-- SPOILERS lie ahead for Black Panther --
With Black Panther now in theaters, we finally know how the movie sets up this summer’s Avengers: Infinity War. The 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrives in cinemas as one of the best reviewed movies of all time. Black Panther’s 97% fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating is higher than any other comic book movie to date, and it certainly earns all the praise it’s receiving.
When we first met T'Challa in Captain America: Civil War, he was mourning the loss of his father and attempting to avenge his death. Black Panther picks up 10 days after that, with the newly crowned king of Wakanda returning home to defend his crown and his homeland from those who wish to claim the throne for themselves. While the film does a bit of globetrotting -- making brief stops in Oakland, London, and South Korea -- the bulk of the action is firmly grounded in Wakanda. The story is almost entirely self-contained, and especially when compared to the MCU's other solo adventures, it contains very little in the way of connecting tissue to the rest of the shared universe.
Given that Black Panther is the last MCU film to hit the big screen before Infinity War arrives in May, it's actually pretty surprising how little it does to set up Thanos' impending arrival. The Mad Titan is neither seen nor spoken of, the Avengers are out of sight and out of mind, and we still have no idea where the hell the Soul Stone is. That being said, the events of Black Panther could very well end up having a significant impact on the next Avengers movie. Here's how.
Wakanda opens itself up to the world
First things first: Black Panther’s homeland will be pivotal for Avengers: Infinity War. We already know that a major battle will take place on the Wakandan plains thanks to the first trailer, which saw several Avengers (Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Bucky, and War Machine) charging into what looks to be a massive confrontation against Thanos’ army. Right there alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are Black Panther, Okeye, and the armies of Wakanda, a nation that has finally opened itself up to the world by the end of Black Panther.
That last bit is important, because the nation's highly advanced technology will likely be a critical asset in the fight against the Mad Titan. Wakanda had walled itself off for centuries leading up to Black Panther, but in the film's politically-charged mid-credits scene, T'Challa formerly announces that his nation will finally be joining the rest of world. With the Mad Titan en route to Earth, that decision couldn't have come at a better time. Some of the greatest fighters on the planet will now be getting in on the action, and assuming that Wakanda is willing to share some of that nifty weaponry we saw in Black Panther (we imagine they will be), Earth's defenses are in store for some serious upgrades. One in particular, of course, could prove to be the turning point in the war.
The rare and precious metal known as Vibranium is the centerpiece of Wakanda's advanced tech. It's remarkable abilities and variety of uses will reshape the Marvel world as we know it, and because Black Panther takes place just after Civil War, we imagine that the planet has had some time to integrate Vibranium. It remains to be seen how the substance will hold up against the likes of Thanos, the Black Order, and those weird four-armed monsters the Avengers were fighting in the trailer, but it'll surely do better than what non-Wakandans were rocking before. Here's hoping Shuri gets to work in a hurry to get our heroes the upgrades they need to survive the upcoming conflict.
As we saw in Black Panther, creating badass weapons is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of vibranium's usefulness. Most notably, it stabilizes a critically injured Everett Ross when he gets shot in the spine while shielding Nakia from gunfire. Ross somehow manages to make a full recovery from the shooting in a single day thanks to Wakanda's vibranium-powered tech. We're actually somewhat worried about that bit, because the ability to heal critical injuries at a rate like that could potentially have a negative effect on the stakes of future MCU movies. But in the war against Thanos, our heroes will need all the MacGuffins they can get their hands on.
Bucky Barnes Is Back For Infinity War
As we mentioned, Black Panther is an almost entirely self-contained story, one that doesn't make much of an effort to connect to the rest of the MCU. Three of its main characters (T'Challa, Klaue, and Ross) debuted in other MCU movies, of course, but just about everyone and everything else is brand new. Fans had to wait until the post-credits scene for the film's most obvious MCU connection: Bucky Barnes is awake, and he's working with Shuri to get his head screwed on straight after the events of Civil War revealed that he's still susceptible to mind control.
With Bucky up and about, he should be good to go by the time Thanos comes to town. He'll probably be rocking an upgraded bionic arm by then, making him an even deadlier warrior than he was before coming to Wakanda. Bucky may end up becoming the new Captain America when all is said and done, so don't underestimate his importance in the war to come.