Marvel’s Next Avengers Film #5: Black Panther

Another candidate is mooted as the next member of Marvel's all-star superhero team - a genius king from Africa's most secretive fictional nation...

With a sequel to The Avengers officially confirmed by Marvel/Disney, comic book fans the world over will be contemplating which of the publisher€™s other heroes could be added to the line-up, potentially getting their own solo movie as soon as 2014 €“ filling the popularly acknowledged gap in the schedule alongside Captain America 2 that summer. Of course, we have to bear in mind that Marvel Studios do not own the film rights to characters as key to their comic book universe as Daredevil, Spider-Man, Wolverine or the Fantastic Four €“ all of whom have allied with or become members of the Avengers at one time or another €“ but with that consideration in place, here is another suggestion for Marvel€™s Next Avengers Film:

Black Panther (King T'Challa of Wakanda)

Why?: Apart from the obvious fact that T'Challa is a long-standing ally of the Avengers and mainstream comics' first black superhero - remaining one of the best known to this day - making a Black Panther movie would also make a great deal of sense in terms of changing the scenery for the Marvel movies. As ruler of the fictional and technologically advanced isolationist African nation of Wakanda, T'Challa's movie could be set on that continent as opposed to the US of A - enabling the film to have its own distinct identity, tone and colour palette. There have also been plenty of interesting takes on the character over the years to draw from. At various times he's been seen as the Marvel Universe equivalent of Batman (even sporting a similar costume during the late-60s), whilst he's recently been skulking New York's Hell's Kitchen as a sort of surrogate Daredevil, though generally he's the fiercely protective and hyper-intelligent leader of a nation. Wakanda is - apart from the remote and dangerous Savage Land of Antarctica - the only place where the super-strong metal vibranium* is found, making T'Challa a very powerful man in charge of a sought after resource, but also making Wakanda a target for various alien invasions and the plots of dozens of supervillains. Aside from wearing near-indestructible vibranium armour complete with retractable claws, T'Challa is also super athletic and strong - a peerless hunter and tracker. Furthermore he is able to consume a heart-shaped herb poisonous to those outside of his bloodline, granting him additional superhuman physical attributes and senses. Though I suppose a Disney-produced movie might miss that detail out seeing as how it's basically him getting high off a plant. T'Challa is married to Storm (Ororo Munroe) of X-Men fame, though Marvel Studios obviously wouldn't be able to mention this fun detail in any future film - seeing as how Fox owns the exclusive movie rights to that character along with the majority of mutants. *As used to make Captain America's shield, a fact mentioned by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) in Joe Johnston's movie. Story?: It's fairly straightforward: this would be the story of whatever rites of passage T'Challa must undergo to assume the mantle of Black Panther and succeed his father's throne. It would involve the acquisition of his powers and the defense of his people from a grave threat, probably overcoming some crisis of self-doubt along the way. Perhaps the moral ambiguity surrounding S.H.I.E.L.D. in the recent Avengers film could be explored, with Nick Fury's shady higher-ups sanctioning an invasion of Wakanda in an attempt to grab the aforementioned precious natural resource? It's happened in the comics and it certainly wouldn't be a crazy idea given recent American foreign policy. After all, since the tesseract was taken back to Asgard along with Loki and Thor, S.H.I.E.L.D. may yet be looking for ways to advance their weapons tech. Fury would be against the operation (naturally) but a less scrupulous faction within his organisation could be involved, perhaps hiring a couple of supervillains to do their dirty work (so the movie isn't just Panther beating up regular guys). For the main villain I nominate the Black Panther's recurring nemesis Ulysses Klaw - a master assassin of South African descent - who, in the comics, murdered T'Challa's father (then king of Wakanda) in a bid to steal vibranium. This would work perfectly with the story I outlined above. Alternatively (or perhaps in addition) my rogue element within S.H.E.I.L.D. could turn out to be spies working for the modern day incarnation of H.Y.D.R.A. facilitating the return of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) from whatever cosmic wormhole he was sucked into at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. As for how to integrate Black Panther into the wider universe, a 2006 straight-to-DVD animated movie - Ultimate Avengers 2 (above) - provides a decent template. In that (admittedly crappy) film The Avengers are forced to enter his kingdom after it's invaded by H.Y.D.R.A. At first reluctant to accept the aid of the visitors, Black Panther fights his future allies before joining their ranks. Using this approach he'd be relatively easy to add to an Avengers sequel by simply setting the next big threat in Wakandan territory. Likelihood?: It's a tricky one. Well known and iconic though he is (at least among comic book fans), Black Panther comes from that slightly racist tradition of putting skin colour in the name of any black superhero (also see DC's Black Lightning or Marvel's own Black Goliath). This would give a hero like Power Man, War Machine or Falcon an edge over T'Challa, in that their names feel less inherently antiquated. The fact that the character's name was later adopted by a much more famous militant political party also complicates matters. I've certainly never heard Marvel Studios hint at a possible feature film in the way that they repeatedly have for a half-dozen other more obscure characters. I'd currently rate the likelihood of a Black Panther as low, but who knows? This time five years ago nobody knew this whole crazy Avengers thing would happen. There is one reference to T'Challa in the existing Marvel films however: the eagle-eyed will have spotted Wakanda pinpointed up on a map during a scene in Iron Man 2 (along with Doctor Doom's Eastern European rogue state Latveria and Namor's kingdom of Atlantis). Casting?: Djimon Hounsou (below) - the two-time Academy Award nominated star of Amistad and In America - certainly has the physical presence to embody this character, with the added bonus being that he's actually African, as opposed to African American. The British Chiwetel Ejiofor might also make a sound choice - striking that balance between recognisable mainstream success (Serenity, 2012) and stage acting kudos. Surly neither would be out of Marvel Studios' budget range either, as they continue to opt against expensive movie stars, instead tying less costly talents to multi-picture contracts. He's another idea: Disney could scrap their cost-conscious model so far and aim to recruit Will Smith. Will Smith is THE most reliably bankable star on the planet (why else would anybody see Men in Black 3?) and his presence here would certainly offset any studio concerns over whether people will come to see a Black Panther movie. Rightly or wrongly, making a black superhero movie will be considered a risk by the studio and Smith's involvement might be the difference between another huge summer tentpole franchise and a medium budgeted movie released in the spring or autumn. Anyway, doing away with the ugly world of economics for a moment, my choice would be Hounsou. Partly in order to make the character more authentic and avoid dodgy regional stereotyping, but mainly because he's a very fine actor with a commanding presence. Futhermore, someone at Marvel evidently thinks so too because Djimon voiced the character for a 2010 motion comic produced by Marvel Knights. South African Sharlto Copley would be brilliant as the villainous Klaw, should the filmmakers take that route. Morgan "instant gravitas" Freeman should play T'Challa's wise old father T'Chaka. Director?: Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen was hailed for the authenticity of his sub-Saharan Africa set Rebelle (War Witch), which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. So that'd be an interesting, cheap and critically credible choice. Though this movie would obviously represent a huge step up for the director in terms of budget, scheduling and pressure, which might work against a talent yet untested by the mainstream. The more experienced hands of District 9's South African helmer Neill Blomkamp might be a good fit, even if he was criticised in some quarters for that film's portrayal of Nigerian characters. Let us know your thoughts about a Black Panther movie in the comments below and check back soon as we reveal more candidates for Marvel€™s Next Avengers!If you missed it, here are our first three entries in this series:#1: Ms. Marvel#2: Doctor Strange#3: Luke Cage and Iron Fist#4: Ant-Man and Wasp
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.