever official solution that Marvel goes with (if they acknowledge this at all), Black Panther's continuity flub is really a product of the evolving franchise. Bucky's recovery is a background storyline for fans - he first realizes' his true identity in The Winter Soldier's post-credits scene, seeks help in Civil War's and it's resolved in Black Panther's stinger - not a primary throughline that must be understood for Avengers: Infinity War, where he'll no doubt turn up right as rain.
And that's what every single timeline problem really means. Whereas in Phase 1 connectivity was the central idea - to the point that Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor all happened in the same week with minimal issue - now micro-continuity isn't high on Marvel's priorities: making good movies is. That's why all of these exist: Jon Watts wanted to have Vulture's child directly inspired by the Battle of New York; Taika Waititi (and Feige) wanted Thor: Ragnarok to ditch the hunt for Infinity Stones; and Ryan Coogler wanted free reign to tell the Marvel story he wanted to, and simply needed to pay lip service to the fact Bucky is in Wakanda. Each of those choices was made to strengthen the individual movie with the knowledge that a better film would lead to an overall stronger franchise than completely smooth narrative cohesion would.
What we're really seeing is Marvel letting the granular aspects of shared universe filmmaking fall by the wayside, in part out of necessity - when you're dealing with a machine this big it's impossible to have everything line up - but also an understanding that "connectivity" simply doesn't entice as much as pure quality. And so, while Black Panther disregarding the specifics of Captain America: Civil War's mid-credits scene is an eyebrow raiser, it's all for a greater franchise. Just one that doesn't quite line up.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018