GET ON UP STAR CHADWICK BOSEMAN JOINS THE FRAY AS BLACK PANTHER — A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF HERO FOR THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Hello kitty! Empire breaks Whiskas with the MCU’S newest heroic recruit: Cat-man! Sorry, Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman is best known for losing himself in astonishingly convincing portrayals of real-life historical figures. He broke through as Jackie Robinson in 2013 baseball drama 42 and went on to embody Godfather Of Soul James Brown in Get On Up a year later. Both roles were, it turns out, good preparation for Civil War, which sees Boseman take on another groundbreaking historical figure: the first black superhero lead in comic books, Black Panther.
Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, Black Panther first appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four in July 1966 (predating Huey P. Newton’s black nationalist movement of the same name by three months), before joining The Avengers in 1968. Decked in sleek, hightech combat armour and possessing catlike agility and senses, he faced off against the shady likes of Erik Killmonger, Man-ape and the Age Of Ultroncameoing Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis).
So, in contrast to James Brown and Jackie Robinson, this character does spend rather more of his time leaping around and between buildings. As is clear when Empire meets Boseman in his Civil War trailer, where we find him still recovering from the previous day’s rooftop action scene, which he had to shoot in 100-degree heat while wearing his full Black Panther suit.
Despite such sweltering action sequences, Boseman insists that Black Panther is “not a superhero” in the usual sense. Amid the grand-scale tussle that is the Civil War, he stands apart. “I’m not on anybody’s team,” says Boseman. “It’s my political mission to tame it and get it under control.”
Director Joe Russo admits that introducing “a character we love and who people have high expectations for” proved a challenge, especially “in a movie that has so much going on. But it actually works out really well. We found a very interesting place in the narrative for him, where he’s his own third-party radical.”
So this latest introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, real-name T’challa, is to Boseman, at least, more grounded than your average costumed crime-fighter — he’s a political figure. And royalty, to boot. “T’challa is a prince of Wakanda,” he explains. “All heroes have a weight on their shoulders, but there will eventually be a difference in what I have to carry politically and socially.”
Joe and Anthony Russo believe this is an appropriate Marvel instalment in which to introduce Black Panther, as they see some similarity to the big guy in red, white and blue. “Because he’s an emblem and a representative of his country in the way that Captain America is,” says Anthony Russo. “But in a different way too: Cap is an everyman who became elevated because of his virtues and Panther is a prince. So it’s an interesting contrast.”
In an emphatic counter to too many African stereotypes, Wakanda is one of the world’s most advanced nations, home to most of the world’s stock of the ‘vibranium’ which makes up Cap’s shield. “The idea of Wakanda is sort of, what if Timbuktu hadn’t been conquered?” says Boseman, who also invented his own accent for the character, figuring out where on the continent the fictional country would lie. “I basically listened to people and picked what sounded cool, since it’s not a specific place. It’s in the southern, central part of Africa. The attitude, the musicality, is my preference for the character. It has to fit his dignity.”
Of course, this is Marvel, and there are many ‘super’ elements to this hero. In the comics, Black Panther combines mystical powers with high-tech accessories. The latter are definitely presented in Civil War: vibranium is woven into his suit to provide extra protection, and has been shaped into ‘claws’ so sharp they can cut through other metals. There are also, Boseman teases, further “properties to the suit that you’ll see at a later date”. He won’t confirm whether his character has already undergone the initiation ceremony that imbues him with superhuman senses, strength and speed, but it’s a fair bet he’ll have swallowed his magic brew by the end of the Black Panther solo movie, to be directed by Creed’s Ryan Coogler (“He’s dynamic, he loves the character, he’s such a great choice to direct that movie,” says Joe Russo).
Each Marvel solo adventure so far has had its own distinct tone, and the same will be true of Black Panther. “There is one genre I think Black Panther lends himself to, but I’m not going to say,” Boseman tells us. “Black Panther is a superhero movie but it’s still characterdriven. That’s my assessment so far. You identify with what you know, you have the fantasy of this other world but that can only hold you so far. It’s what’s real that is going to hold you in the end.”
BLACK PANTHER IS OUT ON FEBRUARY 9, 2018.
as Black Panther.