With the highly anticipated sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever finally in theaters after what felt like the longest four years of my life, i didn’t much believe we would see another antagonist with such a defensible backstory and mission statement for redemption as Erik Killmonger by Michael B. Jordan. Killmonger, the distant cousin of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), was a literal child left behind in Oakland, Calif., after his father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) was murdered by King T’Chaka (brother N’Jobu’s eldest and T’Challa’s father, played by John Kani). Of course, that would have left Killmonger with an unruly hatred for his extended family. Were they too good to at least give the guy a little notice?
“Black Panther” has the best Marvel supervillain of all time. Yes, even better than Loki.
“Hey, hard shoes to fill,” was my first thought upon entering theaters as I prepared to be immersed in the complex world of the MCU. But wakanda foreverThe villain of Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who rules the undersea kingdom known as Talokan, won over me and the audience as easily as the flapping of wings from his ankles. A remote tribe of the world – yes, even Wakanda – who also have access to vibranium introduces a refreshing counter-colonialist narrative of a group’s escape from violent imperialism, not unlike that of Wakanda.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.
Sympathizing with Namor’s demand that Wakanda keep its people and resources safe from the dirty hands of colonizers seemed very justified. Unfortunately, my adoration and hope for Namor and the people of Talokan began to dwindle as they planned to kidnap and murder young genius Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), not to mention the senseless drowning of Queen Ramonda ( Angela Bassett).
Likewise, while it was entirely understandable for Killmonger to return to Wakanda and demand that the country disperse its vibranium and other resources to disadvantaged and exploited communities like his own, his other actions (such as burning the heart-shaped grass, for starters) were just plain wrong. The dynamism of his villain arc made it extremely difficult to watch his demise; he had the plan, but he needed a better one—perhaps anti-imperialist? – Platform. Those issues aside, Killmonger is one of the most compelling MCU villains ever written.
If not for those irremediable acts of Killmonger and Namor, Ryan Coogler probably would have had a bigger problem on his hands; audiences would have been tempted to get on with the hottest, baddest guys than Black Panther and the citizens of Wakanda. But even that speaks to his talent as a writer and director for turning these larger-than-life superheroes and villains into complicated people we care about as deeply as family, beyond just battles of good and bad. wrong.
Coogler’s thoughtful character construction makes viewers ponder the institutions that seamlessly hold societies together. He writes characters with an understanding of systemic oppression and its functions in creating monsters rather than blaming individuals for being “bad seeds”.
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The MCU is an escapist universe, not a crash course in critical race theory and anti-imperialist propaganda. However, within the confines of this universe that millions of fans flock to experience, Coogler crafts narratives that elevate his films beyond typical multiplex fare. Any story where fans debate whether or not villains are villains is a story worth praising.
If Killmonger and Namor were ever to fight one-on-one, the ensuing fight would put Thanos to shame.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now in theaters.