Before we get the next massive Avengers movie in April, one Marvel superhero – Black Panther – is getting his own standalone feature later this month. It's not his debut appearance, though. You might remember him from Captain America: Civil War, where he got a stylish introduction as a guy in a sleek black suit giving chase to the Winter Soldier, before he revealed himself to be the Wakandan prince, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman).
That film even gave us a glimpse of Wakanda during the credits, where Captain America's best friend was granted asylum and put in cryogenic sleep. And that's where director Ryan Coogler's Black Panther the movie is set, with T'Challa – now king after the death of his father in Civil War – having to deal with internal strife. If you'd like to go in blind, we suggest you stop reading now. For everyone else, here's a primer on Black Panther:
Black Panther – the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first with an African-American in the lead – is out February 16 worldwide. As with other Marvel films, Black Panther will release in IMAX and 3D.
Chadwick Boseman plays the titular character, as mentioned before. The character of Black Panther originated in a 1966 Fantastic Four issue, thanks to Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. In his original avatar, Black Panther looked a lot like Batman, what with a full-bodied black suit and a black cape, with the difference being his entire face was covered. The MCU films have been inspired by the design seen in Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther comic run, where the suit forms around the body.
Michael B. Jordan is the primary antagonist in Black Panther, as Erik Killmonger. The film version of Killmonger retains his background as a Wakandan exile, though it adds the bit about being an American black-ops solider. The character's tribal markings are retained, though his recognisable long hair is turned into dreadlocks for the movie, which Jordan said was part of making him modern. Jordan is a frequent collaborator of Coogler, having led both Fruitvale Station and Creed.
Then there's the female lead, Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) as Nakia, the former lover of T'Challa and now part of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Wakandan special force that protects the king. Nyong'o has said that her character is very different from the comics, terming her a "war dog" and "undercover spy". In the comics, Nakia ends up as a Killmonger ally after she's rescued from a torturer, but we don't know if Black Panther plans to lean into that.
That brings us to Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, who's been described by Gurira as a traditionalist, and someone "very proud of her people, her country, and her heritage". The character is fiercely loyal to the royal family, and the king's security is paramount for her, having lost the previous one in Civil War. Gurira went bald for the role, and she sports angular tattoos on her head for the role.
Daniel Kaluuya, the breakout star of Get Out, is also in Black Panther. He plays a confidant to T'Challa and his best friend, who is the head of security for the Border Tribe, a faction of Wakanda that serves as the first line of defence and helps maintain the disguise that Wakanda is an agrarian society, unlike its actual technologically-advanced status.
Letitia Wright (Urban Hymn) plays T'Challa's sister Shuri, who's also the princess of Wakanda. She's incredibly brilliant, and helps design new technology for the nation. The royal family is completed by Angela Bassett (American Horror Story) as Ramonda, T'Challa's mother and Queen Mother of Wakanda. She's one of Black Panther's main advisors.
Winston Duke stars as M'Baku, the fearless leader of Wakanda's mountain tribe Jabari, and one among the resistance to the new king. Forest Whitaker (Rogue One) plays Zuri, a religious and spiritual figure of importance. Coogler called him "Black Panther's version of Obi-Wan Kenobi", and a tie-back to T'Challa's father, T'Chaka. That completes the new members of the main cast.
Andy Serkis reprises his role as Ulysses Klaue, the black-market arms dealer and smuggler who first appeared in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Here, he's allied with Killmonger, and will help him overthrow the Wakandan establishment. Martin Freeman is also back as the little-known CIA agent Everett K. Ross, who's the link to the outside for Black Panther. Florence Kasumba and John Kani, both of whom appeared in Civil War, will also return in their roles.
Black Panther crew, inspiration
Not only did Ryan Coogler direct Black Panther, he also co-wrote the film with Joe Robert Cole, who wrote two episodes in the first season of American Crime Story. In addition to Michael B. Jordan, he's also brought back others he's worked with on previous films, including cinematographer Rachel Morrison – the first woman to be nominated for the cinematography Oscar, for Mudbound – alongside music composer Ludwig Göransson, and production designer Hannah Beachler.
In forming the plot and tone, Coogler said he was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther comic run – including his "poetic dialogue", and Brian Stelfreeze's art – and the work of Jack Kirby, Christopher Priest, Jonathan Hickman, and Reginald Hudlin. He added than Priest's writing was most influential. Coogler said influences also came from 70s movies, including those by Francis Ford Coppola, and Jacques Audiard's 2009 prison drama A Prophet.
The 31-year-old director has called Black Panther the "most personal film" he's made. "To me it deals with the answer to a question that I've been asking myself since I was very young – what does it mean to be African? That idea, that concept, I was very interested in and drawn towards. I was able to explore that in making this film. It enabled me to fulfil a long-life dream of going to the continent of Africa – researching – for the first time. The things that I learned about the continent and the things that I learned about myself were invaluable. I tried to put some of that energy into the project."
While Göransson is in charge of the background music, Coogler chose Grammy-winner Kendrick Lamar to produce the curated soundtrack. This is the first time that Marvel has picked a music star to write original songs for one of its movies. Titled Black Panther: The Album, it'll be out a week before the film's release on February 9. Three singles from the album have already been released: All The Stars, a Lamar collaboration with SZA; King's Dead by Lamar with Jay Rock, Future, and James Blake; and Pray for Me by Lamar and The Weeknd.
Here's the full track list for Black Panther soundtrack:
Black Panther credits scenes
There are two scenes during the end credits of Black Panther, according to those who attended the world première in Los Angeles. This is pretty much standard from Marvel at this point – it's never a question of if, but how many – so stay in your seats even after the credits start to roll. Going by tradition, it's likely that one scene will be mid-credits, with the other being post-credits. They'll help set up the future Marvel universe, and possibly even Black Panther 2.
Black Panther sequel
Marvel has yet to officially talk about any plans for a Black Panther sequel, though given that Boseman has a five-picture deal and the volume of advance ticket sales in the US, it's pretty much a shoo-in. Avengers 4, due May 2019, will be his fourth appearance as Black Panther, so there's room for another chapter for the character.
The MCU calendar is concrete until the end of 2019, with three release dates fixed for 2020, but without any franchises in place. One of those three will most likely go to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. And though Marvel has moved towards three-year gaps in recent years, it's possible the Wakandan king will be back as soon as 2020. For instance, Spider-Man: Homecoming released in 2017, and its second chapter is due in 2019.