There’s a problem that arises when making a movie about a fictional place.
Without a real world connection, a new location can often feel a little empty, and can lack an emotional depth for viewers to latch onto.
Think of Asgard from the first Thor movie, or that weird CGI planet from the Green Lantern movie. Both cities are pretty interchangeable, and neither feel like actual places rather than fancy special effects.
Where, you might think when watching Thor, do all the Asgardians who aren’t of the House of Odin live? Where do these characters go to the bathroom, and what happens if someone gets scuff marks on the shiny golden floor? Is there an enchanted wax buffer that The Janitor Who Be Worthy rolls out every time one of the Warriors Three rage-flips a table?
The country of Wakanda in Black Panther is in danger of being similarly ambiguous. All audiences know so far is that Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation that exists somewhere in the really misty part of Africa.
Considering that this movie won’t have a lot of on-location shooting in Wakanda, and that a large chunk of the audience probably think that Africa itself is a fictional place, it’s going to be difficult for Marvel to breathe life into the heart of the Black Panther mythos.
According to Chadwick Boseman, the face behind T’Challa, the upcoming movie will feature plenty of world-building to try and make Wakanda feel real. Among other things, this will mean showcasing some of the previous kings who’ve held the mantle of Black Panther.
Whether this will be done in flashbacks, via some kind of fancy dance montage, or simple by having T’Challa wandering around in a hallway full of rare Wakandan artifacts (otherwise known as the Kung Fu Panda approach to world-building) remains to be seen.
According to Boseman, while Civil War first introduced the character of Black Panther, his solo movie will provide a more complete origin story:
“There is definitely more of his origin in ‘Black Panther’. You’re going to learn about Wakanda, its culture, its traditions, the past. You can go through all the comic books and know that there’s more Panthers that have existed in the past - that’s origin.”
This is good news for those who don’t have time to catch up on decades of comic books before heading to the movie theater, but there is one problem with the Marvel method of storytelling.
Key events in T’Challa’s story play out in Civil War. The death of his father and his struggle to overcome a desire for revenge are some pretty crucial plot points that are going to influence the solo Black Panther movie.
All of this means that, origin story or no, audiences for Black Panther need to have seen Civil War to get the full weight of the new movie’s plot.
In order to know what’s going on in Civil War, audiences need to have slogged through multiple Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies, as well as Ant Man.
The problem with the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe is that every new movie comes with an increasing amount of homework in order to fully enjoy it.
So here’s hoping that Black Panther manages some appropriate worldbuilding and doesn’t just rely on story points gleaned from various other movies.
Because at some point, the film’s going to have to explain why the Black Panther has Captain America’s one-armed boyfriend frozen in his basement, and that’s going to be an awkward piece of exposition no matter what.