'Black Panther' has the best Marvel supervillain ever. Yes, even better than Loki.

'Black Panther' has the best Marvel supervillain ever. Yes, even better than Loki.
From Mashable - February 19, 2018

Excited for Black Panther? So are we. Which is why we are rolling out obsessive coverage with Black Panther Week.

Spoilers ahead for Black Panther.

Black Panther just pulled off a Marvel Cinematic Universe first: A supervillain worth rooting for.

Sure, other MCU baddies have been charming (hello, Hela) or surprising (hi, Mandarin) or sympathetic (we see you, Loki). A couple of them have even made good pointsZemo and Vulture's grievances felt legitimate, even if their methods of rectifying them did not.

But Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger is all of those things, and something more besides. It's a truism that every villain sees themselves as the hero in their own story; Killmonger is the first time this has actually felt true in a MCU movie.

Killmonger is a three-dimensional character

From the get-go, Black Panther treats Killmonger like someone who's every bit as interesting as his heroic nemesis. In fact, it shows us Killmonger before it even shows us T'Challa; the second scene in the film is later revealed to be the first chapter in Killmonger's origin story.

This treatment continues throughout the film, which checks back in with Killmonger periodically and gives him plenty of opportunities to reveal his motivations and his personality. He gets dramatic entrances and hero shots, and an exciting mission of his own. Contrast this to something like Thor: The Dark World, where the periodic check-ins with Malekith felt less like plot development and more like half-hearted attempts to remind everyone he existed.

Black Panther places less emphasis on what Killmonger wants than why.

Before Killmonger even meets T'Challa, we already know what his beliefs are, and how dangerous he can be. We also know he's ruthless enough to kill his girlfriend rather than derail his mission, but that he might take a few seconds out of a heist to make out with her or grab a mask just because he was "feelin' it." (And because he's played by Michael B. Jordan, he's got charisma in spades.)

Killmonger's time in Wakanda fills out the rest of his story: We learn about his relationship with his father and his hometown of Oakland, and become intimately acquainted with his tragedy. Taken all together, these details form a complete character arc. This is not some cardboard baddie thwarted in his quest to take over the world. This feels like a real man on a dark journey.

Killmonger stands for something

Speaking of which: It's notable that Black Panther places less emphasis on what Killmonger wants than why. In most MCU movies (most of the recent superhero movies, really) it's the other way around, and the what usually is not even that interesting.

It's typically power, revenge, or both, and half the time I have already forgotten which before the credits roll: What the hell was it that Kaecilius wanted again? Or Ronan the Accuser? Or Yellowjacket? All that really matters is that we understand they must not get what they want, and that our superhero must be willing to do anything in his or her power to stop them.

In Black Panther, Killmonger wants both power and revenge, but for very specific reasons that speak to the deeper conflict at the heart of the story. His differences with T'Challa are as philosophical as they are practical. It's kind of like if Captain America: Civil War had continued down the ideological rift between Cap and Iron Man, instead of chucking it to the side so everyone could fight over Bucky for 80 minutes.

Except, you know, more immediately relevant to us. Killmonger's perspective is forged from the rage and sorrow that comes with being a black man in our world. He's absorbed the horrors around him and he's crying out for something to change, and he's furious at the people he believes could fix it all, if only they could be bothered to care.

That political rift is echoed in his familial connection to T'Challa. KillmongerN'Jadakais not merely a metaphorical brother of the Wakandan people, but a literal nephew of King T'Chaka and cousin of King T'Challa. And he was abandoned in Oakland the protect Wakanda's secrets, in a more intimate echo of the way Wakanda turned its back on the outside world.

Killmonger is relatable ... sometimes

Killmonger is not (completely) wrong


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