Wholeness in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

They might be the thorn in your side, or they might be your chance to vicariously live out childhood dreams. Regardless, if this past decade has shown us anything about the genre, it's that comic book movies aren't going away anytime soon. Although I love them, I can completely sympathize with those who can't stand them. And on that note, I don't want to spend this time discussing the genre, nor even the specific film that's spurred this post—Captain America: Civil War. Instead, I wanted to pass along some brief thoughts on one quote in particular.

In the first act, T'Challa (the Black Panther's real name) is pursuing the assassin who is presumed to have killed T'Challa's father, the previous king of their people. Because a comic book movie can't exist without some over the top melodrama, this presumed assassin is none other than the childhood friend of Captain America. Ok, enough plot detail...

 Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa (aka The Black Panther)

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa (aka The Black Panther)

In a conversation where Cap is attempting to talk T'Challa out of his vendetta, T'Challa calmly—and seemingly centered—responds with this gem:

"The Black Panther has been a protector of Wakanda for generations. A mantle passed from warrior to warrior. Now because your friend murdered my father, I also wear the mantle of king. So I ask you, as both warrior and king, how long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?"

At many points throught the movie, I received my fair share of goose-bumps from all the fun (read: nerdy) scenes. However, this line immediately struck a chorde in my soul, which has caused it to outlast all the other fun moments. Why, though?

This line, especially since it was delivered with such humble self-confidence, depicts a man who knows exactly who he is. What’s more, this man steps into exactly who he is. He believes it, and, from that place, he acts upon it. T'Challa openly admits to not being like his father, though his father would ideally have his son follow exactly in his own footsteps. However, the father doesn’t seem to force that on him, nor make him feel guilty. Just from the few times we see them together, the father seems to allow T'Challa to be himself. 

As T'Challa’s story unfolds, he does honor the tradition of his father, accepting it as part of him, while simultaneously owning it through his own unique identity, which only he, T'Challa, can. This is such a beautiful and profound concept. At first the story can seem to portray him as reluctant or even slightly insubordinate. However, as the story shows him more fully, the viewer soon finds what is arguably the most grounded and secure Marvel character since Captain America. So, again, why?

I believe the profunditiy and depth of this character—and scene—rests in two things. The first is in recognizing who you are, and who you need to be for your current context. It’s been argued that the four major archetypes that make up the person are the Lover, Sage, Warrior, and King, which is simply to say that these are the manners in which we can show up in and act through in day-to-day life. I definitely think there’s truth in this, as all four seem to be the umbrellas under which all other actions, emotions, and thoughts sit. It is clear that—whether they knew this or not—the writers nodded to identity theories of the person.

The second is the reality of stepping into who you are within a tradition. This shouldn’t be confused with stepping into a tradition, and losing the value of your uniqueness; nor stepping away from tradition, and living compartmentalized and disconnected from others in full blown autonomy. T'Challa knew what was expected of him by his culture and traditions, and still chose to be T'Challa, the Black Panther, which at the end of the day did not contradict those expectations.

Theologically speaking, these two ideas should be in our minds as often as possible. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (the archetypes). Not all events or occasions in life require an execution of all archetypes at the same time; most situations only require one. Subsequently, we should be looking at our lives with an expectation of being. This means that we conscientiously seek to be emotionally and consciously present, acting upon our identity in Christ, while simultaneously expressing it as diversely as needed for the situation at hand. In other words, we should engage the narrative/world/day-to-day occurence given to us without losing the conviction of our true identity.

In the end, I love Cap (and now T'Challa) because characters like these show men of conviction and intentionality, who act from a place of confidence in who they are, not what they’re not or what they want to be. We can find centeredness in who we are in Christ so as to be wholly in the present.