Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing. Boseman was one of the most talented actors working in Hollywood, portraying iconic legends James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall. Any one of those would have made an impressive career; Boseman decided to go full force and completely own each of those roles.
It’s a testament to how impressive his work is that I’m not going to talk about any of those films! Because for all his work in 42, Get on Up, and Marshall, there’s only one character I associate with Chadwick Boseman — T’Challa, the Black Panther.
By a quirk of fate I’ve been doing a Marvel rewatch, so I saw Black Panther only a couple of weeks ago. Black Panther is one of the best MCU movies, and it’s easily the most culturally important. The film spotlighted and centered black excellence in a way no other major studio had done, made an insane amount of money and shoved its way into the cultural spotlight. Black Panther singlehandedly demolished the myth that non-black audiences wouldn’t show up for a majority-black cast, because EVERYONE saw this movie. Black Panther was so popular that the Academy announced the creation of a new category of “Best Popular Films” because Black Panther potentially not being nominated for “Best Picture” would have ludicrously de-legitimized the Oscars (they ended up scrapping the category; Black Panther got nominated for “Best Picture” anyways).
So, in honor of Chadwick Boseman, join me as we go through T’Challa’s story and celebrate the one and only true Black Panther.
Civil War: A Hero’s Journey
As good as he is in Black Panther, for my money Chadwick Boseman does his best acting in Captain America: Civil War. In this movie he goes on the journey from rage-filled warrior to compassionate, mature ruler. T’Challa has a great arc in Civil War, and he is easily the best part of an otherwise muddled movie.
Civil War is where we first meet T’Challa, and he is introduced right before his father is murdered in a terrorist bombing. Understandably, this deeply traumatizes T’Challa and sends him to a dark place of pain and anger as he seeks revenge on Bucky, who everyone believes is the culprit.
T’Challa is honestly kind of terrifying for most of the movie. He has one goal — kill Bucky. That’s it. In his first conversation with Steve Rogers, T’Challa straight up tells Captain America that Bucky will never be safe.
You can see this in his fight scenes as well. There’s a real anger and ferocity to T’Challa’s fights. A lot of the action scenes in Marvel movies can feel a little like action figures bouncing off each other — really cool to watch, but there’s no real impact or danger to the characters. T’Challa’s fight scenes do not feel like that at all, especially when he’s fighting Bucky. T’Challa is legitimately trying to kill Bucky with his bare hands, and it shows:
But as the movie progresses, T’Challa sees how vengeance is breaking down Tony Stark. He sees how revenge has turned Zemo into a monster. Faced with the man who killed his father, T’Challa doesn’t take vengeance. Instead, he saves the man’s life and chooses justice over revenge.
Just to underline how good T’Challa is in Civil War, the end credit scene is him giving sanctuary to Bucky, the same character he spent most of the movie trying to kill.
This is a huge amount of growth for a character, and it’s all completely earned. That is a very good arc for a main character — for a side character this is an insanely well-done story! It’s such a testament to Chadwick Boseman that he’s able to convey such powerful growth in limited screen time, and his performance Civil War is one of the best performances in the entire MCU.
Black Panther: The Coolest Real Hero
Chadwick Boseman’s acting in Black Panther is also good, although his arc isn’t as clean as it was in Civil War. But what I want to highlight about Black Panther is how well Chadwick Boseman is able to flesh out T’Challa and make him feel like a real compelling character. To start off with, everything in Black Panther looks AMAZING. Take a look at the first trailer:
So much of this is shot with just awe — the costumes, the lighting, the music — everything looks and sounds fantastic. And that carries over to the Black Panther, because damn T’Challa looks so fucking cool.
His fight scenes look AWESOME. He moves with a kinetic grace, free from the brutal violence and rage that characterized him in Civil War. Like, this car chase scene is beautifully choreographed, shot and scored:
And it’s not just the costume design when he’s in the suit. Look how amazing this movie looks when they’re in some random casino!
Look how great this movie looks when we switch to the spirit world!
But unlike a lot of Marvel Movies (*cough* Ant-Man and the Wasp *cough*), Black Panther doesn’t stop with amazing visuals. Sure, Black Panther looks really cool. But as a character, he’s not actually that cool. He’s a bit of an earnest dork! Black Panther has badass Okoye, hysterical Shuri, rage-filled Killmonger and fiery M’Baku — each of those characters is cooler than T’Challa! But Boseman is able to infuse his T’Challa with a quiet, calm confidence that makes him really compelling, even when he’s getting owned by one of the other characters.
I love the scene with Shuri in the lab, because it really shows who T’Challa is and who he isn’t. He’s smart, but he’s not a genius like Shuri. He has an amazing, genuine connection with his sister that will be instantly relatable to anyone with siblings. He’s actually a bit of a dork, as his getting owned by his sister shows.
But through it all, he still has this calm, quiet self-assurance that is magnetic and really draws you in as a viewer.
Somehow Chadwick Boseman is able take this really cool, flashy hero
who’s also a bit of a square
and make him relatable. Chadwick Boseman is able to square the circle and make T’Challa into a real person, despite all of his contradictions. His Black Panther really feels like a real person, even as he’s jumping on top of cars and blowing them up. Even through the intense drama, plot twists and machinations of Black Panther, T’Challa always feels like a real character, which is a real credit to Boseman.
Infinity War & Endgame: Big Damn Hero
Even though he has a ton of space age tech, T’Challa isn’t that similar to Tony Stark; he doesn’t have Tony’s arrogance. Even though he’s the son of a king, T’Challa also isn’t that close to Thor; he doesn’t buckle under the burden of leadership like the god of thunder.
Despite their many, many differences, T’Challa most closely resembles Captain America. They’re both earnest, hard working and fundamentally optimistic about how things will turn out. And they’re both humans fully ready to throw down with gods and space titans. Infinity War and Endgame really highlight this side of T’Challa — that at the end of the day, as corny as it sounds, he really is just a big damn hero.
Unlike the previous two movies, T’Challa has a relatively minor role in Infinity War, and he barely has any lines in Endgame. But even his limited appearances highlight how much of a hero T’Challa really is. When the Avengers are facing a galaxy-ending threat, they know the only nation on earth that can possibly help them is Wakanda. And T’Challa, even though he barely knows the Avengers (and last time he saw them, he was trying to fight/kill half of them) answers the call.
Even as hordes of alien space-monsters descend on his country, T’Challa remains cool and composed. When he realizes that the only way forward is to open the gate and face Thanos’ army, he doesn’t hesitate. Even the cocky M’Baku is worried by the prospect, but T’Challa just calmly gets ready to dive into battle.
There are a lot of brutal deaths at the end of Infinity War, but T’Challa’s is one of the hardest to watch because he’s literally in the middle of helping Okoye up and telling her to keep fighting.
Then, he’s gone for most of Endgame, until the very end battle. But I think it’s striking that when they chose who was going to appear out of the portals for the first time, it’s not Spider-Man, or Doctor Strange, or any of the more powerful characters — it’s T’Challa.
Somehow we know as an audience that if T’Challa is back that everything will be all right. Even if he’s not the most powerful character, T’Challa is a goddamn hero who’s going to do the right thing and save the day. T’Challa might be, as Falcon puts it, “just a dude in a catsuit,” but the second T’Challa appeared I knew Thanos was completely fucked.
End of Blog
So that’s it — that’s all the material that Chadwick Boseman graced us with in the MCU, and it’s a blessing to have it all. He’s one of the most talented actors to grace the big screen in recent years, and portrayed one of the best characters Marvel has put in front of us. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else portraying T’Challa; his work is iconic and for a generation of fans like myself, he is the Black Panther.
So please join me in pouring one out for Chadwick Boseman, who brought to life a badass, mature, earnest and heroic character who was an inspiration for millions around the globe.
Rest in power, King T’Challa.