Marvel’s latest points towards the next movie in its final moments.
One of the best things about Black Panther is that it manages to stand almost entirely apart from its Marvel colleagues. There are no shoehorned Tony Stark references, no Thanos cameos, and absolutely no Infinity Stones. In a weird sort of way, it’s jarring to imagine the movie as part of a larger world, partially because the world of the film is so absorbing and well-constructed. On top of that, Black Panther itself thematically revolves around a country on the verge of entering the larger global world. Director Ryan Coogler‘s film benefits from the universe Marvel has created over the last 10 years without being restrained by it.
As such, the decade-long tradition of post-credits scenes feels a little forced here. One can assume that Coogler, with his particular cinematic voice, had no desire to include any Avengers: Infinity War bumpers, so the one that’s included feels distinctly studio-mandated. To discuss this further we’ll have to get into spoilers territory, so you’ve been warned.
The first Black Panther post-credits scene is odd in that it follows a semi-unnecessary trend that the series has been indulging in since The Avengers. That was the first Marvel film to include two stingers, and ever since the studio has followed that template. Frequently, one of these scenes feels like it belongs somewhere else. Thor: The Dark World tosses its Natalie Portman reunion to the end of the credits, when it should be the film’s final shot. The Winter Soldier does likewise with its Bucky tease bumper, and now Black Panther follows suit.
The first mid-credits scene features the conclusion of a narrative arc rather than a tease of the future. We see T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman in a reprisal of his breakout Captain America: Civil War performance) address the United Nations and announce Wakanda’s entrance on the world stage, after a film’s worth of debate on the matter. It’s important to the character and to the series, but it feels like it belongs nearer the actual conclusion of the film, when T’Challa has made his ultimate decision about his nation’s place in the world. Not everything needs to feel like a reward; some things can just be part of the fabric of a movie, especially when they’re this significant to Black Panther‘s themes of globalization.
The second of the two scenes is more of what we’ve come to expect, but it nonetheless feels obligatory more than anything else. We see James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) wake up and exit a Wakandan hut, where he meets T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright, in the film’s standout performance). She addresses him as Sergeant Barnes, and he corrects her: “It’s Bucky.” The implication seems to be that the character’s broken mind is healing thanks to Wakanda’s superior technology. The man who went under in Civil War is becoming the man who went under the ice in Captain America: The First Avenger.
This second scene is inoffensive, but it signals something slightly uncomfortable about this May’s Infinity War. Marvel has done something very canny with that film, correctly anticipating the response to Black Panther and making Wakanda central to their big team-up’s plot. It’s lovely to see Danai Gurira‘s Okoye charging into battle alongside the Avengers, but it also feels like a big fight with aliens on the plains of Wakanda dilutes what makes Black Panther special.
We used to have to go several years before seeing Marvel supporting characters again. We’ll see Shuri and Okoye back on the big screen in a matter of months, and it remains to be seen if that lack of long-term absence will make the heart less fond. Part of me doesn’t want to contaminate the unblemished world of T’Challa with the sweaty franchise-building of a horde of faceless MacGuffin-seeking minions. But maybe that’s the point. Wakanda is coming out of the shadows, and into the shadow of Thanos. We’ll have to see if it was the right choice.