After Thanos was defeated in Avengers: Endgame, who else could the various heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe duke it out with? Bizarrely, Marvel Studios brass opted to go with another cosmic villain who often gets entangled in time travel stories rather than adapting an adversary wildly different from Thanos. That new baddie was Kang the Conqueror, a character first seen (by way of a variant named He Who Remains) in the Season 1 finale of Loki. From there, Kang appeared again as the main baddie of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and is a recurring fixture of Loki Season 2. The character and his many duplicates are played by Jonathan Majors, with the actor initially being set to reprise the role in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. That film’s title makes it clear that Kang and his duplicates would’ve been the primary focus of the proceedings, likely in a manner emulating how Avengers: Infinity War heavily concentrated on Thanos.

In the run-up to Thanos showing up in an extensive capacity in Infinity War, the biggest problem Marvel had to face was recurring jokes about how much this character just loved sitting in his big floating chair. With Kang, way more issues have cropped up, even beyond the endless string of allegations of abusive behavior circling Majors. Plus, Kang is full of the kind of lore-heavy cosmic material that’s beginning to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe impenetrable for the general public. Kang is a problem for Marvel Studios… and it’s difficult to tell if the studio’s various projects will be able to overcome the villain’s inherent issues.

Kang’s Motivations in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Aren’t Clear

Image via Marvel

Who is Kang in the Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? For good and for ill, it’s pretty easy to ascertain the motivations of other Marvel Studios baddies. They want revenge, money, power, often times they think of themselves as the hero. For Kang, though, the fires that keep him burning are never fully explained or even hinted at. It’s all kept off-screen, presumably as a way of teeing up things for Avengers: The Kang Dynasty that could reveal everything. In the process of setting up a sequel, though, Quantumania writer Jeff Loveness and director Peyton Reed deprived a standalone Ant-Man movie of any sort of engaging adversary. Even in terms of franchise teasing, this thinly sketched version of Kang isn’t the kind of villain people want to see more of.

What makes Kang who he is? What are the human qualities of this guy that make his evilness so terrifying? Thanos, the last big Marvel Cinematic Universe baddie, was interesting in being such an outlandish purple alien who also talked and often behaved like a normal person. That juxtaposition was incredibly compelling. Best of all, he was intimidating and entertaining to watch in Infinity War, he didn’t just keep his motivations or internal desires secret so they could be unveiled in Endgame. Meanwhile, Kang just speaks in riddles, hints at larger mythology, and seems way more divorced from reality than Thanos. Whereas the Loki Season 1 variant of Kang had a fun Willy Wonka vibe to him, Quantumania’s Kang is simply a bore. Why would anyone want to watch this fellow in multiple movies or square off against the Avengers?

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Part of the issue is that, so far, Kang is being treated like a traditional antagonist character yet is so far from the realm of anything resembling even the MCU’s heightened version of “reality” that it’s hard to get a grasp on why he’s intimidating or worth getting invested in. His powers, as depicted on-screen, are so nebulously defined yet cartoonishly powerful that it’s not very engaging. He’s so far been shown to exist on the very farthest reaches of existence itself, we haven’t been privy to how he impacts ordinary souls or even just alien societies (like Xandar) that are recognizably human. As a result, Kang feels detached from anything worth getting dramatically invested in. Worse yet, he’s so rooted in convoluted multiverse mythology while floating around with vaguely defined motives that he’s barely a character at all. There’s a lot of lore swirling around Kang the Conqueror in live-action, yet little substantive character details that make him worth watching.

Kang Is a Reminder That the MCU Is Too Big

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It’s not exactly helpful that Kang the Conqueror, just as a character, is also emblematic of worrisome trends plaguing modern Marvel Studios productions. Recent Marvel films and TV shows have been placing a big emphasis on mythos and unwieldy scale. Kang and his endless multiverse of doppelgängers is a microcosm of how complex and oversized this franchise has gotten. Perhaps Kang is so unappealing to the general public as a figure heralding the future of the MCU because he suggests a future that’s even more convoluted and absorbed in multiverse timelines. To gaze upon Kang is not to see an exciting future where a vintage Avengers comic run gets adapted for the big screen, but rather a reminder of how Disney plans to keep the MCU going eternally.

It’s also not like Kang is the one cosmic villain Marvel has introduced in the wake of Avengers: Endgame. Phase Four and onward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has inundated viewers with a slew of larger-than-life cosmic baddies ranging from the Celestials in Eternals to the morally ambiguous Eternity in the ending of Thor: Love and Thunder to the various ancient Gods depicted in Moon Knight. There’s no shortage of grand otherworldly foes descending on Earth planning to cause chaos with power mere mortals can barely comprehend. With nearly every Marvel Cinematic Universe project now aiming to be as big as Avengers: Endgame, more grounded foes like the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, or Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier have vanished. With those more low-key adversaries absent, it’s harder to make someone like Kang feel special. He’s just another massive overpowerful villain in a long line of similar recent antagonists.

Kang’s Marvel Comics Legacy Is Massive, But Complex

Image via Marvel Comics

These problems may all be immaterial if Kang the Conqueror was a villain with as massive of a pop culture legacy and innately compelling presence as, say, Doctor Doom. Instead, most other forms of Marvel media seem to have also realized this guy is a challenging figure to bring to the screen and have largely opted to ignore him in favor of other Avengers foes. Kang never showed up in a Marvel cartoon before the 2010 program Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (despite so many productions where he would’ve fit in perfectly) while his presence in Marvel video games before 2012 was nonexistent. Trying to figure out how to make Kang as a tangible threat to viewers has always been a hurdle for Marvel adaptations. Bizarrely, the Marvel Cinematic Universe opted not just to adapt such a burdensome character but to make him the focal point of the entire franchise from Phase Five onward.

Can Kang the Conqueror be redeemed from here? Nothing’s impossible, especially if the role ends up getting recast with another actor not plagued by so many distracting horrific allegations of abusive behavior. However, fixing Kang in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will require bringing him down to Earth and making sure he can actually work in standalone Marvel Studios projects. This character can no longer function as just a tease for future movies, nor can he just be a bunch of nebulously defined superpowers that instigate CG-heavy fight scenes. Marvel Studios must make Kang the Conqueror a chilling and engaging villain that’s recognizably human…a task that, so far, seems out of grasp for the current incarnation of the MCU.

The Big Picture

Marvel Studios’ decision to choose Kang the Conqueror as the next major villain after Thanos poses challenges, including potential issues with the character’s complex lore and the allegations surrounding actor Jonathan Majors. The lack of clear motivations for Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has made him an uninteresting and boring adversary, unlike the compelling villain Thanos. Kang’s presence is a reminder of the increasingly convoluted and oversized nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which may alienate the general public and indicate a future focused on multiverse timelines rather than grounded storytelling. Furthermore, the franchise’s emphasis on cosmic villains like Kang has diminished the impact or inclusion of more grounded adversaries.

 Kang the Conqueror is supposed to be the new long-term MCU baddie, but can this character actually sustain that position?  Read More