A few days after Chadwick Boseman’s sudden passing, I (like a lot of people) found myself rewatching Black Panther. It had been a little while since I’d sat down to view it in its entirety and it seemed like a small but fitting way to pay tribute to the film’s star, whose death came as a shock thanks to his decision to keep his battle with colon cancer largely private before succumbing to the disease.
While rewatching the movie, there were a few things that really jumped out at me. For starters, the music (whether you’re talking about the score or Kendrick Lamar’s contributions to the soundtrack) is amazing. It’s so good! Every single second syncs up perfectly with what’s happening on-screen—and speaking of perfect, both Letitia Wright and Winston Duke are exactly that. I obviously would’ve loved to see Boseman reprise his role but Black Panther fans should feel comfortable about the story and the character’s future going forward thanks to his co-stars. That corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still in very good hands.
However, nothing made more of an impression on me this time around than Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger. As far as bad guys go, I’d say he’s up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of how drawn you are to him every time he shows up. There’s a reason the deceased actor’s performance in The Dark Knight is viewed as iconic as it is but Jordan deserves some major credit for the sheer amount unadulterated hatred I harbored toward his character—a level of enmity the Clown Prince of Crime can’t even hold a candle to. When he starts his hostile takeover of Wakanda? Ohhhhhh man. That still gets me riled up (don’t even get me started on Daniel Kaluuya’s character. Damn dude, stop being such a pushover).
With that said, it was during this most recent viewing that I had a revelation: Killmonger kind of has a point.
When you take a closer look, it’s hard to argue Killmonger doesn’t have a pretty legitimate beef with the people of Wakanda. For starters, they killed his dad, leaving him orphaned halfway around the world. Not cool, Wakanda. Not cool. Secondly, he’s not really wrong when he accuses the country of being selfish. Its people have been hoarding all the benefits that Vibranium has provided them with but declined to share those innovations with anyone else—including black people not only around the world but in their own damn backyard who they could have helped countless times over the years. Again, not cool, Wakanda.
Of course, Wakanda would like you to believe it was acting out of self-preservation. However, what it was really preserving was its supply of Vibranium, something it could have used to help itself, you know, self-preserve. That argument doesn’t really hold up all that well, guys. They were being selfish. That’s it. Case closed. Wakanda should have done more to help the world. I’m obviously not the only one who thinks this, as it didn’t take very long for Killmonger to get a few Wakandans onboard with his plan—including T’Challa, which resulted in the king changing the country’s long-standing isolationist doctrine.
Could he have approached the situation a bit less aggressively? Probably, but he still gets some points for being fairly justified in seeking out some retribution despite the questionable methods he opted to turn to in order to make a point.
This got me thinking about other notable villains from comic book movies released over the past decade and I realized there were plenty of others who are painted as objectively evil who actually had some pretty understandable motivations. It wasn’t just about world domination or misguided vengeance for these dudes. They were driven by a cause that didn’t boil down to getting rich, exacting petty revenge over a perceived slight, or simply just wanting to watch the world burn for their amusement.
Now, I really, really need to stress that I’m not endorsing the strategies they harnessed in an attempt to achieve these goals. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are if the end result is the death of countless people and the destruction of not just major cities but entire civilizations. Again, I am in no way condoning what some of these baddies did (or at least tried to do before their plans were foiled by a spandex-clad hero). I’m just saying that I get where they were coming from.
We’ll start with a big one here. I mean, Thanos wiped out half of the universe with a snap of his fingers. That’s hard to defend. Also, where do we stand on the snapping? I still can’t decide if it’s a super boss move or kind of lame. On the one hand, I think a clap might have been better, but on the other hand, it’d also be kind of weird to achieve what he did in the same way people in infomercials turn their bedroom light off. I have to say I do like how casual the snap is, as exerting that little effort to achieve such an impressive end result is an amazing flex.
However, let’s ignore the snapping and the ensuing genocide and focus on why Thanos did what he did in the first place: he felt the universe had gotten too crowded. As a result, some folks needed to be kicked out of the club, and with no one else stepping forward to serve as a cosmic bouncer, he took it upon himself to carry out the task. What a guy, huh? So selfless.
For Thanos, it was all about balance and getting things back on track. By getting rid of some people, resources could be replenished and the universe could get its act together again. Once he was done, he’d just go back to his farm, grow some vegetables, and start and end his day by watching the sun rise and set. He wasn’t expecting to be lauded with praise or hoping to get an Edible Arrangement out of it. He did it because he cared. Again, what a guy.
Look, I know the idea that a constantly-expanding universe can simply run out of things is kind of absurd but that’s exactly what happened in the MCU, which isn’t immune to the impact of overpopulation, a burden that few people are unaffected by. Not only was Thanos trying to cut down on the environmental impact that can stem from the pollution it causes, but he was also looking out for people who would see their quality of life suffer as vital resources became increasingly scarce.
However, there’s got to be a better solution to that issue than wiping half of those people out of existence. How many other options did he cross off the list without even attempting to give them a shot before opting for that method? Maybe try joining a grassroots organization or running for office on a local level before turning your attention to the intergalactic one? He could’ve created programs to give tax breaks to people who set up shop on other planets or incentivized businesses to harvest resources from largely uninhabited worlds to ease the burden on more densely populated ones. Might’ve been worth a shot.
Did Thanos take any of that into consideration or was his first and only thought to solve the problem by tracking down the Infinity Stones and snapping? Again, I appreciate his concern for the greater good but the execution really leaves something to be desired.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane rolls into Gotham intent on providing the city with a bit of a reckoning. According to him, he’s simply a man of the people; an advocate of the working class busting their ass on Main Street while the fat cats on Wall Street reap the benefits. Is it fair that those suits are making most of the money and decisions while the average Joes do the bulk of the work? Not if you ask Bane.
Like Thanos, Bane is just looking to help. He wants to give the woebegone people of Gotham the piece of the pie that is rightfully theirs. How exactly does he plan to do that? By blowing up some bridges (and a football field), threatening nuclear annihilation, setting up a kangaroo court, and killing a bunch of cops. Just like that, we have another troubling “theory vs. practice” situation on our hands.
Bane is absolutely right to be concerned about the increasingly problematic issue of income inequality. The fact that one percent of America’s population holds almost 40% of the country’s wealth is great for that tiny chunk of people and pretty awful for everyone else. What’s the solution? I don’t know, man. I’m not an economist. I’m not here to sing the praises of full-on socialism, communism, or any other “ism,” but it’s pretty clear power needs to be reallocated to more people in some way. What I do know, however, is that there are definitely some better alternatives to holding a city hostage with a ticking nuclear timebomb.
At the time of the film’s release, there was no shortage of pieces written pointing out the similarities between what Bane was doing and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which set up shop right down the street from the stock exchange he robbed. The people who protested in cities around the United States in the months leading up to the film’s release were fighting for a similar cause but I think even the most impassioned supporters took a look at Bane and were like, “Dude, you need to chill.”
I’m also not sure if Occupy Wall Street wanted to completely reshuffle the deck the same way Bane did. He was under the impression Gotham had blown its shot at providing its citizens with a satisfactory quality of life and consequently determined the only way to remedy that issue was to start from scratch and let the masses dictate the best direction to take. I’m also pretty sure I never read any stories about Occupy holding sham trials and forcing hedge fund managers to walk across a partially frozen river at gunpoint. It was a long time ago, though, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Was Bane right in asserting society has tilted too far to one side that favors the wealthy and puts the less fortunate at an inherent disadvantage? Absolutely. However, I think there are ways to solve that problem that don’t involve the many less-than-desirable elements associated with the hard reset he elected to go with.
Michael Keaton’s character in Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t nearly as extreme as Bane or Thanos, as he is a little more grounded in his concerns and motivations. His way of life was threatened and he needed to get creative to make ends meet, which makes him the most relatable bad guy on this list.
Following the Battle of New York that unfolded at the end of the first Avengers movie, Adrian Toomes’ salvage company gets the contract to help with the clean-up. It’s a pretty sweet gig given the level of destruction stemming from the showdown; the kind of government contract a guy can live off of for a while—which is what he was planning to do before Tony Stark swept in and snatched it away. Instead of being set up for the foreseeable future, Toomes was left scrambling, which is not an ideal situation for a man with a family who relies on the business he runs to survive.
A pissed-off Toomes is then faced with a choice and elects to pick the path that leads to the birth of Vulture. He opts to keep the Chitauri tech that he and his dudes had already salvaged and makes some kickass weapons he proceeds to sell. Arms dealing is obviously a less-than-ideal line of work to be forced to turn to, but he had to do something, right? I guess he could have looked for other contracts but I’m not going to act like I know what it must’ve been like to be in his shoes.
Vulture’s motivation for doing what he does is probably the easiest one to justify out of all of these. He’s just trying to get by. He has a family and he feels like he’s been given the shaft. There’s nothing like a little resentment to get the creative juices flowing. It’s not like he set out to become a villain; the circumstances just ended up making him one. Toomes isn’t looking to level a society or kill half of the universe’s population. He’s just trying to make money to make ends meet. We’ve all been there (minus the “selling illegal weapons” thing, of course).
Again, I’m not condoning his actions. I’m just saying I get why he did what he did. He was down and out and left behind, and in his mind, the option he went with was the best of the limited number he had to pick from. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s a victim—he’s more the product of collateral damage, which is still a bummer.
Also, calling himself “Vulture” was a pretty sweet move on his part. Well played, Toomes. Well played.
Do you know what sucks? Pollution (I would have also accepted “pandemics,” “places that only accept cash,” and “lower back pain”).
The first cause I ever got behind saw me supporting an organization with a mission to keep the world’s oceans clean, which is one of the least controversial issues you’ll ever encounter. We should totally be doing that, but instead, way too many people treat the ocean like a garbage can, which is a damn shame. It deserves better. I mean, it’s the ocean. It’s awesome. This shouldn’t even be a problem.
Sadly, it is, and it’s what led Ohm to set out to unite the kingdoms of Atlantis in Aquaman. His sales pitch involved having the newly-unified folks grant him the title of “Ocean Master,” and once the ink dried on his contract, he’d turn his attention to organizing a full-on assault on the surface world. Those land-loving bastards have trashed the waters for long enough. It’s time for the ocean to strike back.
It’s a little extreme, but if you lived somewhere only to see your neighbors decide it would make an ideal dumping ground, you’d probably be pretty pissed too. Have you ever lived by the junky house on the street? You know, the one with all the beat-up cars and tires scattered among the overgrown grass owned by people who don’t care if their dog shits all over your yard? Orm and his homies have and they’re sick of it.
They’re like Jim Carrey’s character in Me, Myself & Irene after he snaps and takes a dump on his neighbor’s lawn in retaliation for that guy’s dog doing the same for years. However, one big difference is that they’re not responding with poop—they’re responding with sharks armed with lasers, which is statistically a much more severe form of revenge.
Orm also seems to have some mommy (and stepbrother issues) but that’s something for another day. His anti-surface level crusade is all I really want to focus on here, and truth be told, it’s not totally without merit. Again, pollution sucks, and Orm and his people are living in an environment rife with it. They have every right in the world (both ours and theirs) to be pissed. Get those sharks with frickin’ laser beams ready, Orm. It’s payback time.
Or maybe it could be diplomacy time? Like Thanos, Orm doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of talking things out, preferring instead to lean on violence and mass murder. Just because you can use magical tridents to help solve your problems doesn’t mean that needs to be Option A. Did Atlantis think about trying to organize a summit? They could’ve invited some world leaders to the resort in the Bahamas of the same name to try to hash things out over some daiquiris. Offering to give someone an all-expenses-paid trip to a place with a giant waterslide that goes underwater can do a better job of greasing the wheels than you’d think.
If that didn’t work? Then it’s officially laser shark time. But you have to at least give it a shot.