Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Black Panther ahead
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is the eighteenth entry in the massive, galaxy-spanning Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the first solo outing for its titular superhero. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, where he faced the tragedy of his father’s death during a bombing of the United Nations. In Black Panther, T’Challa is crowned King of Wakanda and almost immediately thrown into a conflict with the villainous black market dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and the lethal mercenary Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan).
Marvel Studios did a good job of keeping Black Panther‘s plot under wraps before the movie’s release, which means that there are quite a few surprises along the way. Let’s recap the ten biggest twists, surprises and spoilers.
Related: Black Panther Spoilers Discussion
Killmonger is T’Challa’s Cousin
Black Panther makes a few key changes to Killmonger’s comic book origin story – and chief among them is the reveal that he’s actually T’Challa’s cousin. Killmonger’s Wakandan name is N’Jadaka, and he’s the son of King T’Chaka’s brother, N’Jobu. Erik/N’Jadaka survived a tough childhood in Oakland, California, after being orphaned when he was very young. He joined the U.S. military and fought in Iraq and Afganistan, earning the nickname “Killmonger” because of the extraordinary number of confirmed kills he racked up. He then joined JSOC as a black ops soldier, before eventually becoming a mercenary. He carries out a heist job with Klaue, stealing a lump of Vibranium from a museum, because he knew that doing so will draw out the Wakandans.
All of this – he eventually explains – was part of a lifelong plan to reach Wakanda, take revenge for his father’s death, seize the throne, and then use Wakanda’s resources to arm oppressed people all over the world, giving them Vibranium weapons with which to overthrow their governments. Because Killmonger is descended from T’Challa’s grandfather and has royal blood, he has a legitimate claim to the throne – one that he wins by defeating T’Challa fairly in ritual combat (though, as he later finds out, T’Challa doesn’t die).
King T’Chaka Killed His Own Brother
In last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, Thor learned some ugly truths about his father’s past. In Black Panther, T’Challa uncovers a similarly disturbing revelation about T’Chaka (John Kani). After Killmonger’s father, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), helped Klaue to steal Vibranium from Wakanda so that it could be used to help oppressed black communities in America, T’Chaka visited him at his Oakland apartment and confronted him about it. N’Jobu was a “War Dog” – a Wakandan spy sent out into the world to gather information and carry out missions, but what he didn’t know was that his best friend, James (Denzel Whitaker), was actually Zuri – another War Dog. Enraged by being double-crossed, N’Jobu pulled his gun on Zuri and T’Chaka reacted by killing him, sinking his panther claws into N’Jobu’s chest. T’Chaka and N’Jobu then left, abandoning Erik and leaving him to discover his father’s body.
Klaue makes a comeback in Black Panther after first appearing in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which introduced his lust for Vibranium, and also saw him lose his left arm to Ultron. He returns in Black Panther with a prosthetic arm that includes a sonic cannon (a modified Wakandan mining tool), and works alongside Killmonger to steal and sell a lump of Vibranium to the CIA – specifically, to Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman). Klaue thinks that Killmonger is “just some crazy American,” but is proven very thoroughly wrong when Killmonger double-crosses him and pulls down his lip to reveal a War Dog tattoo. Killmonger shoots Klaue dead and drags his body to the Wakandan border, presenting it to the Border Tribe’s military leader, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), whose parents were murdered by Klaue.
Zuri (Forest Whitaker) is an ageing religious leader and something of a secondary father figure to T’Challa… so naturally he’s doomed. Zuri made a promise to T’Chaka never to reveal to anyone what happened to N’Jobu, but T’Challa uses his authority as king to force Zuri to tell him the truth. It’s clear that Zuri is somewhat guilt-ridden by his involvement in N’Jobu’s death and N’Jadaka’s abandonment.
When Killmonger challenges T’Challa to a duel for the mantles of king and Black Panther, he quickly dominates the fight and brings T’Challa to the ground. As Killmonger prepares to finish T’Challa off, Zuri intervenes and asks Killmonger to kill him instead, explaining that he is the reason for N’Jobu’s death. Killmonger recognizes his “Uncle James,” and kills Zuri. His death is not in vain, however, as instead of finishing T’Challa with his blade, Killmonger throws him off the waterfall and into the river below – a fall that T’Challa survives.
W’Kabi Switches Sides
Not everyone is happy with Wakanda’s new ruler. M’Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the independent Jabari tribe, mocks T’Challa for failing to protect his father and attempts to wrest the throne from him. The other tribal leaders accept his coronation without challenge, but later criticize him for running around acting like a superhero instead of staying at home in Wakanda. W’Kabi, the leader of the Border Tribe and commander of an army that includes Vibranium-plated war rhinos, is a formidable ally who becomes a formidable enemy after T’Challa fails to bring Klaue to justice, but Killmonger delivers his body. W’Kabi is in favor of Killmonger’s plan to use Wakandan weapons to intervene in foreign conflicts, and backs Killmonger’s claim to the throne with his army. However, W’Kabi is eventually brought to his knees (literally) by his lover, Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of the Dora Milaje.
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