Marvel Studios kicks off the new year in a big way with the release of "Black Panther."
Directed by Ryan Coogler and featuring Chadwick Boseman as the titular superhero king, "Black Panther" is easily one of the most anticipated superhero movies yet. But before you order your tickets, here are six things you need to know about the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
1. It Picks Up Where 'Captain America: Civil War' Left Off
We highly recommend that you watch the most recent "Captain America" movie before sitting down to screen "Black Panther." This new film is a direct offshoot of that one in many ways. "Civil War" introduced viewers to Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa and established his struggle as a man suddenly thrust into monarchy while seeking revenge for the murder of his father.
"Civil War" also introduced moviegoers to Martin Freeman's Everett K. Ross, a character who will play a crucial role in "Black Panther." Where before Ross was a CIA agent helping to enforce the fledgling Superhuman Registration Act, now he's acting as a liaison of sorts between the US and the secretive nation of Wakanda.
2. Wakanda Is Kind of a Big DealMCU fans first heard mention of Wakanda in 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," as plunderer extraordinaire Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) recounted the story of how he lost an arm there after being caught smuggling vibranium out of the country (naturally).
"Black Panther" is the first time in the MCU where we'll actually spend some legit time there (more than the few seconds in the "Civil War" end credits sting.) Wakanda's emergence is going to be a very big deal in the MCU, as the outside world comes to grips with the fact that a highly advanced society has been hiding in plain sight -- in the heart of Africa -- for centuries. T'Challa's greatest challenge as king will be in deciding how to guide his homeland into an uncertain future where isolationism is no longer an option.
3. T'Challa's Fighting on More Than One Front
Don't expect "Black Panther" to completely follow the traditional superhero movie formula. Panther is a king first and a superhero second, and his struggles tend to reflect that fact.
As our hero deals with bringing his country to the world stage, he'll face a great deal of political unrest within his homeland. Not everyone is happy about the prospect of being led by this young, unproven monarch. But any good king has friends and advisors to rely upon, and T'Challa is no exception. The film will introduce several new allies for Black Panther, including his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), his stepmother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), close friend W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), and advisor Zuri (Forest Whitaker).
T'Challa will also call upon the skills of his elite bodyguards, the Dora Milaje (think Wakanda's version of an all-female Seal Team Six), a group that includes Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).
4. Get Ready for Lots of Punching
It's just as well T'Challa has so many allies in this film, because he's got a list of enemies long enough to fill out an entire Avengers movie.
His chief nemesis is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a Wakandan exile and mercenary with designs on the throne. The trailers make it clear that Killmonger will eventually gain possession of his own Black Panther suit and test his might against T'Challa.
Killmonger will be aided by Klaue, who hasn't lost his thirst for Wakanda's valuable vibranium stockpile. The trailers also make it clear that Klaue has received a few upgrades of his own, replacing his severed hand with a sonic weapon that will make fans of the character in the comics giddy.Finally, T'Challa will face a another challenger to the throne in the form of M'Baku (Winston Duke), the leader of a rival mountain tribe called the Jabari.
5. There's Some Mysticism Going on Here, Too
Not only is Black Panther a more politically-driven character than most of Marvel's heroes, he also has a strong spiritual side.
Wakandan culture worships the panther god Bast, and one of the gifts of the Black Panther is their ability to enter the spiritual realm and directly commune with both their ancestors and Bast herself. Expect that side of the character to be explored in the new movie, as we learn that Black Panther's power -- as well as Wakanda itself -- is as much spiritual as it is technological. (While visiting the film's set, we saw some interesting concept art depicting the above plain -- or rather, a more astrological version of it -- with the land replaced by what looked like an eye's iris and pupil, one laid out flat and stretching across the horizon line. Take that, "Doctor Strange.")
6. Black Panther Will Return
Which is a good thing, and a no-brainer, considering that the film has sold more advanced tickets than any other Marvel movie.
Boseman has signed a five-picture contract with Marvel Studios, and you'd better believe they're going to make the most of it. Boseman will reprise his role three months later in "Avengers: Infinity War," as Wakanda becomes a ground zero of sorts for Thanos' invasion of Earth. Fans have speculated that Wakanda may be home to the Soul Stone, the sixth and final Infinity Stone (and the only one that has yet to be featured in the MCU).
So don't be surprised to see at least one post-credits sequence setting the stage for "Infinity War."We also expect Marvel to leave the door wide open for more "Black Panther" sequels. Based on ticket pre-sales, the film is expected to become one of the highest-grossing Marvel movies yet.