Fans everywhere were practically over the moon when they heard that Black Panther/King T’Challa would be in Captain America: Civil War. They also did a double-take when they learned he would be siding with Tony Stark/Iron Man in the movie. T’Challa and Cap are very good friends in the comics, and it is rare for them to disagree over anything. I cannot remember ever hearing about them arguing over something. Not in the way that Tony and Steve have been fighting lately.
We do not see T’Challa until at least half an hour into Civil War. In Vienna with his father for the signing of the Accords, T’Challa decides to take a moment to talk to Black Widow. Natasha does not seem to recognize him, though when his father shows up the pieces fall into place very quickly.
Another odd thing is that, when King T’Chaka is making his speech about the greatness of the Accords, T’Challa is not sitting down in the audience of dignitaries, U.N. personnel, and reporters. He is instead standing near the window behind and to the left of his father. His arms are crossed and his posture indicates catlike ease and unconcern. One could infer that he is bored out of his mind with the diplomatic proceedings. His father’s implication that T’Challa has a palpable distaste for politics only reinforces this idea.
But this may be too easy an answer. You see, T’Challa’s position in the room not only gives him a good view of the visiting dignitaries, U.N. workers, and journalists, it allows him to watch the buildings and streets outside. Thinking about it now, I suppose T’Challa was acting as his father’s bodyguard. He was watching, surreptitiously and under the cover of boredom, for attackers in the audience, snipers in the other buildings, and trouble on the streets. So his ability to be surreptitious is pretty darn impressive!
This is how he spots the bomb squad checking out a van near the building. Seeing the officers pull away quickly from the vehicle, T’Challa is just a little slower in shouting a warning to everyone else. Natasha reacts in time, helping the person seated next to her to get under the table.
But T’Challa is not fast enough to reach his father, who also does not spring for cover immediately. It is likely that he was too surprised by his son’s shout to do more than turn to look at him. The bomb kills him, sends T’Challa flying, and kills a lot of other people on the floors below.
T’Challa was always close to his father, in the comics and in the film. Unlike Tony, seeing his father die absolutely tears him up.
Any number of groups would want to kill several dozen of the politicos at the U.N. T’Chaka almost certainly had enemies who wanted him dead, too. T’Challa was probably cataloging all of these people in his mind before he found out who was suspected of the bombing. Once he learns it is the Winter Soldier, all other possibilities are forgotten.
Most people are going to lean on the idea that T’Challa went after Bucky simply for the sake of vengeance. That is part of it. How many of us could see someone we loved dearly die for no reason and not flip our lids over it? Very few people could avoid that reaction.
The thing is that T’Challa is too reasonable to let pain and anger control him completely. They are driving factors in his quest for Bucky, of course, but they are leashed emotions. Most of T’Challa’s motivation here is justice.
Justice is not an amorphous idea. Nor is it the “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” mantra we inherited from ages past. Justice is about making recompense to another person for some act committed against them. It does not have anything to do with killing the man/woman who killed someone you loved. That is revenge, and we have been warned never to seek that. Revenge destroys not one life but two, and perhaps many other lives as well.
In this case, the bombing of the U.N. building was a futile event in that it destroyed lives. A number of people – including King T’Chaka – were killed for no reason except to help Zemo gain his revenge. They were not killed to protect innocent people but to destroy the Avengers. Discounting Black Widow, T’Challa, and the security personnel, most of those within the U.N. building at the time were civilians. They were, therefore, completely unprepared and unready to defend themselves if the need arose.
The attack was in this regard senseless and a waste of life, the most precious thing on earth. Such a crime cries out for recompense, for punishment of the perpetrator. That is the motivating force behind T’Challa’s decision to go after Bucky.
Now there are several other things to consider here. We are all attached, to some degree, to the film versions of Cap, Bucky, and the Avengers. We are also attached to the previous portrayal of the Black Panther in the comics and cartoons. This means we end up with a slightly skewed view of T’Challa’s character arc in the film, because we are looking at it through the lenses of past experience and deep familiarity.
What we forget is that, prior to this movie, T’Challa has never met any of the Avengers before. Oh, he has heard about them. He knows them by reputation. But he does not know them as people. He has never crossed paths with them up until he decides to speak to Natasha in Vienna.
Also, we forget that Bucky has been AWOL for two years. During this time he has overcome his “programming.” He remains unsure of himself, however, and he is riddled with honest guilt. This makes him dangerous. Everyone in the film universe knows he was HYDRA’s brainwashed attack dog. They know his rap sheet is long and blood-soaked, and though they may pity him, they also fear him. This is normal. Even Cap is wary of Bucky and does not automatically trust him the way he once did. Bucky is not the exact same person he was in the 1940s (thank you, HYDRA – NOT!!).
So it is utterly plausible for most people to believe Bucky went out and bombed the U.N. Only Cap – and consequently Sam and Sharon Carter – stop to ask the pertinent questions about this event: Why, after two years of hiding, would Bucky suddenly bomb a U.N. building? What could he possibly hope to gain or to accomplish by bombing the signing of the Sokovian Accords?
The answer to these questions is: nothing. Bucky had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Whatever his personal feelings about the justice of the Accords, he was not going to come out of his hidey-hole and say anything about them – with his voice or with a bomb. Definitely not with a bomb. He has absolutely no motive to destroy the U.N. building in Vienna.
This is where T’Challa’s pain, grief, and anger have clouded his judgment. He does not stop to think about these things. After seeing his father die, we can hardly blame him. Even Steve does not hold this against him. When they first meet he is silent on these matters while in T’Challa’s presence. Touching on such subjects would only drive him to further anger.
And Cap does not want that. He knows T’Challa is a reasonable man. It is evident in the control he demonstrates when he speaks and when he is in combat. You cannot be that precise, that calm, without rational effort. So T’Challa, Cap figures, is a rational man. This means that to reach him, you have to be sensible in your response to him. Emotion will not sway him to act; only clear reason will do that.
And in this moving world of shifting shadows, reason is what we desperately need. It is what the Avengers need.
In the police car taking the three of them to the German base, Cap ends up making his first probe of the Black Panther. He knows T’Chaka was killed in the bombing and he knows T’Challa holds Bucky responsible for his death. He understands that T’Challa’s grief is clouding his thinking. But he says nothing until Falcon pipes up with, “So. You like cats?”
Not helping, Cap thinks as he reprimands, “Sam.”
“What?” the other counters. “Dude shows up dressed like a cat and you don’t want to know more?”
The subtext of Sam’s question was, likely: Cap, this guy is reasonable. Sitting quietly is not going to show him you’re reasonable, too.
Thereupon Cap shows interest in the Panther suit, asking for confirmation that it is made out of vibranium. This has to impress T’Challa, at least a little. Most people would not think of vibranium right off the bat. Tony’s suit can deflect bullets, too, after all. But someone who has worked with vibranium for a long time would be able to recognize the metal when he came into contact with it. Someone such as Captain America.
T’Challa does not want to show that he is even this impressed, though. His father is dead, and he almost had his suspected killer right where he wanted him. Then Cap stepped in and ruined the whole thing, getting him arrested in the process.
Still, it is not like telling Steve Rogers the origin of the suit and his fighting skills is going to hurt anything. He explains the history of the mantle of the Black Panther, simultaneously hinting at his own upbringing as he does so. Then he asks, “How long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?”
Instead of taking the bait and showing emotional attachment, Cap stays quiet. He looks away. It is an admission that he cannot protect Bucky all the time, everywhere. But the nuance of the movement also communicates that he is sure as hell going to try.
T’Challa’s attitude toward the Winter Soldier is not lightened by their next meeting, when he tangles with Bucky in the German base’s cafeteria to protect Natasha. He has to notice the difference in Bucky’s fighting style in this battle, as it is hard to miss. When they last fought, Bucky was making a determined effort to get the hell out of Dodge. Now he is suddenly attacking and fighting with the cold, mechanical precision of a robot.
This is different, but apparently not different enough to shake T’Challa from his determination to capture and, if possible, kill Bucky. Maybe the guy has a split personality, or maybe he was faking his desperation to escape. Whatever the reason, it is not good enough to make T’Challa decide to let Bucky go, proved when he accepts Natasha’s offer of help in finding him.
This leads us to the airport battle. T’Challa joins Tony, Rhodey, Widow, Spider-Man, and Vision in squaring off against Team Cap. The rest of the Avengers are there to enforce the Accords. T’Challa is only there to get his claws into Bucky.
He has to have been apprised of the fact that Team Cap has grown by this time to include Hawkeye and Wanda Maximoff. That does not initially concern him. In contrast, the sudden arrival of Ant-Man is a shocker for him, as it is for the others.
But it is when the fighting really starts that T’Challa receives his most jarring surprises. None of Team Cap’s members are fanatically claiming that Barnes did not kill his father or the other people in Vienna. None of them are wild-eyed partisans, screaming platitudes at the top of their lungs. No, they are all calm, rational, capable people. And they are not there for Barnes.
They are there for Cap.
When he finally gets to attack Bucky, the Winter Soldier takes the time to mutter, “I didn’t kill your father.” Again, this has to confuse T’Challa on a rational level. First Bucky ran, then he fought like a robot, now he is talking? How many emotional or unemotional faces does this guy have?!
Thanks to his vibranium suit and Bucky’s reminder about his father’s murder, though, Panther gets the upper hand and throws him around. But before he can strike a deadly blow, he is stopped by the Scarlet Witch.
This is surprise number two for the Black Panther. Wanda has no stake in the fight between him and Bucky. And, more than any of the others, she understands where T’Challa is coming from. Yet she not only halts his attack, she throws him through the air, far away from the battle, to save Barnes.
Why would she do that? Why would she waste time and energy protecting a murderer?
Then Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man, taking a stand between T’Challa and his prey. He even splinters the crates the King of Wakanda is standing on in order to keep him away from Cap and Bucky. Only Rhodey and Spider-Man’s attack saves T’Challa from getting picked up and tossed through the air like a doll – again.
Clint is the next member of the team to face T’Challa down as Bucky and Cap continue their mad dash for the Aveng-jet. Again, T’Challa has to be at least mildly bewildered on a rational level. Here is a man who has a family. He has a calm, deadly focus that can only be maintained through cogent thinking. And he is bold enough to face an unknown opponent in battle. He is so audacious he can be flippant about his challenge to the new King of Wakanda: “We haven’t met yet. I’m Clint.”
“I don’t care!” Panther retorts. But is that true? Clint has all the motivation in the world to stay out of this battle. Yet here he is, fighting T’Challa, a man who eventually knocks him down and defeats him. By rights, he should not be here. But he is.
Why? Why would he leave his safe, happy home to protect Barnes?
The last straw is when Black Widow uses her stingers to halt T’Challa, allowing his quarry and Captain America to escape. By way of explanation, she tells him, “I said I’d help you find him. I didn’t say I’d help you catch him. There’s…. a difference.”
It is very hard for Team Iron not to see Natasha’s actions as anything less than betrayal. Panther is especially upset, since he felt he had an ally and a friend in her. But the question is why she would turn around and help Steve. The idea that Natasha helped him simply because she could not stop him does not hold water. She could have fought and at least detained him and Bucky until T’Challa arrived. He would have taken Bucky while she held off Steve. And the fact is that Natasha Romanoff is capable of fighting Steve Rogers and keeping him very busy indeed.
Instead, she shot T’Challa with her 30,000 volt stinger, restraining him long enough for the two to get away. Why? Why throw away her security and position to help Steve?
These questions have to be rattling around in T’Challa’s mind as he follows Iron Man to Siberia. Perhaps he also heard the news about the psychiatrist Zemo killed and impersonated before he took off. Either way, he does not immediately attack the duo when Iron Man joins up with them.
It would have been the perfect opportunity. The minute they all turned their backs, he could have pounced on Bucky and quite possibly have killed him before they could react.
But T’Challa does not do that. Instead, he follows the three at a distance, keeping to the shadows, moving quietly. He gets an up close and personal view of the hellish pit where Bucky was frozen, tortured, and made into a weapon. He watches them meet Zemo, hears the former Sokovian commando admit to bombing the U.N., and probably hears at least part of the tape that shows Bucky killing the Starks.
As the fight between the three breaks out, Zemo makes a run for it. And Panther is left with a decision: Should he stop the fight, or should he prevent Zemo from escaping?
The fight in the base will resolve itself best without him. If he butts in and tries to stop Iron Man, he will only make matters worse. More importantly, if Zemo gets away, justice will not be served.
So T’Challa goes back upstairs and finds Zemo, who is looking out over the mountains. Their discussion I no longer remember clearly, except for certain sentences, like the part where Zemo apologizes for killing King T’Chaka. Hah; some apology. The bombing was not necessary in the first place. Zemo only did it to destroy something good and wonderful – the Avengers. He did not care about the innocents he killed. If he did, he would not have detonated the bomb in the first place.
This is the wages of revenge. Instead of “only” ruining the Avengers’ lives, Zemo has ruined hundreds. He killed Panther’s father, an innocent psychiatrist (I cannot believe I just said that, either), and a number of other people. And for what? – To make himself feel better? He is ready to murder himself now that his “task” is done. I’m fairly certain that this is NOT a sign of “feeling better.”
“Vengeance has consumed you,” T’Challa says, shaking his head a little. His eyes, though, never leave Zemo. The man has lived this long simply because he wanted to destroy the Avengers. T’Challa does not need anyone to tell him that empty shell of a man, plus gun, equals suicide plan. “It is consuming them,” he adds, meaning the fight in the base.
I would not go so far as to say that, although Tony’s actions are certainly driven more by feelings of guilt than by rational thinking. T’Challa knows what that is like. With his father’s real killer now seated in front of him, he has realized what Cap, and by extension his team, did for him. Likewise, he realizes what Steve is doing his best for Tony in the base below right now.
Cap, Wanda, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and Natasha saved T’Challa from making a horrible mistake. By preventing him from killing Bucky, they kept T’Challa from turning into a murderer little better than Zemo. Sure, T’Challa would have been remorseful once he found out that he had killed the wrong man. But that would not have undone the deed. By averting the action in the first place Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, Clint Barton, and Natasha Romanoff preserved T’Challa from that fate. They saved his soul.
Cap saved his soul. Not once. Not twice. Several times Steve stood between T’Challa and Hell, and kept him from jumping in feet first.
And T’Challa, an honorable man, knows that he owes Cap for that. He owes his entire team for that.
He also knows that Zemo’s soul, perhaps not in the best shape to start with, is now little better than a dark pit. The man has the unmitigated gall to apologize for killing T’Challa’s father in a pointless search for revenge. Zemo was not pursuing justice and he knows it. He is holding a grudge against people who did their best to save lives but who were still unable to save everyone, including his family. Zemo is not feeling remorse. His words are an attempt to placate justice with an excuse.
But as Panther says, “Justice will come soon enough.” Either in this life or the next, justice will be served. So when Zemo tries to escape the justice of this world through suicide, Black Panther prevents him from killing himself. It is not out of pity that T’Challa blocks the shot and captures Zemo. As he says, “The living are not done with you yet.”
Zemo did not want justice for his family. He wanted revenge. Panther did not want revenge, though his judgment was clouded with it. T’Challa wanted justice for his father. He wanted his father’s murderer to pay for what he had done.
In combat, he was willing, almost eager, to kill Bucky. But when they captured him the first time, T’Challa was also ready to accept Barnes’ imprisonment. Bucky would not be able to kill anyone in prison, after all. At least, he would not be able to kill anyone who did not deserve it.
Now that he knows it was Zemo and not Barnes; sees what Zemo has become since he gave into his grief and rage, T’Challa decides to let go of his own anger and anguish. He will always miss his father, who was stolen from him in a terrible manner. But he no longer wants to kill to satisfy his fury and sorrow.
And since Zemo is so eager to die, the best way to punish him is to keep him alive. Until the natural end of his life, hopefully, he will have to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom like everybody else. He has determined that he has no purpose in life except the destruction of the Avengers. With that accomplished, for the moment, Zemo will have to remain living in a world he has concluded is not worth his time.
The final time we see T’Challa in the movie is when Bucky is put into cryostasis in Wakanda. It is obvious here that T’Challa is thanking Cap and his friends for saving him from making a monstrous mistake.
But there is more than mere appreciation in his giving asylum to Team Cap and medical aid to Bucky. Bucky is a victim, as much as T’Chaka was. While his father is beyond his reach, Bucky is a clear and present case he can help. He once wanted the Winter Soldier dead for a crime he did not commit. It is his duty now to see to it that Bucky has a chance to find some measure of peace in this life.
And Team Cap is not a gang of criminals, though the law says they are. As Charles Dickens wrote, “The law is an ass, and it has never been married.” It would seem that T’Challa recognizes now the injustice of the Accords. He understands that the Avengers have done their best to save as many lives in every crisis where they have been present as they can. However, this does not mean they are able to save everyone, and to blame them for the misfortunes of battle is unreasonable.
Panther is too logical to tolerate the irrational.
This is why, when Cap reminds him that the officials may eventually come for Bucky, T’Challa smiles. “Let them try,” he replies confidently. They may come, and if they do, they will find they have bitten off more than they can chew. Wakanda is as advanced as any First World country, and it is inhabited by very strong warriors. So if you want to tango with them, go right ahead. The rest of us will start knitting your burial shroud as you march off to get cut to pieces.
We do not know, as of Civil War, if T’Challa has had to register under the Accords as a superhuman. I imagine the legal ramifications of forcing the monarch of a sovereign nation to obey international registration laws are more than slightly complicated. And T’Challa is smart enough to tie the U.N. into legal knots they would be centuries untying. If they try to put pressure on him, they are going to regret it – big time.
Considering Cap’s statement of “if they find out he’s here,” it does not sound like Team Cap will be living as ex-pats in Wakanda between this film and Infinity War. Cap said “he,” not “we.” As I have stated before, they will probably drop in for a visit every now and then, or whenever Bucky is woken up for a new treatment. T’Challa will most likely be there to meet them when they come, and I suspect that he will be supplying them with money, aid, and tech until Infinity War as well. He may even call on them to help him out under the radar!
It would be nice if we got a glimpse of Team Cap in Wakanda during the Black Panther movie in 2018. I have my fingers crossed that at least Cap will get to pop in and have a few lines. Background appearances for the others would be the minimum appeasement for me.
But we will have to wait and see what happens in 2018. Until then –
Secret Avengers – Assemble!
The Mithril Guardian