This story contains spoilers for Ant-Man: Quantumania. With the emotional adventure of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever closing out the controversial fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we are now officially in Phase Five of the superhero franchise. Ant-Man: Quantumania kicks of the new chapter of the MCU and wastes no time establishing the incoming dangers that lie ahead for this Avengers-less world; as we learned in Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the multiverse is very real, and it’s folding into itself because of the repeated time warping efforts over the years. A multiverse war is on the horizon, and there’s one supreme being who won’t stop until he’s the last man standing in the wreckage: Kang the Conqueror (Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan “My Man, My Man, My Man” Majors). And like some MCU big bads before him, he’s on a mission that is deadly and apocalyptic, but you might find yourself actually agreeing with it, all things considered.
We first encountered Kang in the final episodes of Disney+ series Loki, where he introduced himself to the Loki variants (Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino) as He Who Remains, the Oz-like creator of the Time Variance Authority (TVA). Before he was killed by Sylvie, He Who Remains — though, I guess he no longer remains? — warned that he was the most innocuous of the Kang variants, that the others scattered throughout the universe were far more vicious and dead set on bringing destruction to the multiverse. As the head of the TVA and the keeper of the sacred timeline, he was the only thing preventing the universe(s) from colliding, but without him, they’ll be defenseless against terrors of the more sinister Kangs.
That harrowing prophecy comes true in Quantumania. Another version of the supervillain emerges in this plot, a time and space traveler named Kang the Conqueror who finds himself indefinitely trapped in the Quantum Realm. Let me just state the obvious: this Kang is fine. And it’s not just his looks — though Majors is finer than frog hairs — but his aura and determination that will have you squirming in your seat. Both characters are obviously played by the same performer but, credit to Majors’ otherworldly acting, they couldn’t be more different. Where He Who Remains was a gentle sage who turned his world weariness to the higher calling to protect the multiverse, this new variant is a hardened, bloodthirsty warrior seeking total colonization and control. Armed with advanced technology, powerful weapons that he discovered from his time traveling crusade, and an army at his command, Kang the Conqueror doesn’t care about anything or anyone — he just wants to win, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. The villain has a frightening presence, of course, but Majors injects the role with so much nuance that you’re almost able to empathize with Kang’s plight. Almost. Alternating between moments of heartache, quiet fury, and unfettered rage, Majors’ performance as the multifaceted and literally multidimensional antagonist is one of the shining moments of an MCU offering that’s otherwise disjointed. (There’s a reason that the Rotten Tomatoes score is so low for this film. To call it “weird” would be an understatement.)
Ask any of the MCU’s antagonists, and they’ll tell you that their plans for world (or universe) domination come from a good place, and to them, for good reasons. Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olsen) hostile takeover of Westview and her resulting psychosis was a result of the trauma of losing her life partner and their (imaginary) twins. A.I. Ultron (voiced by James Spader) found the decline of the universe at the hands of humans distasteful and subsequently attempted to snuff them out. Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) takes the throne and the mantle of Black Panther in a twisted imperialist mission to protect the diaspora. Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half of the universe with one snap of his fingers in order to restore the balance of life. Kang the Conqueror’s thinking is along the same lines. Yes, he annihilated entire universes and trillions of people in his full-scale attack on the multiverse, but it was only because he knew that his timeline would be the first to be destroyed if the other Kangs had their way. Because time and space don’t operate in the way in the Quantum Realm, Kang has lost years of his life in exile down there, and he’s desperate to escape so that he can stop his variants from achieving their ultimate goal of multiverse domination. He’s bad for sure. But he’s not the worst.
Thanks to the efforts of Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), his family, and a horde of technologically advanced ants — yes, yes you read that correctly — Kang the Conqueror is ultimately defeated. But even after his victory, Scott can’t help but sense that there’s something even more dangerous ahead for him and the rest of the multiverse. He’s right to be afraid.
Ant Man: I’ve defeated Kang the Conqueror, there is no threat.— El Infame😈🇲🇽#HIVESZN🐝 (@SaulCardenas35) February 18, 2023
Meanwhile the thousands of Kang variants pulling up to earth: #AntManAndTheWasp pic.twitter.com/nLm2gwSsvH
In Quantumania’s end credits scenes, we learn that the deceased Kangs weren’t exaggerating the threat that lies ahead; the first end credits tease reveals that a council of Kangs from across the universe has been observing Earth 616 (the timeline in which the events of the MCU primarily take place) carefully, and seeing an Avenger take down one of their own, the Kangs know that more drastic measures must be taken to keep them in check. Phases 5 and 6 will see the time-traveling chickens coming home to roost, exploring the many repercussions of universal incursions and Kang’s defeat across the multiverse. Similarly to Infinity War and Endgame, where the Avengers faced off against Thanos twice, the remaining superheroes will have to take on the legion of Kangs in the upcoming films Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars — and if we know supervillains, we can predict that those battles will be deadly.
Quantumania didn’t do the best job of laying the groundwork for the next chapter of the MCU; clumsy storytelling and underdeveloped characters unfortunately prevented it from being the spectacular strong start that Phase 5 needed it to be. But with an actor like Majors bringing to life one of the most compelling villains that this universe has seen this far, we can still hope for better days. I know we’re supposed to root for the good guys, but Kang has my undivided attention.
Ant-Man: Quantumania is now in theaters.