With the release of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, a number of YouTube video essayists have created pieces that reflect on their favorite scenes over the 20+ films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, titled "One Marvelous Scene".
While my video editing skills are pretty much non-existent, as a lifelong fan of the Marvel characters and a die-hard fan of the MCU, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite scenes: the death of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) at the climax of 2018’s Black Panther.
The scene starts with the deposed King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) fighting his estranged cousin Killmonger in an underground mining train tunnel. As the train passes, a protective energy field makes their special suits disappear. Just when Killmonger looks like he has the upper hand, T’Challa turns the tables and plunges a dagger into his cousin’s chest.
“Helluva move,” Killmonger tells T’Challa as he struggles for breath. T’Challa drops his mask, an immediate look of regret and sorrow crossing his face, even though the two were locked into a battle to the death just seconds ago.
Killmonger looks up, as if trying to look past the limitations of his mortality and into the world beyond. He tells T’Challa about how his father, T’Challa’s uncle, told him of the beauty of his native Wakanda and promise to show it to him someday.
“Can you believe that?” Killmonger asks? “A kid from Oakland, running around believing in fairy tales?” At this point, he shows less sorrow for the life he’s lived, and the lives he has taken, than he does for possibly missing out on seeing the beauty his father promised to show him.
Without a word, T’Challa resolutely pulls Killmonger to his feet and takes him on an elevator to a high promontory overlooking the countryside. Killmonger looks out over the sunset, knowing that it’s the last thing he’ll ever see.
“It’s beautiful,” he remarks as he gasps for breath.
“Maybe we can still heal you,” T’Challa tells him.
Instead of responding positively to the offer, Killmonger casts a look of complete disdain on his compassionate cousin.
“Why?” Killmonger asks. “So you can just lock me up?
“Just bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Killmonger pulls the dagger from his chest, causing him to bleed out and his lungs to collapse. T’Challa stands over his fallen adversary, his cousin, his closest family member, and poses the body in respect.
When most rookie writers first apply the VOTE Method, they typically approach it from an overall story level. However, it’s also important to look at the VOTE at the scene level. One of the things that makes this scene so powerful is that both men are still looking to pursue their scene-level Victories, even as the overall story comes to a close.
In the fight scene, the VOTEs are obvious:
Victory: T’Challa wants to defeat Killmonger.
Obstacle: Killmonger has better training and powers equal to or better than T’Challa’s.
Tactics: T’Challa uses the train’s energy fields to make for a more even fight.
Energy: T’Challa needs to stop the civil war waging above their heads.
Victory: Killmonger wants to defeat T’Challa.
Obstacle: T’Challa has his powers back, and they’re fighting on T’Challa’s home turf.
Tactics: Killmonger uses his military training and advanced fighting techniques, along with his powers and vibranium suit.
Energy: Killmonger needs to take revenge on the family and country who abandoned him and his father.
In Killmonger’s death scene, the VOTEs are more subtle, but no less powerful:
Victory: T’Challa wants to save Killmonger.
Obstacle: Killmonger’s wound is deep. Even though the suit is holding him together, he might not make it.
Tactics: T’Challa brings him up to see the sunset and offers to heal him.
Energy: T’Challa needs to end the chain of lies and pain that caused Killmonger to turn on Wakanda and the family.
Victory: Killmonger wants to see the sunset over Wakanda before he dies.
Obstacle: Killmonger’s wound is deep and he knows he’s going to die soon.
Tactics: Killmonger tells T’Challa the “fairy tale” story about his father.
Energy: Killmonger needs to see the fulfillment of his father’s promise.
The beauty of these scenes (and the entire film in general) is that T’Challa is not the infallible, righteous hero, nor is Killmonger the egomaniacal, self-absorbed villain. Each character has strong beliefs that lead them to pursue destructive courses of action.
Because T’Challa needed to protect his country, he chose to murder his cousin to save his country and the world.
Because Killmonger needed to fulfill his father’s promise, he chose to die rather than be locked in a cage for his crimes.
When writers use the power of the VOTE Method at each level of the story, they can all but guarantee that their scripts will have at least one “MARVEL-ous” scene.
If you want help in creating a “Marvel” of a script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer coverage reports, script consultations, rewrite services, and work-for-hire script writing for projects of all sizes.
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Story Into Screenplay’s own Gerald Hanks will be appearing at the Comicpalooza Sci-Fi convention in Houston on May 10, 11, and 12, as well as the Big Easy Con in New Orleans on June 1 and 2.