The villain revolution WILL be televised in the upcoming Black Panther feature film. With Andy Serkis set to reprise the role of South African weapons dealer, Ulysses Klaue, and Michael B. Jordan taking on Erik Killmonger, Black Panther is up for a tough challenge. Not only has every trailer has only presented the antagonists as a tough threat to the Black Panther, but their main objective is to take down the hypocrisy of Wakanda that T’Challa desperately wants hidden. As a result, with this film, director Ryan Coogler is making the line between right and wrong very blurred with Killmonger presenting a sincere claim to the throne.
In the comics, Killmonger is one of Black Panther’s oldest villains appearing in Jungle Action #6 released in 1973. Due to his family helping Ulysses Klaue enter Wakanda, Killmonger was exiled from his home country and made a life for himself in the United States. Deeply harboring revenge against the ruler of Wakanda, he returned to his home country and, unsuccessfully, fought T’Challa for the crown. Given this history, it only makes sense for him to be the featured villain in the first Black Panther film. Jordan’s Killmonger pairing up with Klaw strikes back to Killmonger’s roots, as the two look like a formidable team against the fledgling king.
But does this make them any more interesting of a villain than other Marvel films? Let’s compare Killmonger to another strong MCU villain. From the behind the scenes interviews about Killmonger, it seems that the character will be very close to Michael Keaton’s Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is a good thing. Executive Producer Nate Moore told Entertainment Weekly that “Killmonger has his own opinion on how Wakanda has been run and should run…Killmonger is a voice of a different side of Wakanda.” As Vulture represented another side of American culture giving different ideals than previously seen with Marvel characters, Killmonger will be the same but for Wakanda. His final line from the latest trailer validates this as Killmonger is demanding “the weapons, your secrets” from the king. A relatable story for a villain will go far with fans and critics alike as everyone appreciates a good redemption story.
Now let’s look at the secondary villain of the film: Ulysses Klaue (or Klaw). While Klaw has previously been in the MCU, he will get more screen time than he previously received. It’s hard not to be captivated with Klaw, as his derangement eerily echoed in the first Black Panther as he revealed the truth behind Wakanda to Ross. With an upgraded arm made from Wakandan technology, this bit character should be one of the most underrated characters in the movie. Klaw’s biggest threat to T’Challa is that he is the only outsider to have ever seen the truth of Wakanda. Klaw plays a part in helping Killmonger, presumably, entering the country’s defenses but does little of the heavy lifting aside from the chase scene seen in the trailers.
Black Panther seems to be the continuation of a recent trend in Marvel villains, as Marvel struck gold in, the two most recent films, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok, bringing in film legends Michael Keaton and Cate Blanchett to play the best villains yet. Keaton was fashioned similarly to Zemo, having no powers and choosing to take matters into his own hands. Unlike Zemo, Vulture was relatable and fit the current environment challenging the elites in the MCU with Keaton taking direct shots at Stark. “The rich and the powerful, like Stark, they don’t care about us.” Cate Blanchett was also able to shake up the MCU destroying Asgard and revealing the truth behind Odin’s conquests and diving deeper into Thor lore introducing Fenris Wolf the comic offspring of Loki. (Really best if you don’t think about the how). If it wasn’t for an actress of Blanchett’s ability, the character would likely not work with the limited screen time she received, however, Blanchett demanded screen presence with Hela hath no fury like a woman scorned.
But this trend didn’t always exist as The Marvel Cinematic Universe, while enjoyable, have had many films without a clear and dangerous presence *cough* Dark World *cough*. This even dates back to what is arguably Marvel’s strongest phase, Phase 2, with most films missing a strong antagonist. Starting with the “Mandarin” in Iron Man 3 and finishing things off with Darren Cross in Ant-Man, and few memorable villains in-between, excluding the Winter Soldier, it didn’t seem to bode well for the then-upcoming Phase 3.
Phase 3 began with Captain America: Civil War, which marked a dramatic shift in the way the MCU portrayed their villains with Daniel Brühl’s portrayal of Helmut Zemo. Zemo was received to a mixed reaction from both fans and critics due to him being a different type of villain within the universe without powers and only will be tearing the Avengers apart from within. However, fans noted that this version had little in common with his comic counterpart, completely throwing away the source material. Since then, we have seen the most memorable villains, to date, with Vulture, Hela, and Ego. And now, we have these Killmonger and Klaw in Black Panther, which seems poised to continue this trend. I think the film, and the MCU as a whole, owes some of that success to Civil War’s Helmut Zemo.
It will be interesting to see how Michael B. Jordan’s first film as a villain will turn out but from the trailers, it is hard to find fault with the actor. Killmonger leads the charge to the throne in a very dangerous manner demanding the seat for himself exposing Wakanda’s shadow. The best type of villains, especially in superhero films, are the ones who force the protagonist to grow. For a movie that is essentially T’Challa’s coming of age story, these two villains are set to give the young king a run for his money all $90.7 trillion of it.