One of the films Black Panther director Ryan Coogler drew from for inspiration was the 1970’s epic The Godfather. In it, mafia families fight for control following a transference of power from father to son. As Black Panther opens, a similar scenario is unfolding for T’Challa, who is still grieving the death of his father, T’Chaka, who was assassinated during Captain America: Civil War. Unfortunately for T’Challa, not everyone inside Wakanda, or outside, supports the new king, making the throne a little less comfortable.
The trailer has shown us the film’s two key antagonists and now we have a little more information about them and what their motivations are in the film. While Wakanda has long fought to keep their enemies at bay, it appears that it’s greatest threats may have grown inside its own borders in the person of Erik Killmonger. Played by Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger is described as “a dissident from the country and aspiring prince who has colluded with a hostile foreign adversary in a bid to bring down the rightful heir to Wakanda’s throne.”
Killmonger has always been one of T’Challa’s fiercest foes in the comics, every bit the physical and intellectual equal of the King of Wakanda, and has bested him more than once. His comic book backstory saw him born in Wakanda, nee N’Jadaka, only to find himself uprooted and exiled when his father was enlisted by a certain foreign invader to fight against his country. His character here seems to share some similar traits, having been exiled and now returning to challenge the King for the throne. Marvel executive producer Nate Moore explains a little more about Jordan’s Killmonger:
“I think Killmonger has his own opinion on how Wakanda has been run and should run, and what I think Michael brings to the table is sort of a charming antagonist, who doesn’t agree with how T’Challa is running things, frankly. I think that puts T’Challa in a difficult situation. Killmonger is a voice of a different side of Wakanda.”
Chadwick Boseman, who plays the newly crowned T’Challa, says the character is relatable, “I can say that I identify with Killmonger’s character. He definitely has a different point of view. They are polar opposites.” This type of relatability has been more and more common among Marvel’s villains of late and has been a marked improvement over some of their more one-beat baddies.
The trailer hasn’t revealed much of what Killmonger has to say upon his return, focusing more on the action, especially the battle at Warrior Falls. Clearly a ritualistic event, the fight goes down at one of Wakanda’s historically holy locations. While we imagine it won’t be the only time the two do battle, it does provide us with a glimpse at some pretty interesting markings on Killmonger. Moore was quick to deflect questions about the markings saying, “that is a story reveal that we’d like to preserve.” While that’s an interesting detail we’ll have to wait on, we do know more about Killmonger’s partner in crime, the vile Ulysses Klaue.
Last seen having his arm ripped off during Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ulysses Klaue is back, again played by the brilliant Andy Serkis. Continuing The Godfather analogy, siding with Klaue is choosing to go side against “the family” and doing so with, as he says in the trailer, the one guy capable of revealing Wakanda’s secrets to the world. Fans of the comics may remember Klaue’s special appendage and it seems that, if even for a little while, he’ll be “armed” with something similar here.
Described as a mercenary, Klaue is in the deal for the Vibranium and the money it brings, and, as Serkis says, because he’s a bit of an anarchist. “As long as he can amass fortune and cause disruption in the world at the same time, I think he’s a happy man,” Serkis says. We’ve seen Klaue’s great escape from a CIA prison in the trailer, but we have yet to see the exact nature of his relationship with Killmonger. Whatever the case, it seems that Killmonger and Klaue aren’t the only two with whom T’Challa will come into conflict. Other tribal leaders aren’t happy with T’Challa’s behavior in Captain America: Civil War and, as Coogler says, being a King and politician isn’t always easy. “In this movie, a lot like politics, it’s a little tricky to define who’s [a good guy],” says Coogler. “The film very much plays with those concepts, looking at conflicts and different motivations, and who’s with who.”
Given the depth and complexities of those motivations and the relative inexperience of T’Challa as a monarch, the film sets up to be one of Marvel’s finest and most complex to date. Aspiring to a film like The Godfather is bold, but with the talent assembled both in front of and behind the camera, we won’t be surprised when Black Panther does so with impressive results.