Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is not only about to kick off Marvel Studios’s Phase 5, but will also officially introduce the franchises next “big bad”, Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors. While Kang’s inclusion may not be a huge draw for general audiences like the trailers are trying to make it into, what the film does with him will be crucial in making him one moving forward, as well as in helping Marvel fans see the direction in which the franchise is heading for the remainder of the Multiverse Saga.
Kang is supposed to be the MCU’s next Thanos, but while Thanos was hidden in the shadows, making only a few brief appearances leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel is putting Kang way out in the open well in advance of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. The studio made a bold choice in introducing a Kang variant through Disney+ in the Loki Season 1 finale, and now they’re making another bold one to make his big-screen debut in an Ant-Man movie of all projects.
The Ant-Man movies have never been heavy hitters for the MCU. Both Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp were released shortly after an Avengers movie and served as light, low-stakes palate cleansers for fans before the franchise kicked into high gear again soon after. Peyton Reed, who has directed all three Ant-Man films, has said he wanted to change that with Quantumania, and the marketing definitely matches up with this. The third installment of the franchise looks much darker and more serious than the previous two, with more emphasis on the villain and high stakes than the comedy and powerset of the Ant-Man suit.
This means Marvel Studios is taking a bit of a risk with this movie. While the Ant-Man movies tend to fall on the lower end of the MCU’s box office returns (which, to be clear, would still be considered quite high for most films in general), they still have an established brand and people feel like they know what to expect from them. For those who like the Ant-Man movies precisely because they’re low-stakes comedies, Quantumania might be a disappointment to them. That doesn’t mean the shift in tone isn’t worth doing, especially for other MCU fans who are craving a story dealing with the overarching plot of the current saga, but it does mean that in order to be satisfying on some level, the studio has to meet the expectations they’ve set people up to have.
It’s clear they want audiences to be invested in Kang well before the Avengers come together to fight him, and perhaps even want to garner sympathy for his plight and make people a little bit conflicted on whose side to take. This already happened with fans after Kang variant He Who Remains explained in Loki that his reasoning for eliminating branches from what he called “The Sacred Timeline” was to prevent variants of himself from emerging. Now that this has come to pass, perhaps some of the other Kang variants will have similar ends to justify their means. It is important to remember, though, that He Who Remains was presented as “the nice one”, which spells trouble for anyone who comes across one of the other Kangs.
Essentially, the Kang of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania needs to be threatening, and a lot more threatening than your average comic book movie bad guy. Those familiar with the comics or who watched Loki know that this character has a ton of variants and will continue to pop up — even if one iteration of him dies — but the general audience doesn’t. Even if Quantumania does explain this (and it probably will), the setting of the tone for Kang being the new overarching villain would be undercut if he were to die in the movie, and it’s not even just because this is his first theatrical outing.
Despite the character’s importance in the comics, as well as MCU projects like Avengers: Endgame, general audiences still see Ant-Man (and the rest of the “Ant Fam”) as being among the less capable Marvel superheroes. He’s not quite a joke, but people just won’t see Kang as a serious villain if he and his crew are able to defeat him with no help from the Avengers or other MCU heroes. The David vs. Goliath showdown between Ant-Man and Kang in Quantumania seems to be intentional — perhaps the filmmakers believe that the former defeating the latter will make those who see the movie realize Ant-Man is stronger than they thought.
But the general audience doesn’t know Kang; they have no previous appearance to compare his Quantumania showing to (even if they’ve seen Loki, the variant in that was He Who Remains, not Kang the Conqueror himself) and seeing him be defeated by Ant-Man in one movie would give them the impression of him not being anything special or particularly formidable against a team of Avengers.
Making Scott and company lose to Kang would be a clearer indicator of the latter’s threat level. If this were to happen in Quantumania, audiences might not see Kang as a Thanos-level monster quite yet, but would at least know he isn’t the kind of villain that can be taken down by just one or two “average” superheroes, which would be a step towards building him up as the huge presence he is going to be for the rest of the Multiverse Saga.
There’s a lot riding on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Even if the film doesn’t dominate the box office for weeks to come like some other MCU movies, the word of mouth about Kang is going to be a big determining factor in the momentum of Phases 5 and 6. With some fans growing impatient about when the overarching story of the Multiverse Saga is going to ramp up, this movie needs to deliver on that front, and Kang defeating Ant-Man and friends would do quite a bit of that heavy lifting.