The movie’s most unexpected cameo answers some crucial questions about a character who’s become increasingly important during Marvel Phase 4. However, in the process, it’s also exposed one of the MCU’s biggest flaws of the past few years. And it’s one that might only be getting worse as we head into Phase 5.
Black Panther 2 and the end of Phase 4
Wakanda Forever represents the end of Marvel Phase 4, a concept the studio uses to group its movies into tidy arcs. Historically, each phase of the MCU has ended with a major “Avengers” crossover, but after spending the last few years rebuilding its ranks post-Endgame, Marvel decided to cap off Phase 4 on a more emotional note that is equal parts grief and triumph.
But even without an Avengers movie, it’s worth looking back at the last phase and considering what it brought to the MCU at large. In this case, there’s one major shift that can’t be ignored: the introduction of Disney+ shows with direct connections to the movies.
At the start of Phase 4, WandaVision continued the story of two pivotal Marvel characters on the small screen. More recently, Ms. Marvel introduced a new superhero who’s set to play a major role in the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel film. And even while some planned shows pivot to movies, streaming is still a key part of the MCU’s strategy.
We’ve reached a point where watching the shows is required homework for the movies, and that’s particularly evident in the plot of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Spoilers ahead for Black Panther 2.
Wakanda Forever vs. Disney+ synergy
There are two major characters in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever who only appear because of the Disney+ shows. The first, and more important, is Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). Riri is a brand new character to the MCU and is introduced here before her planned Ironheart show on Disney+.
In this case, you don’t need to have seen anything previously to enjoy Thorne’s character. (Because there’s literally nothing to see.) She’s artfully introduced and given an arc of her own within Black Panther 2’s plot. Her Disney+ show will likely reveal even more about the character, but that doesn’t really affect how you experience her in this movie.
However, the same can’t be said for Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus). The Veep and Seinfeld star has a bizarre subplot in this movie as the C.I.A.’s new director that only really makes sense if you’ve seen The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+. That series introduced Val as a sort of anti-Nick Fury who’s been quietly recruiting villains and anti-heroes for a mysterious purpose (a plot thread that continued in the Black Widow post-credits scene). But without this context, you’re probably left wondering what Elaine Benes was doing in Black Panther 2 in the first place.
Perhaps even more annoying, forcing Val into Wakanda Forever also undercuts the movie’s core themes. Anytime the plot starts to really build momentum, we cut to some comic relief from Julia-Louis Dreyfus. So not only is her presence in the movie confusing, but it also gets in the way of the actual story.
We know that Val will return in Thunderbolts, an upcoming Marvel team-up movie set to cap off Phase 5 in 2024. Between then and now, you can probably expect to see her show up in a few more Marvel shows and movies, but for anyone who hasn’t done all their homework, Val could quickly become one of the most confusing characters in the MCU.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.