Now that we’ve had a few months to settle down from the inner fandom skirmish caused by Captain America: Civil War, during which time fans were pitted against each other on either #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan (I was #TeamBuckyBarnes), we can look back and reflect on one of many wonderful things introduced by that film.
The film is now available on dvd, blu-ray, and digital download, meaning now is the perfect time to talk about the elephant, err…giant black cat in the room: T’Challa.
If you haven’t seen the movie? I’d stop reading here, watch it, then come back. Spoilers ahead.
Meeting the Black Panther
Also known as the Black Panther, T’Challa introduced a brand new character into the Marvel universe with a bang. (Bad joke. Too soon?) Bitter and consumed with a thirst for revenge after his father’s apparent murder by the Winter Soldier, James Buchanan Barnes, T’Challa became an ally of Team Iron Man who simply has one purpose – his own. He’s not aligned with Tony’s morals, he’s not trying to ‘bring anybody in,’ he’s simply using them to achieve his own goal of killing his father’s murderer.
T’Challa Versus the Bucky Barnes Protection Squad
If you’re a Team Cap fan, you might not have liked the Black Panther at first. T’Challa represented someone who was quick to judge and condemn an innocent man. Bucky Barnes, previously known as the Winter Soldier, burrowed into the hearts and minds of countless fans (thanks in part to Sebastian Stan’s jawline, I’m sure), meaning fans were quick to defend him from T’Challa and his relentless pursuit of Bucky’s head on a platter.
Remember their exchange during the battle at the airport? Bucky’s defending himself against T’Challa’s attacks, and Bucky tells him, “I didn’t kill your father.” T’Challa instantly replies, “Then why did you run?”
You can pretty much see Bucky’s answer on his face, especially if you remember their first encounter in Romania. He ran because 1) he was being labeled an international terrorist and hunted by a guy with claws and 2) he was being hunted by a guy with claws.
While it’s easy to understand T’Challa’s logic, given that – in most cases – guilty people don’t run, it’s still obvious why Bucky felt he didn’t have any other choice. The world came at him, guns blazing, and they were out for blood, not a friendly chat that allows for a rational explanation.
However misguided T’Challa throughout the film, there are a few reasons his character should be redeemed (and no longer suffer the wrath of the Bucky Barnes Protection Squad.)
T’Challa and Redemption
One, it’s completely understandable for T’Challa to be consumed by his grief and act out. Nobody is perfect, and I loved that Marvel was willing to create a character who felt so deeply that he makes a mistake – a fairly massive one that could’ve ended much worse – because it reflects on yet another element of the humanity in the storyline. Tony acts in the same way later in the film, fueled by rage at the death of his parents, he nearly kills Bucky as he battles it out against both Steve and Bucky.
As an author, I know that it’s far too simple to create characters that are all-powerful and perfect. We want to inject the ideals and standards that we ourselves can’t live up to into these fictional personas, but – in the end – that’s not what we identify with most. We love the flawed characters. We love the mistakes.
Don’t believe me? Look at two of the most popular characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe today: Loki and Bucky Barnes. Both are wildly popular, no doubt in part because of the actors who portray them, but also because they’re complicated and imperfect.
A second source of T’Challa’s redemption? The end of the film. Zemo is watching Tony, Steve, and Bucky duke it out when T’Challa approaches. He recognizes that Zemo’s goal was simply to watch the Avengers rip each other apart – to kill each other – and he’s not okay with that.
“Vengeance has consumed you,” T’Challa tells him. “It’s consuming them. I am done letting it consume me.”
Even though he’s discovered that Zemo is the man behind his father’s death, even though he’s watched the destruction Zemo wrought between the Avengers, T’Challa makes a conscious choice to let go of his own quest for revenge – his own desire – and prevents Zemo from killing himself.
Not only does he prove that he’s no longer allowing himself to be driven by emotions, T’Challa acts as a foil to Tony Stark. Set on parallel paths throughout the film, even though Tony doesn’t recognize it until the end, T’Challa shows us a different road – one that doesn’t involve letting hatred and hurt drive your actions – and demonstrates that this man, this hero, is going to be a key player in the future of the MCU.
If you’re still not convinced that T’Challa is awesome and deserves forgiveness (and therefore really excited about the new Black Panther film), remember that he actually houses Bucky in Wakanda after Barnes decides to return to the ice. This is a complete 180 from where he begins the film. It shows that not only is T’Challa quick to own up to his mistakes, he’s also a generally nice guy for harboring someone who is still a wanted criminal.
Regardless of what side you’re on, Team Cap or Team Iron Man, I think we can all agree that there are a lot of great things to come in the future of the MCU. And, if all else fails, we can all be #TeamThor.