I won’t mince words, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania sucked. Like really sucked. If I was ranking every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it would unquestionably fall in the bottom five. And yet, even as somebody who has been suffering from serious Marvel burnout over the last 12 months, I came out of the movie theater more excited about the future of the MCU than I have been in ages.
Quantumania has all the trappings of recent disappointing Marvel projects, from the laughably poor CGI to the overly quip-heavy dialogue. Not to mention, the sidelining of The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) made me question why the character was even included in the film’s title because Hope van Dyne is certainly not treated like she's equally important as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).
With Quantumania representing the first step into Marvel Phase 5, there is little doubt that it’s a pretty awful starting point for the next era of the inter-connected comic book franchise. Granted, you could take the optimistic view that there’s nowhere to go from here but up. It’s hard to see the first Disney Plus show of Phase 5, Secret Invasion, and the next movie on the slate, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, being much worse than Ant-Man 3.
Nevertheless, despite the laundry list of issues I had with Ant-Man’s third solo movie, I still feel more excited about the future of Marvel now than I did after any movie or TV show offered up during Phase 4. Quantumania may be a pretty rubbish movie, but I’m strangely encouraged that it's still the beginning of Marvel winning me back.
Enter Kang the Conqueror
My excitement for Marvel Phase 5 almost single-handedly comes from the emergence of Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors. This multiversal villain first appeared in the Loki season 1 finale, as a variant known as He Who Remains — and his reappearance in Quantumania has me eager to see even more from him.
It should be noted that I do have my problems with Kang’s arc in Quantumania. For starters, I'm really not sure having the next Avengers-level threat be so easily bested by freaking Ant-Man was an especially wise narrative decision. But, I’m thoroughly convinced by what I’ve seen of Majors and believe he is more than up to the task of delivering an adversary that feels like a credible threat to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes if given even somewhat decent material to work with.
The short but very sweet sequence where he recounts all the alternative-timeline variants of the Avengers he has already fought and killed to Scott almost sent a chill down my spine. His casual demeanor when he asks Scott whether he’s the “one with the hammer” as all the heroes he’s bested have blurred together was an excellent line, even if Rudd then kills the tension with a cheesy joke. This short scene strongly suggests that Kang is not a villain to be taken lightly, even if Quantumania’s climax does undo some of that good work.
Something big is coming
Kang is the piece of the puzzle that the MCU’s lackluster Phase 4 was sorely lacking, and I’m not just saying that because the mere presence of Jonathan Majors could improve pretty much any movie. Thanks to Kang, Marvel now has something to build towards and that’s a very big deal.
During Phase 1 we knew that everything was leading to the first Avengers movie, likewise in Phase 2 and Phase 3, each new component of the MCU was a step toward the much-anticipated showdown with Thanos. Whereas during Phase 4, the franchise felt directionless. There wasn’t a slowly revealing bigger picture in the background that could hold your attention even through the low points.
In Phase 4, Marvel movies and shows had to stand on their own, and be enjoyed purely based on individual quality. And when you consider the observable decline in the reception of Marvel content over the past two years, that was a real problem. However, with the next two Avengers movies now confirmed (Avengers: The Kang Dynasty in 2025 and Avengers: Secret Wars in 2026) each new slice of the MCU feels like a building block toward those tentpole team up movies.
For me, the biggest appeal of the MCU has always been its interconnected nature, and in Phase 4 that aspect of the franchise was placed on the back burner in favor of throwing as much content as possible at audiences. I’m thrilled that whatever comes next in Marvel Phase 5, even if it's as low quality as Quantumania, will at least feel like an additional piece in a larger puzzle.
Plus, there is a strong possibility that many of the events and new characters introduced in Phase 4 will become retroactively more important in the grand scheme of the larger story Marvel is telling. Perhaps, Phase 5 will even manage to make me enjoy some parts of Phase 4 more. Although, it would take some really impressive retconning to make me enjoy Thor: Love and Thunder, as that remains a personal low point for the MCU.
Where does Phase 5 go from here?
The closing stinger of Quantumania already teased that “Kang will return,” and even if The Conqueror variant appears to have been defeated (although I have my doubts he’s really gone for good), we know that Kang’s mission to rule over not just a single universe but the entire multiverse is far from finished.
As already mentioned, next up it’s Secret Invasions on Disney Plus in the Spring, followed by Guardians 3 hitting theaters in May. Truthfully, I’m not expecting either of these to pick up any of the threads left hanging by the second Ant-Man sequel. But in the case of the latter that’s probably a wise decision. Vol. 3 is the conclusion of director James Gunn’s planned trilogy so the focus should be squarely on the ragtag group of spacers we’ve grown to love.
Time will tell if the MCU can raise its quality bar back to its previous level, but regardless of that I’m just excited that Marvel now has a visible direction once more. Maybe the highs of Infinity War and Endgame will be impossible to recapture, but for the first time since those movies, I feel optimistic that something big is coming down the Marvel pipeline — and I can’t wait to see how the Avengers plan to deal with Kang.