Warning: SPOILERS for Aquaman and Black Panther

It's easy for any movie fan to see how Aquaman and Black Panther are telling the same basic story of competing kings. But despite Marvel's usual dominance and the popularity of both movies, in this case... it's DC who delivers the better ending.

The fact that Marvel and DC's films are similar shouldn't be controversial to anyone, especially not in the superhero genre, which repeats classic plots more than most. And it goes without saying that Black Panther's villain is one of the MCU's best, basing his mission on real-world injustices and a compelling, tragic origin story of his own. The same goes for King Orm a.k.a. Ocean Master, confirming that these villains have as much in common as the heroes, T'Challa and Arthur Curry.

But where Black Panther makes its villain into a monster in need of slaying, Aquaman makes the hard choice to show Orm mercy. In other words, giving this story the ending it should have had.

Ocean Master & Killmonger, Villain Kings

Based on the plot alone, it might seem that Killmonger and Aquaman are the same character. But make no mistake: it's Ocean Master and the Killmonger that are the real kindred spirits in these stories. Even if they're cast as the antagonists to the movie's hero, and can not claim a throne or kingdom by birthright, they DO have legitimate claims. That alone makes them different among villains, since their quest for power is a sacred, and presumably ancient thing. In other words: not evil or malicious.

Both issue a challenge to their rival, vanquish them in a fight they've prepared for their entire life, and once power has been consolidated, and the military leader brought to heel, they enter the next phase of their heroic mission: War.

RELATED: Aquaman Teaches Marvel A Lesson On Releasing Movies

Unfortunately, the biggest flaw and villainous trait of both Orm and N'jadaka is also the same: a loyalty and sense of nationalism so passionate, so violent, and so righteous, they are willing to cross any line to achieve their goal. They both want war, and both can justify it based on facts and history... but each has a hero standing in their way.

Aquaman & Black Panther, Rightful Kings

Even though T'Challa has to be dethroned to start over, both he and Arthur Curry truly begin their march up the mountain to true kingliness under the same circumstances. Their thrones - those of Wakanda and Atlantis - simply must be claimed as quickly as possible, or else the entire world will be plunged into chaos and violence. Not exactly the most interesting stakes, but definitely on the scale superhero movie fans are used to.

From there the parallels multiply: both Aquaman and Black Panther rely on the women in their life to push, drag, and even shove them towards their destiny. And both have a massive, glorious, secret weapon to help them turn the final battle in their favor: the Karathen for Arthur, and M'Baku for T'Challa. Yet no matter how massive the war, it is decided by a fight to the death between two kings, pursuing completely opposed ideas of what their duty demands.

And as similar as Aquaman and Black Panther have been to this point, it's in that final battle where DC triumphs - and Marvel comes up short.

Page 2 of 2: Why Aquaman Succeeds Where Black Panther Fails

Aquaman Shows Ocean Master Mercy

The real problem here isn't due to poor storytelling on Ryan Coogler or Marvel's part, because it may be the opposite. For the most part, both Killmonger and Orm are shown to be products of the life thrust upon them, and the fathers who guided (or misguided) their futures. In the case of Ocean Master, his actions may stray into brutality, killing kings he finds too weak to help their people. But his motivations are true: the surface world does more harm to the planet and its oceans than good. And Arthur standing against Orm doesn't make his argument any less valid.

So when Arthur finally defeats Orm, he yields. Arthur has learned the power of mercy for an opponent, not some evil enemy. It's at that very moment that Queen Atlanna steps in to show even greater mercy, essentially forgiving her son and reassuring him that he is not evil, not cruel, and not even wrong in his convictions... he has been misguided. And even in a kingdom that rarely forgives, the punishment for such a failing is not death. As Orm is arrested, Arthur reiterates his understanding of his brother's motives, and therefore reconciliation is still on the table. An ending that Erik Killmonger is never offered.

Black Panther Kills Killmonger

Killmonger may be a pleasant change from Marvel's standard, evil, malevolent supervillains, but he is still required to be dealt with like all the others. That is, with a knife to the heart delivered by the hero. But the issue here is far more complicated than the fact that 'Aquaman lets Orm live, Black Panther kills Killmonger.' And as as Marvel fans are sure to counter, T'Challa didn't really have a choice but to kill Killmonger, knowing the dangers he posed as a trained soldier who would never yield as Ocean Master did.

RELATED: The One Reason Marvel Villains Are So Disappointing

While we would point out that argument never worked for General Zod in Man of Steel, it highlights the larger issue with Black Panther's characterization of Killmonger. At the start of his journey, one could argue that his reasons are as sound as Ocean Master's (loyalty and justice for his people). But once Killmonger begins to take pleasure in murder, choke elderly women, destroy Wakanda's history, and promise to incite violent against the "children" of ruling classes around the world... it's clear his motivations are no longer just misguided, but malicious, and cruel. His mission is not for Wakanda, but only for himself.

His death, therefore, remains tragic but absolutely necessary, freeing T'Challa of any guilt. And with his final words declaring that "death is better than bondage" - bondage in this case meaning punishment for his crimes - he embraces his nature as a radical and revolutionary, and not a king or leader at all.

Aquaman's Rival Can Return - Not Black Panther's

From a storytelling perspective, Black Panther gets to have his cake and eat it: he takes Killmonger's point and reveals Wakanda to the world (still ignoring the women who urged him to do exactly that earlier), without needing to ever reconsider Killmonger's beliefs. From the studios' point of view, the villain of a blockbuster movie is as important as a hero, which sure makes Black Panther's ending a shot in Marvel's own foot, since audiences want more of Killmonger in Black Panther 2, and can now only get it if the film's ending is completely erased.

For Aquaman and DC Films on the other hand, the aquatic hero's greatest rival remains, meaning the pressure is still on Aquaman to find a better solution to the problems Orm was trying to solve (setting up an even better Aquaman sequel as a result). The verdict may only be final once the sequels to Aquaman and Black Panther are released, and fans can see for themselves which origin story is better built to challenge its new king. But for now, both films found a way to make a villain more than one-note. Only one of them decided against the easy out.

MORE: Marvel's Editor-in-Chief Praises DC's Aquaman

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Source:gamerant.com
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