The Black Panther movie will have a villain who's more than just evil, according to Michael B. Jordan. That's the hope, anyway, addressing what has already become a common criticism of superhero movies from all studios, if not an accepted truth: even in Marvel's Universe, the villains rarely get developed into heroes of their own story. They terrify the innocent, crave chaos, destruction, to control the world or destroy it... and not much else. With Erik Killmonger joining the MCU in Black Panther, hopes are high.
Sure, the name "Killmonger" doesn't promise a subtle villain. And with the reveal of his Golden Jaguar armor in Black Panther's trailers, Marvel is flirting with another doppelganger supervillain. But in speaking with Michael B. Jordan during our visit to Black Panther's set, the actor isn't concerned about winning fans over to Erik Killmonger's point of view. Which is fantastic news for Marvel fans, since the more compelling the villain, the better the odds of them sticking around...
Even Fans of T'Challa, Wakanda, and Killmonger can admit that it was Jordan's casting which sent expectations soaring more than the villain himself ever could. For the uninitiated, the infamous Panther villain shares most of T'Challa's skills and intelligence, plus a thirst for vengeance and power (again, not all that original in the supervillain field). During our visit Jordan also confirmed the comic version of his character remains intact, and that Killmonger is a revolutionary at heart.
It sounds like that "revolution" is one Jordan expects to resonate with fans like it did for himself:
Was it easy for you to get in his head and get behind Erik Killmonger's motivations? Did you understand him right away?
Michael B. Jordan: 100 percent. Without a doubt. And I think that’s the part of it that hopefully a lot of people, when they see the film, they’re able to connect with. The same part that I connected with. And without going into detail, ‘cuz I can’t – yeah, I could. There’s two sides to every coin and true villains, I think - the really good ones and the interesting ones, the watchable ones - truly believe what they’re doing is the right thing.
And if you can somehow blur that line for the people who we’re supposed to not like, like 'Maybe I’m not supposed to be on board with this,' if you can get them to see that other point of view, I think the battle’s won.
There's no question that Jordan is in the right, but the superhero movies released to date prove a persuasive villain is easier said than done. With required action sequences, tie-ins to other Marvel appearances and characters, not to mention world-building and development of the hero, only so much time is left to spend on the villain. A villain who, in most cases, mainly exists to be proven wrong or defeated. A shortcoming that's easy to understand... but a weakness all the same.
From the sound of it, director Ryan Coogler has done better than most. And given the story being told in Black Panther, it's easy to see why that might be the case. In the comics Erik Killmonger was an American-educated Wakandan, exiled somewhat unjustly for the wrongs of his father (in league with Black Panther's villain, Klaue). On the other side of his mission is T'Challa, the latest in a line of kings who pass Wakanda and its people from father to son. And despite Wakanda being one of Marvel's first civilizations, the leadership refuses to engage with the world, pretending they're less advanced than they truly are. To some, the idea that Killmonger is "doing the right thing" by opposing that power structure could be an easy sell.
Fans can keep their fingers crossed, since Black Panther will need to overcome another villain with the powers, armor, and fighting skills of the film's hero. And the same promises of a persuasive villain were made for Cate Blanchett's Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, casting another acclaimed actor as a fun, but not exactly groundbreaking antagonist. We'll give Killmonger better odds, since the story of a revolutionary wanting to overthrow a king can be thrilling even without magic suits of feline armor.
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018