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Why Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Is The Perfect Conclusion To The MCU's Phase Four

"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" had a long and difficult road to its release date. Production began years ago, and filming started in mid-2021 (per Variety) amid the turmoil of the ongoing pandemic. The tragic death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman led to no less than five rewrites of the script, according to Angela Bassett (via Entertainment Tonight). Lead actress Letitia Wright suffered a severe injury on set, forcing more rescheduling before a slew of COVID-19 cases delayed the project even further early in 2022.

The movie was finally released toward the end of 2022, and what an experience it was. There are few installments of the MCU with the same potential to promote so many swings between tears and laughter, joy and sorrow, all within the same two-and-a-half-hour narrative. The multi-faceted world that director Ryan Coogler created delivered on every level, honoring the past and setting up the future in grand style. This made it the perfect way to wrap up what has proved to be a very interesting (albeit rocky at points) Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A quick stroll through Phase 4

It's pretty easy to track the first three phases of the MCU. Collectively referred to as "The Infinity Saga," the splintered storylines generally focus on the original six Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Franchises are established, ancillary characters are introduced, and eventually, it all comes together and barrels toward the epic two-part conclusion of "Infinity War" and "Endgame." "Spider-Man: Far From Home" wraps things up and puts a nice, anti-climactic bow on the whole story. Then things go bananas.

Phase 4 kicked off back in 2021 with "Black Widow." The backward-facing story brought much-needed closure to "The Infinity Saga's" most underappreciated character, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Even with its nostalgic mindset, the film started laying the groundwork for future events by introducing us to new faces like fellow Widow Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and Red Guardian (David Harbour).

From there, the MCU forged ahead on the film front by establishing two new franchises in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and "Eternals" before revisiting Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) well-established worlds. As these movies came out, a slew of Disney+ series were released in parallel, including "WandaVision," "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," "Loki," "What If...?", "Hawkeye," "Moon Knight," "Ms. Marvel," and "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law."

Between full-feature films and Disney+ shows, Phase 4 has been packed to the brim. There have been plenty of moments of closure and commentary on "Infinity Saga" storylines along the way. A handful of new characters were introduced into the fold, too. Throughout the increasing business, though, one question had to be answered: When should the phase wrap up so that Phase 5 of the "The Multiverse Saga" can begin? The answer has officially arrived in the form of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a cross-over size story

Most MCU phases have ended with either a bang or a bang followed by a whimper. Phase 1 culminated with "The Avengers." Phase 2 quietly ended with "Ant-Man," but that came close on the heels of the second "Avengers" installment. Phase 3 raised the bar with the two-part Thanos story before closing shop with a low-key Spidey sequel.

The big difference going into Phase 4? The crossover potential isn't there at the moment. And the upcoming "Avengers" blockbusters are far out of sight. Additionally, other hero teams are just getting started. There are several major crossover films on the horizon, but it would have taken too long to get to those tentpole films to make them viable ending points for the phase. What other MCU films have the same size and gravitas as past cross-overs? One franchise immediately stands out above the rest: "Black Panther."

The Wakandan storyline may have centered on T'Challa in the past, but it's always included a smorgasbord of additional top-notch characters portrayed by A-list talent. Even with the main character gone, the "Black Panther" universe remained a powerful well of cinematic storytelling — something that isn't possible in most other Marvel franchises.

The sheer number of characters in Wakanda makes it feel like a crossover event at all times, even if, ironically, it has yet to see many major characters cross over in its own story to date. Still, the size and complexity of the storylines give it a bit of a "crossroads" feel for the larger cinematic universe. As past and future stories come together in the "Black Panther" sequel, it provides the perfect juncture to end one phase and start another.

Honoring the past and passing the torch

Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa has been etched into the hearts and minds of MCU fans everywhere as a symbol of nobility, justice, heroism, equity, and almost every other superhero attribute you can think of. The actor's passing early during the pre-production of "Wakanda Forever" forced the narrative to let go of the past in an unexpected and challenging way. And yet, the offscreen tragedy led to an on-screen passing of the torch that simultaneously honored the past legacy of T'Challa while setting up Shuri as his reluctant and promising superhero successor.

The royal family of Wakanda also continued to suffer in the film through the death of Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) directly at the hands of Namor. For those of you counting at home, we've now seen five members of the family killed on screen, including King T'Chaka (John Kani), Prince N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), Queen Ramonda, and King T'Challa. While there's still hope in Shuri (and one other family member we'll get to in a second), there's no doubt that we've seen a lot of death and closure throughout most of our interactions with the royal family of Wakanda. But if we know anything from the powerful ending films of Phase 3, killing off some of the most important characters in a franchise is an excellent way to transition from one phase to the next as others pick up the responsibilities of their deceased loved ones.

Finally, there's the subtle hat-tip to Tony Stark in the form of Riri William's Iron Man-esque armor. The reminder of the past MCU great while simultaneously setting up a future successor to fill his role as the universe's resident "genius superhero" is yet another ending and beginning rolled into one.

Setting the stage for the future

"Wakanda Forever" is drenched in the sorrows of the past. And yet, as with any transitional story point, it still does its homework when setting up the future — and in more ways than one. For starters, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and the Talokan (i.e. Atlantian) people have officially been introduced to the MCU, and there's no question that they'll be back in the future. On top of that, after multiple X-Men adjacent comments and the presence of Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in the multiverse, we finally get a direct callout to mutants in the primary MCU world in the form of Namor himself. There's no doubt that mutants are coming to the MCU. The question is: how will they arrive? There's a good chance that Namor just provided the first part of the answer.

Talokans aside, "Wakanda Forever" also sets up other future events. Along with Valentina's fun side plot about her former marriage with Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), there were plenty of not-so-subtle hints that the CIA director has some significant plans moving forward into Phase 5. The gravitas of multi-national war also does not bode well for Phase 5 and beyond as Kevin Fiege and company continue to set the stage for conflict between multiple nations, countries, and people.

And let's not forget that end-credit scene, folks. The presence of T'Challa's son means there's more potential in the "Black Panther" franchise than it appeared as the movie ended. Now that Shuri is the Black Panther and her nephew is the apparent heir to the throne, there's plenty of Wakandan storytelling to go in the future. From honoring the past to setting up the future, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is the perfect multi-character crossroads of a story to end Phase 4. Nuff said.