Erik Killmonger: Constructing the Perfect Antagonist
As the popular statement goes, the hero is as good as his nemesis, this applies to multiple superhero films; however, Black Panther accomplishes this feat on a profound level. Presenting Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger as the main antagonist to Chadwick Boseman’s protagonist King T’Challa, the film offers one of the most insightful, complex, and empathetic nemesis of the genre. Through Killmonger, Ryan Coogler, the director, presents a villain that fully challenges the protagonist both ideologically and physically, in turn, molding the hero. Killmonger as a perfect antagonist manages to unravel and attack the hero’s greatest flaws. As a victim of circumstance, his ideologies are deeply influenced by his background as opposed to the T’Challa whose upbringing was sheltered from systemic oppression. Henceforth, T’Challa’s final resolve is heavily impacted by the physical and philosophical confrontations with his nemesis. Furthermore, to construct the ultimate conflict, both parties have to compete for the same objective but possess different values and viewpoints. Demonstrated perfectly through Killmonger’s resolution to make Wakanda superlative by overtly liberating all black people, who he considers his own, whilst T’Challa aims to protect his own by maintaining Wakanda’s safety and anonymity. Black Panther effectively constructs the ultimate antagonist, as an insightful and empathetic foil character to the protagonist who remarkably challenges his greatest weaknesses having a profound effect on the hero.
Killmonger as the ultimate villain effectively challenges the King’s greatest flaw, his incapability to yet protect Wakanda from unforeseen adversaries, subsequently influencing his newfound worthiness and strength by the close. Truby states that “Create an opponent…who is exceptionally good at attacking your hero’s greatest weakness” (2008). T’Challa as the new King of Wakanda has yet to confront difficult choices as a king before the arrival of Erik Killmonger. In the match for the throne within the tribe, T’Challa is victorious but he is yet to confront external adversaries to protect his worthiness. Killmonger’s introduction as a victim of systemic oppression and harsh realities of war illustrates a new adversary who will unravel the Black Panther’s unworthiness. Physically, Killmonger defeats T’Challa in the presence of his people, dishonoring him and expressing his inability to lead the kingdom. As he asserts to the people, “Is this your King?” (Coogler, 2018), discrediting his place as the leader. As previously showcased in trance, T’Challa expresses to his father that he feels uncertain about his worthiness for the throne. Henceforth, the doubt of his inability as his greatest weakness is unraveled by the villain in plain sight. Ideologically, Killmonger asserts the need for the powerful nation of black people, Wakanda, to take responsibility for the liberation of all black people. A point of view that is easily acknowledged by several leaders in Wakanda, with the whole Border tribe in support of this ideology. Brought down by Killmonger to his supposed death, the hero rises up much improved and worthy. Generally, the perfect antagonist villain illuminates his own strengths over the hero highlighting the protagonist’s weaknesses, subsequently constructing a better hero with a stronger resolve.
Killmonger’s agenda is not stereotypically nonsensical rather competes directly with T’Challa’s objective of the perfect vision for Wakanda. In assertion “It is only by competing for the same goal that the hero and the opponent are forced to come into direct conflict and to do so again and again throughout the story” (Truby, 2008). Killmonger and T’Challa’s goals are not extremely different, as opposed stereotypical dynamic between adversaries in films; rather they possess the same vision of strengthening Wakanda. The difference occurs in their executions. Killmonger asserts “The world’s gonna start over, and this time we’re on top. The sun will never set on the Wakandan Empire” (Coogler, 2018). As a victim of white oppression, Killmonger chooses to execute a radical and imperialistic approach of expansionism to secure the wellbeing of Wakanda and black people. On the other hand, T’Challa growing up in the confines of Wakanda’s fortifications prefers to maintain anonymity and conduct covert operations for the liberation of victims of systemic oppression. Killmonger’s goals secure him as more of a radical hero than a villain, which further conveys him as a complex and also empathetic antagonist.
Killmonger is an empathetic villain, as the audience and also the protagonist understands his rage and agenda despite his radicalized ideologies. His objective is greatly influenced by his upbringing in a society that oppresses people of his own kind. Killmonger is a victim of racism and racial prejudice; moreover, his own family abandoned him and killed his father. The pain of his history and his mercenary experiences in warfare mold him into the radical villain, spiteful over the negligence of Wakanda in liberating their kind. As he asserts “Two billion people all over the world who look like us whose lives are much harder, and Wakanda has the tools to liberate them… Where was Wakanda?” (Coogler, 2018). Even T’Challa sees the fault in Wakanda as he confronts the manifestation of former Wakandan leaders and scolds their deeds. After Killmonger’s death, the protagonist is heavily impacted by his ideologies, that he executes them in a more diplomatic approach. An antagonist has to be complex and empathetic for them to profoundly impact the hero’s final resolve.
Ran Coogler’s Black Panther effectively constructs an insightful, complex, and empathetic villain for the protagonist who remarkably challenges his greatest weaknesses and exerts a profound effect. As the protagonist can only be intellectually fascinating and emotionally enthralling as the forces of antagonism make them. Killmonger effectually challenges the hero’s flaws molding him to the worthy hero both philosophically and physically. Contrary to the ‘desire for hegemony’ interpretation for super villains, Killmonger subverts this assumption by conveying perceptive arguments and logical agenda. The film puts an emphasis on constructing a character the audience can empathize with and understand their point of view. Killmonger is a victim of the system and his reaction to the oppression comes off as valid contrary to the stereotypical villainous resolutions.
Works CitedCoogler, R. (Director). (2018). Black Panther [Motion Picture].
Truby, J. (2008). The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Retrieved May 12, 2018
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