Why Namor Is More Than Just an MCU Villain

By Deja L. Jones

The hero of any story is only as good as the villain they’re facing. Like many clichés, it’s a true statement: If the point of a story is to watch the hero win the day, a harder fight means a sweeter victory. That’s why a good story needs a good villain, one who really makes the hero work. This villain must force the hero to dig deep inside themselves to find a strength (physical or otherwise) they didn’t know they had in order to win.

A great villain, however, will challenge not just the hero’s strength but make them question themselves, their beliefs, and their understanding of the world. A great villain pushes the hero to places they never imagined they’d go.

Villain as a term doesn’t always apply to the character directly opposing the hero; it means a very specific thing. The villain of a story is the Bad Guy, the one who is wrong, who is doing something evil and usually for selfish reasons. Things get a little more complicated, and often a lot more interesting, when the person who challenges the hero isn’t actually bad or wrong. In stories like that, we get more than just a villain — we get an antagonist.

Namor from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the antagonist the MCU needs.

“The world took everything away from me!”

First, let’s go back to Killmonger. “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth” is one of those oft-quoted African proverbs that no one can say is actually African. Regardless of its origin, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens from 2018’s Black Panther embodies it perfectly.

At first, he seems like an antagonist rather than a villain. What he preaches is actually true: Wakanda’s isolationist policy allowed for its citizens to be free from subjugation, while around the world Black people and other people of color suffered under the weight of colonization and systemic oppression. The technology at Wakanda’s fingertips is more advanced than anything else in the world; they could have intervened to protect people. Instead, they chose to protect themselves. It’s a valid argument.

Righteous Principle, Vengeful Methods

But Killmonger’s righteousness is ruined by his motivation, and his motivation informs the violence of his methods. No matter what he says or how right he is about saying it, the reason for everything that he does is revenge. He’s angry at the late King T’Chaka for killing his father, and he resents T’Challa for the privileged upbringing he had, safe in Wakanda with his family intact.

After defeating T’Challa at Warrior Falls to become the new King of Wakanda and the Black Panther, he doesn’t start reforming policy or planning to open outreach centers around the world to help the oppressed. No, he burns the field of Heart-Shaped Herbs to ensure that no one will be able to obtain the power to oppose him and then prepares to use Wakanda’s advanced weapons technology to launch a war on … well, everywhere.

And because his motive is revenge, his M.O. is also vengeful: He prepares to raze the world to the ground using the colonizers’ own tactics against them, as he puts it, all because he’s angry. He even says as much. Everything was taken from him, so he’s going to take everything from T’Challa in return. Killmonger tips himself over the edge into villainy because his own selfishness drives him to extreme, unwarranted violence.

“My only desire is that my people remain hidden…”

Namor, on the other hand, acts almost entirely out of a sense of duty. From approaching Ramonda and Shuri on the beach in Wakanda at the beginning of the movie to surrendering to Shuri on a very different beach in Chile at the end, his every action comes from his desire to protect Talokan.

When he insists that the Wakandans be the ones to locate Riri Williams, he’s not doing so out of malice but indignation. In revealing to the world their true technological capabilities, the Wakandans drew a lot of the wrong kind of attention. Namor and the Talokanil are paying the price for that attention, maybe even more than the Wakandans are. The safety of Namor’s people depends upon their anonymity, and because the rest of the world has begun searching for Vibranium, even deep under the ocean, that anonymity is in jeopardy.

His insistence that the Wakandans be the ones to remedy the situation isn’t unfair. They made the mess, however unintentionally, so it’s right that they should clean it up. Obviously Ramonda isn’t going to hand a child over to die — despite what even some of the Wakandan elders suggest — but when she sends Okoye and Shuri to retrieve Riri so they can protect her, Namor has forces ready to intercept them and kill the girl anyway. Her death is the only way he can guarantee that another Vibranium detector can’t be made. In his eye, it has to happen.

“For this, I would kill a thousand scientists…”

Shuri volunteers to go to Talokan to bargain with Namor for Riri’s life. When she arrives, she is treated as a royal guest — she’s given a traditional dress to wear, a tour of the capital city, and even a bracelet that once belonged to Namor’s beloved mother.

He tells her the story of how his people came to live in the ocean and the heartbreaking origin of his name. (Ironic that someone who is supposedly without love is actually so full of love that he’s willing to go to war with the entire surface world for the sake of his people.) This idea of attacking everyone on the surface seems outrageous to Shuri, but to Namor, it’s not just logical. It’s necessary.

Trust Is Broken

Of course, this extremism is foreshadowing. His willingness to be cruel and unforgiving will come into play before long, but Namor doesn’t act without provocation. Wakanda makes a move that, in his mind, forces his hand. Queen Ramonda deliberately lures Namor away to allow a foreign agent to infiltrate his kingdom.

When he gets back, the scientist with the knowledge to destroy his home and the princess with whom he was hoping to secure an alliance to protect it are gone, and two of his people are dead. Shuri immediately knows there will be consequences – she says as much to Nakia before they’ve even escaped — but all the foreknowledge in the world doesn’t prepare her for what comes next.

A King’s Cry

For his part though, Namor is angry when he addresses the Talokanil before they move on Wakanda. More than that, he’s apologetic as he explains to them what has happened. He doesn’t blame the Wakandans but only himself, telling his people that his hope blinded him and that he has compromised them all.

He definitely feels betrayed, but he acts out of a need to eliminate a threat to Talokan. The Wakandans know that they exist, so to protect his people, they must be dealt with.

“I am here for retribution.”

At this point in the story, it’s obvious that it’s not Namor whose motivation and methods align with Killmonger’s.

It’s Shuri.

This is where the movie proves Namor is the perfect antagonist for Shuri and why his character elevates the entire narrative. Namor seemed to understand Shuri before, but now he brings out the worst in her. Shuri, the story’s protagonist, pushes Wakanda towards war out of vengeance and anger — not Namor who is supposed to be the bad guy.

That isn’t to say that she doesn’t have reason to want revenge; Namor attacks Birnin Zana as he said he would, killing Queen Ramonda in the process. Shuri lost her father and had just buried her brother, so to lose her mother and last remaining family member shatters her.

An Eye for an Eye

But when she becomes the Black Panther and insists on attacking Namor, Shuri knows she’s in the wrong. It’s why she won’t tell Nakia who she saw in the Ancestral Plane but instead lies and says she saw no one. It’s why she rejects the counsel from M’Baku, who tells her that what she’s doing will lead Wakanda to eternal, unwinnable war. She doesn’t care — she still tells him all she wants is Namor’s death. Nevermind the consequences. Namor has taken her so far out of her character that she’s willing to condemn her people to a never-ending war for her own vengeance.

Eventually, Shuri does come around. She and Namor have a brutal final battle but, encouraged by a vision of her mother, Shuri realizes that she’s allowed vengeance to consume her like it did Killmonger before her and even like Zemo, the man who killed her father years ago. She gives Namor the chance to yield and, rather than be prideful or vindictive, he takes it. He knows that being allied with Wakanda is in Talokan’s best interest, especially since he believes that more surface powers will come for one or both nations in search of Vibranium.

When Namora questions his surrender, Namor says Wakanda will need Talokan. Yielding the fight ensured the safety and protection of his people. And maybe it guaranteed him an ally in his war against the rest of the world too … but that’s not relevant just yet.

What matters is that Namor isn’t actually the bad guy of the story — he’s definitely the antagonist, but he’s considered an antihero in the source material, and that term fits him here too. Of course, we could also be completely beguiled by Tenoch Huerta’s absolutely captivating performance, but who wouldn’t be?

Tell us your thoughts on Namor over at Let Your Spoiler Sideshow: MCU Phase Four Facebook Group, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!