THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER
Black Panther is now out worldwide, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Much of the praise for this film was it’s brilliant performances, including Michael B. Jordan’s excellent portrayal of Erik Killmonger. Up until this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had an infamous track record of mediocre or horrible villains. That streak was broken with the majority of Phase 3 Marvel films, where villains like Vulture or Ego were a highlights in their respective films. This new streak continues with Black Panther where Killmonger is not just a good villain, he shatters the mold to become a perfect one.
Killmonger is leagues ahead of any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Killmonger holds the classic villain trope of having a personal connection to the hero but also has a point of view many in the audience can agree or relate to. From the reveal of Erik’s ancestry to his first interaction with T’Challa, you know Erik is unlike any other comic book villain.
The dynamic between T’Challa and Erik makes for one of the more interesting contrasts not seen very often in comic book movies. Similar to the Batman and the Joker or Professor X and Magneto, Erik’s vision is clear and is starkly different from the protagonist in the film. Killmonger finds Wakanda’s leadership to be selfish, keeping vibranium to themselves for thousands of years and deliberately not helping other people of color around the world in an attempt to hide their immense resources. It’s hard to disagree with his claim when even some of Wakanda’s own citizens, including Nakia, agreeing with this sentiment.
While many generic film villains carry an equally generic motivation, Killmonger displays a unique side to a villain. In the eyes of Killmonger, he doesn’t see himself as the bad guy. His intentions and motives are right, but they are clouded by anger, hate and a thirst for revenge. At a very young age, Erik saw the dead body of his father, and had to grow up knowing that he’d never be accepted in the “fairytale” land of Wakanda. This could’ve easily been the origin of a hero and that is what makes Killmonger so unique. Only a few circumstances separates Killmonger from being a hero or the villain.
Coogler and Jordan brought passion into this character. Where they could have just opted for a one-dimensional ‘destroy the world’ villain, the duo instead brings light of Erik’s vulnerability. The scene where he takes the strength of the Black Panther is a prime example of this. Erik gets to talk to his father, wearing American clothes, in an American apartment. It’s all he ever knew. And when he does speak to him, he’s a child again, letting his toughness down, and bringing his humanity in.
Erik’s actions may have been too chaotic, but it definitely influenced the future of Wakanda, with characters like W’Kabi and Nakia believing and harboring variations of his beliefs, although a bit differently. Nakia’s resolution is more peaceful, leading to T’Challa spreading Wakanda’s complex technology to the world, which is something Killmonger wanted to do, but more in a more violent, totalitarian way.
Erik Killmonger is a different type of Marvel villain. He, along with Loki are the best of their kind because they’re not just evil, they’re human as well. It’s important for the villain to be on par with their hero, and in this case, Killmonger succeeded at being the Black Panther’s true equal, making him one of the greatest comic book movie villains of all time.