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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Black Panther Casting Break Down

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Edited by Robert Beach 

2016 has been a peculiar year for Marvel Studios.  Captain America: Civil War was a massive hit that dominated the other big superhero team-up films of the year. Not only that, it reaffirmed people’s interest in the Marvel Universe after the lackluster response to Avengers: Age of Ultron.  

However, Civil War looks a bit like the sole Marvel mega-hit of the year after Daredevil season 2 met with mixed interest and little staying power compared to contemporaries like The Flash or Netflix’s Stranger Things. Meanwhile, the slow march towards Doctor Strange has left many fans apathetic towards the Master of the Mystic Arts. 

All of that uncertainty about the rest of Marvel’s 2016 nearly calcified with San Diego Comic Con. Aside from some interesting shake-ups with their TV work, Marvel’s biggest emphasis of the con was on 2017 and 2018 projects. While there were several announcements, the centerpiece of the con has emerged to be some major casting announcements concerning 2018’s Black Panther. 

It makes sense given Black Panther was the most popular character to emerge from Civil War’s success.  Given that, it makes sense Marvel would want to start teeing up the excitement this far in advance. So let’s dive in the announcements and see the who’s who of the Black Panther movie. 

Here’s one that was always expected. The truth of the matter is that Black Panther doesn’t have a lot of villains. Despite the goofy name, Killmonger is a better bad guy to have on hand than like the White Gorilla. What’s more, Killmonger is, in a lot of ways, the premiere black villain of Black Panther’s incredibly limited rogues' gallery. 

While Black Panther does have a definitive archenemy in the character Klaw, Andy Serkis’ character in Age of Ultron, he’s also a white guy. I get the distinct sense Ryan Coogler wants Black Panther to feature as much black talent as possible. 

I don’t think that means we won’t see Klaw though, given Killmonger’s origin ties closely with him. Killmonger was the son of a Wakandan native who was killed while fighting as one of Klaw’s mercenaries. After his father’s death, Killmonger and his mom were exiled from Wakanda, which is, incidentally, when he decided to change his last name to Killmonger. Upon growing up and mastering several martial arts and sciences, Killmonger returned to Wakanda as a constant thorn in Black Panther’s side. 

Killmonger is a pretty good example of the character most folks are thinking of when they say “Marvel has boring villains.” His motivations are revenge; his methods are basic fighting skills and guerilla tactics; the only compelling thing about him is his name. And yet, he’s a pretty great choice for a movie because of those vagaries. He’s just simplistic enough for a great actor like Michael B. Jordan to craft his identity in the part. Additionally, it will let Coogler afford an identity of greater importance without betraying anything from the source material. 

Now we’re getting obscure. Malice is an incredibly short-lived Black Panther villain from the ’70. So basic, the name was later ripped off by a Ghost Rider villain and a Fantastic Four villain and an X-Men villain.  Anyway, there’s not much to Malice as a character. She’s similar to Killmonger that way. 

Actually, she’s directly tied to Killmonger as he was the one who resurrected her using ancient magics and afforded her incredible powers like superhuman strength, speed, and agility. She was part of a group of villains joining forces to try and orchestrate a coup in Wakanda under Killmonger’s leadership, which I suspect will probably pop up as the plot of the upcoming film. 

Some folks might be concerned Black Panther starts out with at least two and possibly three different villains. Honestly, it makes sense. When Nolan rebooted Batman, he settled on three villains, and he took a similar approach to how the villains were all interconnected. Rather than trying to create unique lives and origins for all involved, the break-down is your big bad guy, second-in-command bad guys, and hands-on bad guys. That seems to be the plan here. Killmonger will act as the central antagonist, Malice as his muscle, and maybe Klaw or Baron Zemo lurking in the background. 

The multi-villain set-up is required here for pretty much the same reason it was needed for Batman: Black Panther is incredibly powerful. Think about it, Black Panther has a costume that makes him super fast, strong, and lets him shrug off mini-gun fire, and he runs an entire super-advanced country. Plus, in the comics, he’s also a wizard. If you want a story about taking on Black Panther on his home turf, it has to be a story about invading Wakanda or starting a coup. That takes a lot of force. Better yet, it sounds more plausible if the coup/invasion set-up turned out to be a cover for US/UN efforts to kidnap the Winter Soldier.

The last of the three major casting announcements is another character tied to the 1974 story of Killmonger’s coup seemingly inspiring the film:  Okoye. She was one of the Dora Milaje, the secret service of Wakanda. They’re a group of warrior women who are sworn to defend the King and uphold the law, so it makes sense that you’d need someone like her for a movie about a coup in Wakanda. 

What’s more, Okoye is directly involved in Malice’s backstory. Malice grew up being trained to become one of the Dora Milaje and did eventually become one before her death. During her time as one of the Dora Milaje, she became close friends with Okoye. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two are getting set-up to be rivals during the film.

I don’t have that much else to go on with Okoye as she’s a minor character in the mythos. Aside from her role in the mid-'70s, she’s never been revived or seen again in the books. I suspect that’s part of the reason why she’s being adapted, a comic book character without loads of back-story. Still, no word on whether or not Florence Kasumba, Black Panther’s scene-stealing bodyguard from Civil War, will be back for this new film or what her true identity is. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up as the head of the Dora Milaje.   

Black Panther is scheduled for release July 6, 2018.

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