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Is Black Panther Taking The MCU Back To Outer Space?

We already knew that Black Panther would be taking audiences to exciting new places in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—but we didn't exactly expect a trip beyond the stars.

Forest Whitaker, who plays the royal advisor Zuri in the upcoming superhero feature, recently spoke with Variety at the Sundance Film Festival, discussing all of the ways that Marvel Studios' 18th movie in the MCU will surprise viewers.

"This superhero from Africa who is in this society and trying to fix the world is something that hasn't been seen before," Whitaker said. "I think Ryan [Coogler] is a great director so there's always going to be some social conscious inside of it. [...] And at the same time, the action is something we haven't seen before."

That's all par for the course and in line with what we all generally expect from Black Panther, based on its marketing so far. Whitaker's next comment, however, introduced an element that has raised some eyebrows. 

"We're going to see not only tribal things, but things that take us into outer space, things that take us into the James Bond space," he said. "It's a really unique amalgamation of different things that come together in an exciting way."

Hold up—"take us into outer space", you say?

There are a lot of ways you can interpret Whitaker's comment, the most exciting interpretation being that the actor is literally alluding to a Wakandan space program. Interestingly, there is a precedent for this in recent comics history, with last year's Marvel Legacy #1 alluding to a Black Panther-led Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda, centering on a place called Birnin T'Challa, aka "T'Challa City", on the planet Bast.

The Legacy comic is full of such teases for upcoming Marvel stories, making it tempting to view the Intergalactic Empire as a far-future "what-if" scenario—but according to Jason Aaron, the author of the comic, Wakanda's interstellar empire actually exists in the comics' present day

Additionally, 2014's Secret Wars saw the secretive African nation launch its own rocket, contributing to the construction of the Alpha Flight low-orbit space station.

Of course, that's all comic book nonsense—what about the movies? The MCU has been edging toward exploring Marvel's cosmic side since The Avengers, when Thanos' raiding party of Chitauri first soared through a space-time rift to blow New York City to smithereens. 

Since then, we've had the pleasure of seeing the outer space-set Guardians of the Galaxy series, watched Hulk shoot himself into outer space to kick it with the God of Thunder in Thor: Ragnarok, and it seems inevitable that Captain Marvel will explore the stars as well. Now it's possible that Black Panther may be joining the list of Marvel's spacefaring heroes, and the possibilities are immensely exciting. 

Alternatively, Whitaker could just be referring to the advanced, sci-fi tech of Wakanda, the Earth's most advanced nation. Trailers for the movie have already showed off the movie's stunning hovercrafts, but those ships don't appear to fly anywhere but Earth—at least, as far as we've seen.

Black Panther is one of the most anticipated films in Marvel's history, with pre-sale tickets moving so quickly that even the movie's stars have had some difficulty making sure they'll get a seat. According to Whitaker, the first cast screening for the film left people crying from excitement.

"The first time we saw it, just as a cast, after it, everybody leapt up to their feet," Whitaker said. "Literally some were in tears, they were so excited about what was actually occurring. I think people have that same excitement around the movie. I'm expecting something great, and something great for Ryan."

With the introduction of this outer space element, our expectations are beginning to be raised to unreasonable levels. We're not going to say that we'll accept nothing less than Black Panther on the moon, but hey... now that you mention it, we really would like to see Black Panther in a low-gravity fist-fight on the moon. 

Black Panther hits theaters on February 16.