Between the light teases for Infinity War and the imminent arrival of Spider-man: Homecoming, I was starting to wonder if Black Panther was actually happening anymore. There was like, zero promo material for it. But this trailer packs in a lot. I don’t know half of what’s going on, but it looks like there should be more to it than just being the last Marvel movie before Infinity War.
I mean, a lot more. Like, earth-shattering entertainment.
I know that there are some groups of people to whom this movie has cultural and emotional significance. On the other hand, I am coming into this film as a fan of the MCU. So what are my expectations, as a fan of the MCU, that I expect Black Panther to play up to? Yes, it’s a superhero movie, but it’s a stand-alone film that is supposed to tell the story of a specific character with a background that’s only been hinted at. So what Black Panther needs to to do for me, that other Marvel stand-alone superhero films have done before it—Doctor Strange, Ant-man, and Captain America: The First Avenger—is give me a good reason to care about the character and where he comes from.
Pull out the stops. Dump the treasure vault.
Unlike other Marvel heroes, we are already acquainted with the Black Panther/T’challa and we even had a front-row seat at some of the (not-so-happy) events in his life. So we know a little bit about his character. Or we think we do. So what more is there to learn about this character that Marvel wants to show us? In three steps, let me break down some ideas I have of what to consider going forward.
Step 1. Reflect on how T’challa started out
It’s kind of tricky to introduce a new character in an ensemble film, because spoiler alert you’re going to want to judge them by how they treat the other characters.
In other words, I was not a fan of the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War because he spent most of it chasing Bucky with the (mistaken) intent to kill him.
Granted, T’challa wasn’t doing that when we are introduced to him, right before Zemo bombs the UN. He does a half-decent job of making conversation with Natasha, but he just seems kind of not happy to be there. He tells Natasha that he doesn’t like board-room politics. But there’s also something else that happens here: we’re introduced to his father, King T’chaka. For the 30 seconds give or take of screentime we got, it was enough to make T’chaka a likeable character: serious about his foreign policy and protecting his country, but nice to you in person. Yes, his death is a travesty.
After the bombing, Natasha tries to console T’challa. T’challa reflects on his father’s religious beliefs on the afterlife, and then he says, “I am not my father.”
That’s actually a very powerful moment for his character, in my opinion. In the context of what T’challa is going through right then, it means that he is not going to take any solace unless he takes the life of the man that he thinks killed his father. That statement effectively sets up his arc for most of, if not the entire film.
And this is precisely why I do not like T’challa in Civil War. He thinks he’s entitled to Bucky’s head when really all he is doing is making a bad situation worse. He only smiles, like, once. In a lot of the promotional material for Civil War, T’challa was shown as playing for Tony’s side. In the film, however, he’s only on Tony’s “team” because he wants to kill somebody on Cap’s team. He’s never shown talking to Tony once. He is in as much trouble with the law for his personal agenda as Steve is. The only person in the entire film that T’challa has any friendly relationship with is Natasha, but he tries even her patience. I mean, he just lost his dad, so we really shouldn’t fault him—except what he wants conflicts with what everyone else wants.
But then, he follows Tony Stark to Siberia. That is where Zemo’s plot unfolds, and T’challa has a dramatic change of, at least, perspective. He confronts Helmut Zemo—the man who really killed his father—and Zemo explains that King T’chaka was just collateral damage in his plot to get the Avengers to destroy themselves.
Golly, T’challa had every right to be mad about that.
But T’challa does the most mature thing done by anyone in the whole movie. He renounces his quest for vengeance. And then when Zemo tries to shoot himself, T’challa grabs him. He decides that Zemo will face justice instead of getting a free pass for his crimes by committing suicide. “The living are not finished with you yet” is one of the best lines in the whole darn movie.
One thing that T’challa definitely learned from this experience was the difference between when to kill and when not to kill. Will we see that in play in Black Panther? I think so.
Step 2. Do Not Read Too Much into the Civil War Mid-credit scene
Somehow or other, he picks up Steve and Bucky and gets them to Wakanda. Before I say anything opinionated about Bucky going back on cryo, let’s review what T’challa says to Steve when asked why he’s doing this:
“My father and your friend are both victims. If I can help one of them find peace…”
T’challa is probably the first person in the freaking MCU apart from Steve to acknowledge that Bucky Barnes is a victim. He realizes that Zemo manipulated EVERYBODY. T’challa does feel bad that he was trying to kill the wrong guy. He wants to do everything in his power to make up for it. And he does it. But I think at that point he’s still hurt a lot just by the fact that he lost his father, and he probably realizes that trying to “avenge” his father’s death was stupid.
It is easy to think that T’challa is acting out of compassion, but it is incorrect to assume that once he realizes he tried to kill the wrong person that he wants to wait on that person hand and foot in atonement. A lot of fans think that just because he wants to help Bucky that means that Bucky should be in the Black Panther movie being shown in recovery, benefiting from T’challa’s graciousness. And I’m just like, ew, no. Some people’s comments on the internet just make me roll my eyes. T’challa and Wakanda are, if anything, foreign to my idea to what kind of recovery Bucky needs—Joe and Anthony Russo have already stated that Infinity War will explore Steve and Bucky’s relationship further. And after Civil War, what really annoyed me was the fan tendency to want to put T’challa on a pedestal for being so “good” and “pure” just based on a few good actions in the last five minutes of the movie and a mid-credit scene where the character I’m actively rooting for gets fridged—and I’m not used to T’challa being nice. Did you even watch the rest of the movie?
T’challa is not an altruist. He is a warrior and a king. Him helping Steve and Bucky? It’s great, but it’s just a small part of T’challa’s story. As much as I hate Bucky going under, I don’t want him in Black Panther. That is still co-opting him too much into T’challa’s story. He can wake up in a mid/post credit scene. And maybe we could get some dialogue about why Wakanda’s so-advanced doctors couldn’t work on fixing Hydra’s programming right away. But other than that, no. Absolutely not. The Black Panther movie is for the Black Panther.
Step 3. Explore what the Character and Setting Have to Offer
So WHAT do I want in Black Panther, then, if I want it to be about T’challa? Try Character Development. The T’challa we see in Captain America: Civil War is just starting out. Still very much a kid. He is the king of Wakanda on his father’s death, but not officially. Maybe a coronation is in order????
T’challa, at the rocky start of his reign, is far from a perfect person.He does whatever he likes and he doesn’t care if he interferes with other people’s stuff. He only learns the hard way that a true leader needs to step back, find out the truth, and then act accordingly. I want to see a T’challa that is trying to live up to the responsibilities of kingship. I want to know about relationships he has with people at the top of Wakanda’s government. Does he have friends of his own choosing? How is he adjusting to life as a full-time monarch? What issues is he facing? What does he feel should be done to protect his country?
And what kind of experiences will he have resolving these issues? Give me a character who is fleshed out, has his own story not related to other MCU characters, someone trying to create his own life. I want to see him developing maturity and wisdom, but maybe holding on to some of the cockiness we saw hinted at in Civil War. Maybe still working around his grief about his father’s passing, still learning how to treat other people. He stated that the mantle of Black Panther is passed down from Warrior to Warrior. Are there certain expectations that come with this role? Is it directly tied to the kingship? There is so much that Marvel could do to flesh out this character without having to make the whole movie hinge on the the events of Civil War. I want a reason to like T’challa for being T’challa. I want to see the sides of him that aren’t connected to anger or mistaken desires for revenge.
And yes, please introduce me to supporting characters that make up T’challa’s world, people in Wakanda who know him and support him and want to help him defend. What issues might come up in their relationships? What are their points of view?
Also, World Development. Okay, Marvel, you’ve told us a few things about Wakanda. Now SHOW US. I want to see lots of Wakanda. I want Marvel to take advantage of every opportunity to make it amazing—what it looks like, who lives there, what kind of technology they have, their attitudes to the outside world. Maybe even show us their vulnerabilities, if they have any. Also their culture is intriguing—some of their gods are originally Egyptian, what is Wakanda’s take on them? Is this some kind of Asgard in Africa? Is Wakanda really starting to open up to everywhere else, or did the events of Civil War cause them to take a step back?
What I loved about the trailer was how it opened with Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman as Ulysses Klaue and Everett Ross—the only guy to ever break in and live to tell the tale, and the so-called expert–frankly the only two white guys this movie needs, if any. I suspect that Klaue might not be entirely sane after his ill-fated encounter with Ultron. What is he getting into now? Ross is certainly in for a rude wake-up call, but how will he respond? Will Klaue get a prosthetic arm like he does in the comics? What relations do they have with the other villains in Black Panther?
One of the biggest things we learn from the trailer is that Everett Ross and probably no one else in the world has any idea that Wakanda is the most scientifically advanced country on earth. They think it’s a third-world country. This changes EVERYTHING about Black Panther’s arc in Civil War. The other characters think he’s just a random guy with a Vibranium suit.
The trailer gives me reason to hope that most of the things I want to see in Black Panther will be in there. But at the end of the day this is all I really want: T’challa building a Black Panther suit with strobe lights, just to make Ulysses Klaue scream like a little girl, because in Age of Ultron, Klaue mentioned that his worst fear was bioluminescence.
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