Before we get into the concerns I have about the continuity problems in Black Panther, I want to start out by saying I don’t really care. The movie was fabulous, the story was meaningful, and what follows really is minutiae. Ultimately it doesn’t ruin the movie for me and this is all a bit of fanboy OCD which usually I would mock rather than write. That said, I feel like it sheds some light on the MCU, Kevin Feige‘s “master plan” (or lack thereof), and the kind of universe this film cosmos we all love is.
The first thing that began to bother me was the way that Evertt Ross talks about covering up Black Panther’s role in Captain America: Civil War. There is a simple line of dialogue about how the Panther’s engagement in the conflicts was sort of swept under the rug. It felt like a line that was meant to deal with a gap in continuity. The world at large is supposed to be unaware of the technological prowess of Wakanda and yet their king is running around in a cat-suit made of vibranium. The problem is made worse by the fact that Black Panther isn’t exactly operating in secret. The major chase scene ends with T’Challa removing his mask in front of dozens of agents, War Machine, and those dozens of motorists watching the whole scene. In an age of paparazzi and cell phones, we are to believe that no one would notice royalty in a super hero costume?
But then I started to think some more about Captain America: Civil War. Wakanda becomes part of the story when eleven Wakandans die in the explosion caused by Crossbones. The film describes them as on an “outreach mission.” Later, these are the comments that T’Chaka makes about the incident. “When stolen Wakandan vibranium was used to make a terrible weapon, we in Wakanda were forced to question our legacy. Those men and women killed in Nigeria, were part of a goodwill mission from a country too long in the shadows. We will not, however, let misfortune drive us back. We will fight to improve the world we wish to join.” So many odd things in this statement for a reclusive country of farmers. First of all, what is the outreach mission about? What were a bunch of farmers and shepherds providing via goodwill? Watching the film at the time I assumed they were scientists, though that isn’t made explicit. Also, what is the legacy that T’Chaka mentions? How does the use of vibranium in Sokovia change the way people think about a little agricultural country? Also, Black Panther suggests that Wakanda has been firmly isolationist for generations. Yet here T’Chaka talks about a recent decision to come out of the shadows and that the attack won’t change that decision. His tone is distinctly willing to intervene in the world. “We will fight to improve the world we wish to join.” There is also the way T’Challa flashes oppulance with his car and bragging about his resources, yet Black Widow just accepts this as normal. Finally, when Cap needs high level medical help for Bucky, he immediately heads to Wakanda. How did he know to do that? Simply put, all this data makes little sense with the world Ryan Coogler gives us, but fits the comic version of Wakanda, a known tech giant that doesn’t play nice with others.
Captain America: Civil War isn’t the only data point, either. Avengers: Age of Ultron also suggests that Wakanda is a somewhat known entity. When Klaue comes into play it becomes clear that Cap and Stark have discussed vibranium, who has it, and how much is left.
- Bruce Banner: Wakanada…? Wa…Wa…Wakanda.
- Tony Stark: If this guy got out of Wakanda with some of their trade goods…
- Steve Rogers: I thought your father said he got the last of it?
- Bruce Banner: I don’t follow. What comes out of Wakanda? [looking at Steve’s shield]
- Tony Stark: The strongest metal on earth.
Now in Black Panther Ross suggests that the going story was Wakanda had one load of vibranium and it was all stolen by Klaue. Tony Stark seems to believe, however, that Wakanda is a known dealer of vibranium and that maybe it dried up back in WWII. None of this data makes a ton of sense. (Also, how does Banner not know about this?) Even more concerning is that Klaue provides Ultron with enough vibranium to create an entire core for lifting Sokovia into the sky. The one stash that Klaue made off with in Black Panther is shown visually, and it doesn’t look like nearly enough to create such machinery. Also, what is the time frame of all this? Is that famous heist that T’Chaka told the world about the source of the Ultron vibranium? Or did Klaue make several trips in the minds of the Age of Ultron writers, but just one famous one for Coogler?
There also is that Iron Man 2 Easter Egg where S.H.I.E.L.D. is keeping an eye on the country. Obviously, S.H.I.E.L.D. should be the keepers of the secrets and know things others don’t. But it seems unusual that S.H.I.E.L.D. would be looking intently on a place that the CIA is totally ignorant about. This is the least of the evidence, but it doesn’t fit particularly well either.
So I have a theory for what happened here. Wakanda was always assumed by the MCU writers, particularly Markus and McFeely who first wrote T’Challa into a script, to be a known tech and science powerhouse. They were isolationists, but not an unknown quantity. When Coogler came on board, he had a very different story that he wanted to tell. Erik Kilmonger’s rage is far less understandable if he is merely a cast-off citizen from a country that is actively doing goodwill missions in Nigeria. In fact, that mission mentioned in Civil War directly strikes at his criticism that Wakanda does nothing for others of African descent elsewhere in the world. A more extreme isolationism is needed for the plot and was written in, fudging over the details we already have. It’s understandable and made the film better in the end, I think, but it is clearly a retcon situation.
I find the role of Klaue to be another line of evidence in this theory. Marvel worked hard to fit him into the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The sojourn to South Africa feels a little unnecessary. It felt at the time that Marvel really wanted to set the groundwork for Black Panther. But then the character becomes rather expendable in the film. Serkis was built up in Ultron for seemingly no reason. That is unless this movie was sketched out in Feige’s brain as a different kind of film. Maybe the original plan was a more traditional Klaw vs. Panther story centered around more vibranium thefts. And in the midst of the pre-production Ryan Coogler walked in the door with a much better and more compelling story. So they called an audible and shifted plans. That script decision, however, came too late for Civil War. Coogler was writing around the time the third Cap movie came out. So Klaw’s role, and the nature of Wakanda’s isolationism, had to be massaged from the original plan.
If this is true it says two things about the MCU. One, it is not nearly as pre-ordained as people think. Kevin Feige does not, in fact, have detailed scripts for 25 movies which the creators merely ghost-write. He has ideas, plans, directions, but he is always willing to shift. That’s what he has been saying forever, but fans are obsessed with making him far more calculated than he is. Two, he also is brilliantly flexible. If Coogler did change the plan Feige was right to roll with the changes because he probably got a better film than he originally planned. The humility shown in trusting his writers and directors is admirable. For all the talk years ago about Mavel not being “director friendly,” the proof is actually in the pudding. Marvel Studios is trusting their creative staffs, even when it changes plans, and it is leading to creative triumphs.