— SPOILERS lie ahead for Black Panther —
Erik Killmonger was an undeniable scene-stealer in Black Panther, but how does he stack up against the other villains in the MCU? It’s an interesting question, especially since the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gained a bit of a reputation for its serviceable yet forgettable bad guys. And compared to the 17+ villains that came before him in the MCU, Killmonger definitely registers at the top end of the list.
Between its unprecedented critical reception and its remarkable start at the box office, Black Panther is shaping up to be every bit the success that Marvel was hoping it would be. The film’s greatest strength lies in its character work, and amidst a star-studded cast, Michael B. Jordan arguably shines the brightest as the villainous Erik Killmonger. The son of Prince N’Jobu, Killmonger’s father was killed by T’Challa’s dear old dad King T’Chaka when he was a boy. Young Erik is left to fend for himself after the king elects to leave him behind in Oakland, California rather than bring him home to Wakanda. Killmonger makes it on his own, eventually becoming a black ops mercenary and one of the most vicious killers alive, before traveling to Wakanda to claim the throne for himself.
Jordan’s Killmonger is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished villains the MCU has ever seen. After successfully overthrowing the newly crowned King T’Challa by defeating (and seemingly killing) him in hand to hand combat, Killmonger enacts a plan originally cooked up by his father to arm Wakanda’s undercover operatives around the world. This being a comic book movie, he is ultimately thwarted and killed by the true Black Panther, but that in no way diminishes Killmonger’s place amongst the Marvel elite. MBJ’s baddie is drawing all sorts of favorable comparisons, but where does he rank as far as MCU baddies are concerned? Read on to find out.
Killmonger Is Marvel’s Most Relatable Villain
As we’ve discussed previously, Killmonger’s tragic past drives his actions. His hatred for T’Challa and his father turned to resentment for Wakandan ideology as a whole; in Killmonger’s mind, T’Chaka’s choice to leave him orphaned and alone makes him a representative of all those of African descent around that world that Wakanda could help, but chooses not to. The nation’s isolationist policies are responsible for the oppression of black people across the globe, in his eyes.
Frustration with those in power who consistently fail to act in the best interests of the people is a very relatable emotion, especially in today’s world. No matter which side of the political aisle you land on, there aren’t many people that trust their government to do the right thing these days. In that sense, Killmonger serves as a stand-in for everyone who’s ever wanted to actually stand up and do something about it — he’s just a whole lot more sinister and murder-y than most folks.
Killmonger’s actions go far beyond a simple revenge plot. They’re far more personal and simultaneously wide-reaching, and Michael B. Jordan’s powerful performance sells it all. As an actor, he’s as charismatic as any of the MCU’s baddies, and his character is arguably the most grounded and relatable villain the shared universe has seen to date. Plus, bad guys who truly believe that they’re the heroes are always more compelling than those that are just evil for evil’s sake. Very few villains have been given all that much character development in the MCU, but Black Panther took the time for audiences to actually get to know Killmonger, and it’s resulted in one of Marvel’s best antagonists yet.
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