“Man-Ape” is one of those unfortunate Marvel Comics names. It’s instantly laughable — moreso when you discover Marvel also has a “Ape-Man” in its ranks — and when combined with the character’s white gorilla costume, it becomes quite problematic. Nevertheless he will be in the upcoming Black Panther feature.
Introduced in 1969, the character was a constant nemesis of Black Panther, evolving from a physical threat into a political antagonist. And as executive producer Nate Moore told Entertainment Weekly, he represents an interesting layer to Wakandan culture. “[He] is essentially the head of the religious minority in Wakanda and we thought that was interesting,” he explained. “Wakanda is not a monolithic place. They have a lot of different factions.”
In order to keep him, they dropped the name and the costume.
Taking their inspiration from Christopher Priest’s acclaimed run on Black Panther, Man-Ape is now called M’Baku (played by Winston Duke). He is the religious and political leader of the Jabari tribe in Wakanda. As the film opens, his grievance with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) goes back to his father T’Chaka’s choice to begin a dialogue with the outside world in Captain America: Civil War. In M’Baku’s mind, he should be named king instead and return Wakanda to its isolationist tradition.
While different tribes and factions with opposing viewpoints gives Wakanda the feel of a real country, director Ryan Coogler suggests M’Baku’s intentions may not be as selfless as they seem. “In this movie, it’s a little tricky to define who’s a [good guy],” Coogler told EW. “The film very much plays with those concepts, looking at conflicts and different motivations, and who’s with who. M’Baku is a really interesting character, and I’m excited for people to get to see him.”
I’ll admit I’ve never read much of Black Panther except for his exciting introduction in The Fantastic Four. But considering the photos emerging from the production and the way Coogler and his team embraced Man-Ape for the interesting ideas under the terrible name and occasionally insensitive costume, it seems like the film will offer compelling new wrinkles to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I may also have to go back and read Priest’s run on the comic.
Hopefully, I’ll have finished by the time Black Panther debuts on February 16th, 2018.