In the trailer for Civil War, we catch only a glimpse of Black Panther — delivering a spin-kick to the face of Winter Soldier — the brainwashed assassin and former best friend of Captain America’s, who is seeking redemption but has apparently been framed for a horrible crime. (No spoilers, but it’s not much of a leap to assume that T’Challa’s father may have been one of the victims of the blast targeting those world leaders, and was either killed or seriously hurt.)
But Boseman says no one’s loyalty is simple in this story. “Ultimately some sides are taken, but I think the trick of the movie is for no one to be blindly following,” he says. “Everybody is actually on their own side, in truth.”
Unlike Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, another prince from a far-off kingdom, who was introduced in the movies as a petulant prince unworthy of his powers and title, T’Challa doesn’t have those kinds of hang-ups. “The spoiled brat thing is never an option,” Boseman says. “He’s not in any way unaware of how important his role and his position is. I think he’s very much aware of the responsibility.”
So the responsibility thing is down. But what are his great powers?
“Panther is a cool character and he has a toughness, and a sort of intimidation factor with his costume,” says Anthony Russo, who directed Civil War with his brother, Joe. (The pair also made Captain America: The Winter Soldier together and are signed on to make the two-part Avengers: Infinity War movies in 2018 and 2019.) “We’re experimenting with how the light catches the costume.”
That’s because Black Panther’s outfit is not actually cloth. It’s metal. It’s vibranium. “It has a sheen because its a weave of the strongest metal in this fictional universe,” says Joe Russo.
“It’s like medieval chain mail, woven extremely thin,” Anthony adds. “It’s not comparable to any other costumes in the universe.”
Ask Boseman about the suit, and he lets out a low, rumbling laugh. “Are you talking about the mythology or the actual suit?” he says. The fiction is amazing, he says, but actually wearing the thing… not so much. The narrow, white-lensed eyes made it particularly hard for the actor to simply see where he was going.
“As far as the actual suit is concerned, I would say there’s a lot of comfort in the shoes, or the boots,” Boseman says. “That’s probably the only part I did enjoy! After you get them on you’re like, ‘Okay, that feels good.’ But other than that, I remember feeling extremely hot and claustrophobic, like, ‘How in the world am I gonna move and act and respond in this?’ But the shoes feel good. Everything else you get used to.”
But the imaginative parts? That was fun.
“As far as the storytelling is concerned, the vibranium is a metal that is dynamic. It can change how it’s used. It’s not a liquid, but it has the ability to change shape and change form and still have its strength. I think there a lot of things about that in the mythology that I think has a lot of potential in terms of the storytelling,” Boseman says.
Vibranium is not your typical armor. “It’s not just about being durable, it has the ability to absorb energy,” Boseman says. “It’s not just like you hit it and it doesn’t take it. It has the ability to absorb the attack of another person and repel or respond to that attack. That’s part of the power.”
As for fighting style, Black Panther has a unique amalgam of moves. “There are some animal forms, but not just cat. He could be a snake, or various different styles. Obviously there’s an opportunity to do some capoeira,” the Brazilian martial art that combines fighting with dance, Boseman says.
Part of Panther’s power is not just brute strength, but thinking ahead. “The key with T’Challa is to keep everybody on their toes. It’s to do the thing that is surprising, that you wouldn’t expect. So there’s a lot of agility and a lot of, like, ‘Why did he do that? Oh now I know why he did that. He was gonna come over here after he did that.’ I wouldn’t say he’s a ninja, but he does employ some of those aspects as well.”
Panther’s retractable claws are also made of vibranium — and since Cap’s shield is also forged from the substance: Who wins in a fight?
The Russo brothers have a simple answer for that: “We shall see,” Joe says.
But from Boseman’s point of view… ? There’s not even a question.
“If you’re talking to Mayweather about the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight, then Mayweather’s gonna say he’s gonna win,” Boseman says. “I have to back myself.”