WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, in theaters now.
While Black Panther has been a smash hit with both critics and with fans, there is one part of the plot that has been met with some resistance with some viewers. The logistics of the relationship between Erik Killmonger and Ulysses Klaue in the film has left some people thinking the otherwise tight script had one glaring plot hole, but in retrospect, it all makes perfect sense.
In the movie, Erik Killmonger is introduced when he helps Ulysses Klaue steal some Vibranium. However, in the end, after first freeing Klaue from the clutches of T’Challa in South Korea, Killmonger then kills Klaue and uses his body as his “in” with the people of Wakanda (especially T’Challa’s oldest friend, W’Kabi, whose parents were killed by Klaue 30 years earlier). So what’s the deal? If his goal was to use Klaue to gain entrance into Wakanda, why not just kill him right away? Why actually team up with him to steal Vibranium?
If Killmonger’s goal from the start was to drag Klaue all the way to the Black Panther’s homeland, why not simply nab the villain and go rather than orchestrating the apparently unnecessary step of stealing a previously unknown piece of Wakandan history?
Well, it’s because Killmonger’s plan had to do a lot more than just bring Klaue (or his body) to Wakanda.
You see, Killmonger knew about Klaue’s involvement in stealing Vibranium due to Killmonger’s father being the one who helped Klaue do it way back when. When he was killed by King T’Chaka, Erik’s father left his notes hidden in his apartment for his son to find. There were detailed coordinates in the notes, which explained how Erik knew how to find Wakanda even after killing Klaue (who was one of the few people in the world not born in Wakanda who knew where it was located). Those notes were likely also how Erik came to learn so much about Vibranium. Erik’s plan was to destablize the Wakanda government, so he knew that Klaue was key to everything.
However, simply capturing Klaue was not enough. Erik needed for T’Challa to fail to capture Klaue first. That was Erik’s big move – he had to bring Klaue to the Wakandan people specifically after T’Challa failed to do it himself, thereby highlighting to the people (especially W’Kabi) how ineffective T’Challa and his father have been in trying to capture the hated enemy of the Wakandan people.
That is why Erik steals the Vibranium, because he knows that that will get the attention of T’Challa, and he knows that T’Challa will personally come to capture Klaue. Erik’s plan did not involve Klaue getting captured. He likely hoped that Klaue would have escaped, so that Erik could kill him easily. However, once T’Challa succeeded in capturing Klaue, Erik had to rescue him to keep T’Challa from being able to bring Klaue to justice on his own.
That is why Erik freed Klaue only to then kill him and bring his body to Wakanda as a sort of good will offering (which gave hum his “in” to then challenge T’Challa for the throne). Killing Klaue rather than bringing him in alive allowed him to prevent Klaue from telling the Wakandans too much about Erik’s background.
In the end, it was a shame for such a cool character like Klaue to be killed off so soon, but his death made sense as a crucial part of Killmonger’s villainous plot in the movie.
Now in theaters, director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka/Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Winston Duke as M’Baku, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Forest Whitaker as Zuri and Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue.
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