Black Panther opened last Friday to overwhelmingly positive reviews, and the biggest takeaway from the movie is its villain. Erik Killmonger was one of the most memorable parts, and some are already calling him the MCU’s greatest villain yet. People are praising the character not only for Michael B. Jordan’s stellar performance, but for his strong motives and methodical plan. So in a sea of weak villains, what makes Killmonger stand out above the rest?
After the release of Thor Ragnarök, I dissected some of the MCU’s recent villains, and I came to a conclusion of what makes a good villain. I believe villains who have a personal connection to the hero and a grounded plan are typically considered better villains. You need look no further than Loki and Zemo to see this (you can read my full dissection here). So how does Killmonger fit these qualifications?
SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER
Black Panther opens with a confrontation between King T’Chaka and his brother, N’Jobu, in California. We later find out that T’Chaka killed N’Jobu and left his American born son behind who is revealed to be Erik Killmonger. This immediately establishes a personal connection between T’Challa and Killmonger, who are cousins. I think having a personal connection to the hero makes for a much better villain, because there is added tension to the conflict. Not only was Killmonger connected to T’Challa because they’re cousins, but also because he’s the direct result of T’Chaka’s mistakes. T’Challa has to pay for the sins of his father when Killmonger enters Wakanda. If Killmonger didn’t have these personal connections to T’Challa when he challenges the throne, if he were just a normal guy, there would be no weight to the confrontation.
We’ve seen a lot of big bad villains with world ending plans in superhero movies, but the best ones typically have a much more grounded strategy. Killmonger’s plan wasn’t to destroy all of Wakanda, or use the Wakandan tech to destroy the rest of the world. He wanted to take over the throne, which he accomplished, and send out Wakandan tech to oppressed people around the world. I previously voiced concern for Killmonger from the trailers thinking he would be another generic villain, but Black Panther proved me wrong. When a villain’s plan isn’t to just destroy the planet/country, there is much more room for development in their character.
The fact that Killmonger’s plan was grounded isn’t what makes it so good, though. His subversive plan to equip people around the world with Wakandan technology wasn’t all that villainous. There were several times throughout the movie where I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, he’s kind of right.” I could understand where he was coming from because he had lived and was raised with oppression and no defenses while people in Wakanda lived royal lives and kept their superior technology to themselves. The Wakandans certainly aren’t bad people, but from Killmonger’s point of view, they have chosen not to interfere with the outside world which has led to so many unprotected and unarmed people. As a kid, he recollects how people die where he lives, and that’s just the way it is. The fact that I could get behind Killmonger’s plan made me question who I thought was right, and even better, it made T’Challa question his own values. Now, if Killmonger hadn’t gone about his plan in such an extreme way, he easily could be in the right.
Not only does Killmonger have a well developed plan, but in the end, he sort of wins. T’Challa takes into account the ideas Killmonger was introducing, and we see in the after credits scene that Wakanda will now reveal itself to the world. I was sad to see Killmonger die in the final battle, and I was hoping T’Challa could even ask him for advice in the future. It’s a shame a great villain like this won’t continue his journey in the MCU, but his death scene may be my favorite scene in the movie. The words he speaks before he dies as the sun sets really hit me and has even made me rethink my own values. I think a villain who can affect me personally as well as the hero is a rather notable one.
Killmonger is a great villain because of his personal connection to the hero, his subversive and relatable plan, and the fact that his plan comes into fruition in the end. He definitely stands in the MCU as one of the greatest villains, and I think he will go down with others like Doc Ock and The Joker as one of the best superhero film antogonists of all time.
I think Marvel has been on their A-Game with their villains as of late, and I hope future films take note of why Killmonger is a great adversary. Marvel’s big one, Thanos, is coming soon, and I’m optimistic they will knock another one out of the park.
What else made Killmonger a great villain for you? Let us know on Twitter @SuperBroMovies.
For the record, here’s my ranking of the top 5 MCU villains
- Winter Soldier
Black Panther is in theaters now.
After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king — and as Black Panther — gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman