Spoilers for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” follow.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” featured the return of many beloved characters, and though there’s no replacing the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, the film did an incredible job of honoring his legacy. It’s a powerful meditation on grief, but there is plenty of joy to be found in the movie as well. The sequel carries a heavy burden, and while your milage may vary on how you felt about the film overall — personally I loved it — the one thing everyone seems to agree on is how well “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” paid tribute to both its star and central character, who left a void that is absolutely impossible to fill.
The movie is brimming with incredible performances, particularly from the women of Wakanda — give Angela Bassett an Oscar already! — but also from Tenoch Huerta Mejía’s Namor and Winston Duke’s M’Baku. There is one cameo, however, that no one can stop talking about: the return of Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. Undeniably one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best antagonists, who I won’t call a flat out villain, the character did not survive the events of “Black Panther.” But that didn’t stop fans from hoping he would somehow return in “Wakanda Forever.” And they got their wish.
Resurrecting a character is a tricky thing for many reasons, especially since it can severely lessen the stakes of the story moving forward. It’s a huge issue in comics where no one ever stays dead, and that’s frequently become a problem on the big screen. So how did co-writer Joe Robert Cole justify Killmonger’s return?
More Than Just A Cameo
Though the return of such a popular character isn’t a total surprise, it does make for a thrilling scene. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” co-writer Joe Robert Cole had to be certain the character’s appearance was justified. Rolling Stone asked him how they went about making the cameo more than just an exciting moment, but also something that drove the story. Cole said:
“We always wanted to have Michael return, and I feel like it was always going to be in the ancestral plane with Shuri having taken the potion. The question was always like, how do you achieve the thing I think that you’re talking about? How do you make it more than just, everyone’s excited because Michael’s amazing, and the character’s amazing? How is it relevant to Shuri’s journey and become a pivot point for her character?”
“Then if you think about it, [in the first movie] his journey was about vengeance as well, and anger and frustration. That’s a part of what we tried to lay in with her early on, the anger of losing someone, the sense of loss. And then how losing her mother would escalate her feelings of wanting vengeance. We just tried to build on that, so that he is presenting her with a choice of: Is she going to move towards the direction that Killmonger would move? Or is she going to do something different? The idea was to successfully build the stakes for her so that would resonate. So it would feel earned that she would feel that sort of [yearning for] vengeance.”
Pivotal To The Story
It’s true that Jordan’s appearance as Killmonger is far more than merely a fun moment for fans desperate to see the character. His discussion with Shuri (Letitia Wright) is what propels the film forward. It’s also vital to the way Shuri is able to finally begin to process her grief. Anyone who’s lost a loved one will tell you that there are, in fact, several stages of grieving, though they don’t necessarily come in the order you might expect.
Shuri is completely heartbroken that, after taking the Heart-Shaped Herb, it isn’t her brother or her mother who she sees in the Ancestral Plane, but a relative she had viewed as her enemy. What was even more strange is that he was making sense to Shuri in her thirst for vengeance. However, that’s part of the incredibly difficult and painful journey she has to go through. It’s ultimately Shuri’s willingness to combine Killmonger’s philosophy with T’Challa’s wisdom that allow her not only to forge a path all her own, but to begin truly coming to terms with the tremendous losses she has suffered as well.
The MCU is generally pretty great with the way it chooses to implement cameos, though occasionally, they might just make you feel tired. The way Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole chose to bring Killmonger back was quite smart. Killmonger was someone everyone wanted to see, but actually resurrecting him would’ve been a terrible decision. That said, Michael B. Jordan does do an amazing job playing the character, so if there is any justice in the multiverse, perhaps we will see Killmonger return in some form in a future MCU project.
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Author: Jamie Gerber
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November 23, 2022