Killmonger was interesting -- outside of the Marvel cinematic universe, I'd describe him as "pretty decent" re: villains. But in the context of Marvel? He's fantastic -- if only because unlike pretty much every every other Marvel villain that preceded him, he 1) Has a genuine, credible motivation, 2) Experiences a character arc, and 3) Actually challenges the hero both physically and ethically.
But Killmonger confronts T'Challa when he's still in the process of changing. He has to defeat him physically and ethically. T'Challa deals the first blow when he confronts his father and ancestors with what they did, and tells them they were wrong; he deals the final blow in the last scene. There, we don't have T'Challa announcing his identity as Black Panther; it's him announcing his decision to grow based on the challenge that Killmonger presented to him. It's a more satisfying way to pace out your hero's journey, I think -- having T'Challa's transformation as a hero more closely tied with how he responds to and overcomes the villain.
There were a number of choices that I did find kind of baffling/silly, though:
- Okay, I get that this is a story about reconciling tradition with progressivism, but it seriously bugged me how literally no one at any point said "Maybe we shouldn't determine our leaders through trial by combat". Not even in a lamp-shady way.
- As with the above posters, Killmonger's decision to shoot the lady that Klaue had at gun-point made really no sense. I understand why they did it (they needed to demonstrate that he was all-in; his conviction was unflinching) but this felt kind of clumsy and silly and I think there could have been a better way to do it.
- What on earth was Killmonger's plan? It didn't make any sense to me: He just wanted to kill Klaue so he could bring his body to Wakanda, right? So why didn't he just do that? Why go through this whole elaborate plot? "First, I'll steal some vibranium I don't need so I can sell it for money I don't want. Then, get this guy who clearly doesn't want to go to Wakanda to take me to Wakanda so I can present him -- then, when he refuses, just kill him and take his corpse there myself".
- I really liked Shuri (particularly the way she represented progressivism vs traditionalism, with T'Challa as an attempt to reconcile them), but I found the whole 'Vibranium is pure magic' element to be kind of silly. Like, it's a metal that does weird physics stuff -- okay. But you can use it to heal spinal injuries? What? Why not just make it so Wakanda's technology is just that advanced -- nothing to do with vibranium (but having vibranium gave them the resources they needed to advance their bio-tech to a point beyond our own)?
- Similar issue, I found the whole 'let me add new upgrades to the technology you are currently relying on in life-and-death situations' a little silly. I also had to fight not to roll my eyes when Shuri basically pulled a "Q from James Bond" scene with T'Challa; I think there could have been a much more effective way to demonstrate that she was the technological heart of Wakanda. Also, yes, what was up with those 'sneakers'? Was that there just for the sneaker joke? I mean, I liked the joke, but it felt like a misplaced Chekhov's Gun.
- I really wish that when Klaue told Agent Ross about Wakanda, we had a moment where Agent Ross rolled his eyes and said something about America having already 'investigated these ridiculous rumors' -- with neither T'Challa nor Okoye showing any concern for the reveal. Because 1) There's no way someone hasn't tried telling the American government about this in the past, and 2) It's way more believable that Wakanda has maintained its secret by 'accidentally' allowing Americans to penetrate their country and find nothing (via technological hijinks) than that America has just been completely uninterested in Wakanda this whole time because they bought their cover story as a third world country right from the get-go (particularly given that America knew the vibranium for Cap's shield came from Wakanda. Outside countries would want to make sure there wasn't more, and they wouldn't buy Wakanda's answer that there wasn't).
- Heroic 'Rightful King' narratives are weird and I think I'll always find them a little creepy.
Another (quick) list of elements I really liked:
- ARMORED RHINOCEROS.
- Okoye's disdain for everything not-Wakanda. That whole chase-scene, I imagined her saying to herself: "...and I bet those trucks they're driving don't even fucking fly! God, it's like visiting a third world country".
- Everything in general about Okoye; even the bit at the end where her beloved asks her if she'd flat-out murder him for Wakanda and she immediately responds with "UH YES DUH HAVE YOU EVEN FUCKING MET ME".
- Again, ARMORED RHINOCEROS.
- Agent Ross not being comic relief. It could have worked, but it would have been tonally... weird? In the comics, he was comic relief because we needed someone to introduce us to T'Challa's world -- someone who could express our initial disbelief and wonder. We also needed him because (in the series where he shows up) T'Challa was much harder to initially relate to; he was too big, too idealistic, too powerful. Instead, they just dropped us into T'Challa's world and trusted that we'd be able to buy it; they also went with making T'Challa more human and relatable (struggling with just now becoming the king; having him 'freeze up' in his first fight, etc -- I imagine that this was a conscious decision, since in Civil War he comes off as much more distant). They made Ross a bit flatter, and more of a plot-point; also, he served as a reminder that yes, America does actually exist in this universe. I think that was a good call.
- All the costumes, art, and set-pieces. I think the only thing I didn't like were the vibranium mines/trams, because it started to feel a little too 'Prequel Star-Wars-y' to me. IE, actors floating in green rooms. Everything else felt like a heightened, surreal version of our reality (in a cool way).
- "It's these two Grace-Jones lookin' chicks"
- "Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!"
- Andy Serkis channeling his inner Emperor Palpatine for Klaue. He's not complicated; he's just evil as fuck and enjoying the shit out of it.
- Martin Freeman has made a career out of playing fish-out-of-water characters. It was a lot of fun to see him do that in a situation where what made him a fish-out-of-water was being white.
- Shuri asking which side of the road she's supposed to drive on.
- "Can you believe that? A kid from Oakland walking around, believing in fairy tales." (god that was such a good line :< )
- I was expecting to dislike the heart-shaped herb; I thought it would make for a better story-telling element to just have T'Challa's suit do all the work. But I actually ended up really liking it as a plot element -- the fact that he had to be temporarily 'depowered' during the combat ritual was a cool touch, and the way they used it to allow for character growth (through visions of your parents/ancestors) was very effective.
- On that note, I kind of wish they had made the heart-shaped herb just that -- no special powers; just a ritualistic herb you eat to speak with all those who had consumed it before (including Killmonger's dad, since he was of royal blood). Leave it up to the viewer whether it actually does this or if it's just an LCD trip. I really liked how they used this aspect to give Killmonger depth, and have T'Challa actually confront his father (which was a nice subversion of the 'Your Ancestors Are Always Right' trope, I think, and segued tightly into the thematic idea of reconciling tradition with progress). It would also let you skip the scene where Killmonger burns the heart-shaped herb garden (which honestly felt a little bit like the author stepping in and telling us why we won't have all of Wakanda eat these things so they can just go wipe out Thanos themselves).
- Seriously though, ARMORED RHINOCEROS.