This post contains spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Where are the Avengers? For fans of shared universe stories, that question can get very annoying very fast. It makes sense for those new to the concept to wonder about the whereabouts of other characters, but for long-term fans, the answer is simple: someplace else.
Too much worrying about what Thor is doing while Doctor Strange fights Scarlet Witch or why Ant-Man never helped Shang-Chi stop the bus rampaging through San Francisco distracts from the main hero’s story. Just enjoy Doctor Strange and Spidey and let other heroes worry about themselves.
That said, it does make sense for characters to cross paths at certain events, such as the funeral for Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, attended by all major heroes, including T’Challa. As impressive as that scene certainly was, it has nothing on the funeral scene from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Director Ryan Coogler floats his camera through Wakanda’s capital city, capturing the contrasts on display: the vibrant colors of the citizens highlighted by the white funeral clothes of the royal family, the mourners downturned expressions balanced by the people celebrating T’Challa’s life. Despite all of these wonderful images, there still seems to be something missing, an element that galls even the most experienced shared-universe fan.
Where the heck are the Avengers?
Why Kevin Feige and Ryan Coogler Avoided the Avengers
The actual reasons for the Avengers’ absence are probably pretty mundane. As impressive and groundbreaking as the Marvel Cinematic Universe may be, it is still a product of the movie business. Any cameo requires lawyers, contracts, and schedules, all of which cost a lot of money. Disney wanted to pay that money for a saga-ender like Endgame, but not for regular movies. MCU boss Kevin Feige tends to use his actors’ contracts judiciously, saving them for the right moment.
More to the point, the filmmakers probably did not want to distract from the moment. Audiences may be watching a funeral for the fictional King T’Challa of Wakanda, but we’re actually feeling a celebration of Chadwick Boseman, an immensely talented actor taken too soon. Producer Nate Moore has talked about the reservations of including too many Marvel cameos in the film for that very reason. The moment needed to be somber, joyful, and respectful, not an opportunity for fans to geek out.
Why the Avengers Couldn’t Come to T’Challa’s Funeral
The movie doesn’t explain why the Avengers didn’t show up for T’Challa’s funeral, but it isn’t hard to see why they weren’t there. The biggest reason is that there really are no Avengers right now, at least not officially.
More importantly, those who spent the most time with T’Challa are currently off the map. Natasha Romanoff first bonded on-screen with T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, but she’s dead, as are fellow pro-registration heroes Iron Man and Vision. Out of that group, only War Machine and Spider-Man remain. As a representative of the same U.S. government who is trying to invade Wakanda for its Vibranium supplies, War Machine wouldn’t be welcome at the funeral and, after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, poor Peter couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Wakanda, even if people remembered who he was.
T’Challa did patch some things up with his fellow heroes and even lent Wakanda’s vast resources to hold off Thanos’s hordes while Shuri tried to remove the Mind Stone from Vision in Avengers: Infinity War. But again, nearly all of the heroes who fought alongside Wakanda are out of action. Steve Rogers likely still lives, but he’s very retired. The Guardians are in deep space, as is Thor, who only showed up for the end of the battle. The exact timeline for Wakanda Forever is a bit unclear, but it’s possible that T’Challa’s funeral occurred while Bruce Banner headed back to Sakaar. Wanda Maximoff spent most of her time with Shuri in the lab, but she would probably be invited — if she wasn’t kidnapping a town, going on a rampage, or dead. While Sam Wilson will be a very different Cap than his government intends, Captain America still represents the U.S. and, like Rhodey, wouldn’t be welcome at the funeral.
And then there’s Bucky. None of the heroes know Wakanda as well as the Winter Soldier, who stayed in the country while being deprogrammed after Civil War. Moreover, Bucky owes a debt of gratitude to the Wakandans, as they healed him and replaced his arm, despite his role in the death of King T’Chaka. But as we saw in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Wakanda does not approve of him and Sam freeing Zemo. Ayo made clear that the country would not forget his trespass.
Wakanda and the Rest of the World
All of these reasons aside, there might be one very simple explanation for the lack of costumed attendees. For the vast majority of its existence, Wakanda has been an isolationist country. Thanks to the influence of Nakia and his experience with Killmonger, T’Challa changed that isolationism and revealed itself on the world stage. And what happened immediately after? Untold Wakandans died when the Avengers brought their battle with Thanos. Western nations began invading Wakanda, searching for Vibranium. T’Challa died of an illness.
As Queen Ramonda makes clear during the blistering speeches she delivers, Wakanda has paid a great price for sharing itself with the world, and the world has responded only by demanding more. In other words, there’s no good reason for the Wakandans to invite anyone from outside of the country to join in their celebration and mourning of their king. The absence of the Avengers underscores the major themes of Wakanda Forever as the country figures out where they belong within the Marvel Universe.