Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was dealt an impossibly difficult hand. Not only is the Marvel Cinematic Universe entry tasked with carrying on the legacy of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther (following the actor’s heartbreaking passing), but it also serves as a sequel to a movie many consider the MCU’s best entry. A primary subsection of that challenge is finding a villain on par with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, who (alongside Thanos) is generally praised as the tip-top of the MCU villain hierarchy. Despite all the adversarial circumstances at play, director Ryan Coogler and company prove to be mostly up to the task and, in the process, deliver MCU Phase Four’s best villain thus far.
Who Is Namor?
Namor, also known as K’uk’ulkan, is the mutant god-king of Talokan, a Mesoamerican-tinged underwater nation. The Talokanil monarch is imbued with extraordinary strength, the ability to fly (thanks to winged ankles), and the power to breathe underwater and above ground with equal ease. Combine all of these elements with access to ultra-strong vibranium weapons, mighty intellect, and natural leadership skills, and there lies the making of an especially intimidating antagonist. And while these particular facets of Namor make facing the ocean-bound mutant a daunting proposition on their own, the true magnitude of his power lies in qualities shared by two previous MCU baddies: Killmonger and Thanos.
How Namor Compares to Killmonger and Thanos
Namor and Killmonger share similar motivations in that their actions derive from a protective rage against those outside forces that would pillage their respective cultures and peoples. Talokan’s resources and inhabitants are at risk of being overtaken and manipulated by colonizing forces. Namor saw the destructive force of colonizing governments in his youth and watched the indigenous culture from which the Talokanil sprouted enslaved by invading Spanish armies. As a person of color in the United States, Killmonger experienced firsthand the same horrifying effects of colonization, and his entire Wakandan isolationist stance is a vengeful culmination of that experience. Despite the questionable methods, Namor and Killmonger’s policies are influenced by a protective loyalty to their people. It’s this moral complexity and relatability that makes them so compelling. Squint and their reasoning looks sensible.
Like vanquished big-bad Thanos, Namor is responsible for lasting consequences in the MCU. In the struggle against both antagonists, characters are killed and stay dead. With Thanos, it’s Black Widow. Namor, on the other hand, is responsible for the demise of Wakanda’s Queen Ramonda. Often in the MCU, deaths turn out to be fake-outs, and emotional resurrections are somewhat commonplace. But, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Namor kills for good. The ripple effects of the assassination are felt throughout the remainder of the film and will undoubtedly continue to influence the emotional tenor of the Black Panther franchise (and MCU at large) moving forward.
How Does Namor Reflect Shuri?
Most importantly, like Killmonger and Thanos before him, Namor is a reflection of his heroic rival. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, that rival is the Wakandan princess, and T’Challa’s sister, Shuri. Both Namor and Shuri grieve the loss of family and hope to protect their respective nations against outside encroaching forces. Namor is willing to do so by any means necessary, including actively engaging in violence. Alternately, Shuri faces the decision of whether to follow that same brutally efficient path. Shuri and Namor represent two possible answers to the same question and, in turn, force the audience to ask the same one of themselves.
Aside from the way Namor functions in-world, the Talokanil god-king is beautifully portrayed by actor Tenoch Huerta. The performance is nuanced, regal, and full of undeniable pathos. Even in his most merciless moments, Tenoch Huerta manages to find humanity in K’uk’ulkan. Namor’s rage is borne from fear — fear for the safety of his people, his nation, and their future.
The MCU has often been (rightfully) criticized as having a “villain problem.” But, in the case of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s antagonist Namor, Ryan Coogler and company have managed to find a paradigm for crafting wonderfully complex, if not outright villainous, characters. The creative voices building the rest of the MCU would do well to take notes.
See Namor take on Shuri and Wakanda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, now in theaters.