I used to fear Kang the Conqueror. The name inspired dread and excitement in my soul as I walked into a press screening of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania last week. But as I left the theater, I was thinking a whole lot more about Jonathan Majors' performance than Kang the character.
Kang, if you didn't know, has been basically set up to be one of the most (if not 'the' most) important MCU character in ages. Last year, when they announced more of the upcoming Marvel movies, we learned that Kang's name is literally in Avengers 5, aka Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. The message was clear: Thanos is gone, but Kang is the new threat to existence.
And the hype train began even earlier, back in the Loki finale that introduced Majors as a Kang variant named He Who Remains — a time-lord in charge of the sacred timelines who promised Loki and Sylvie everything they desired. But all of that excitement I had about Kang has almost ceased to be, as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania did nearly nothing good for Kang. After the below spoiler warning, I'll explain why.
Quantumania's Kang needed a bigger body count
To put it simply: Kang got beat by ants. How is that possible? Okay, that out of my system, I'll admit the one good thing that Quantumania did for Kang was give him a backstory of bad deeds. Everyone from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) to the rest of the people running from Kang were almost afraid to say his name. Through expository dialogue, we learned about the universes in the multiverse that Kang discarded like Kleenex he'd blown his nose in. But ask any writing teacher: telling is less compelling than showing.
While those descriptions made Kang seem like a true evil, The Conqueror barely even conquered in Quantumania. Yes, Kang obliterated a bunch of the alien Freedom Fighters like he was angrily mowing his lawn, but those deaths didn't do much of anything. Ot proved those soldiers were valiant, but killing off nameless characters is something anyone can do in Fortnite.
The only named and important character that died who can be traced to Kang is M.O.D.O.K. (Corey Stoll), who was fatally injured while breaking Kang's shield in the third act. And while killing the Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing is arguably a technically impressive trick, nobody really saw Stoll's character as a threat.
No offense to Stoll, but M.O.D.O.K. was more of a sight gag (and one I'll admit to having enjoyed).
Seriously, Kang: Scott's family was standing right there!
What makes all of this more frustrating is that it's not like Quantumania didn't have high-profile names they could kill off. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) himself, for example, could have been ended. It's not like Kang didn't whoop his butt in hand-to-hand combat — the rare moments when Kang seemed like a true threat. But if Kang can't kill Ant-Man yet, then why did all of Scott Lang's family make it out? Especially when Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) seemed like a prime target.
Maybe someone thought it would be weird to kill off Hope when her character had so little to do in Quantumania. Some exec may have feared a backlash to only killing off a character played by someone who attended an anti-vaccination rally. But Hope returning to help Scott fight Kang felt like a moment that could have easily led to her death. Next to Cassie (who seems to be primed for a young Avenger role), Hope's death would have had the highest emotional impact on Scott possible.
Then, you've got Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet. Killing Hank could have put a huge mental and emotional burden on Janet, as she would feel even more guilty of having lied about her past. If only she had brought up her time in the Quantum Realm, maybe Hank would still be alive.
And, yes, killing Janet off would have also worked, as she could have made a sacrifice to repent for her mistakes. But, no. Scott Lang gets a happy ending tinged with worry and concern, with a happy family dinner. Clearly, Marvel's setting something bigger up.
Yes, this Kang is the one to fear — not the stadium of Kangs
Oh, and don't think for a second that it's OK if the main Kang isn't seen as a major villain. Yes, the trio of Kang variants — Immortus, Rama-Tut, and Scarlet Centurion — in the Quantumania post-credit scenes who exiled the just-defeated Kang may seem like a threat. Especially since the speak of the heroes in the MCU uncovering the multiversal complexities, and summon more Kangs.
And while those Kangs spoke of the Kang that Scott and Hope fought as dead, that doesn't have to be what what happened. We only saw that Kang forced into the core and disappear. When the end credits scene presented a Loki season 2 scene, with a Kang variant named Victor Timely, all before presenting the message "Kang Will Return" to the audience? That to suggests that the original Kang — call him Kang Prime — will be back.
My confidence in my theory increased when I started to poke around online, On Marvel's own site there is a currently broken link to a character named "Victor Timely (Nathaniel Richards/Kang Prime)."
That link is broken at the time of writing, and pulls you to a "404 page not found" error. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of nothing, I know. But something smells fishy.
Outlook: How Marvel fixes Kang
For all my hand-wringing, Kang the Conqueror can still be the villain who Marvel seems to be planning for. It all can begin when Kang variants seen in the post-credits scene begin to wreak havoc.
Based on Marvel's own lore about the Council of Kangs suggests that the real Kang will be back at some point — to enact revenge and exterminate the other Kangs. This will likely make Kang a man to be feared, since he was able to get rid of the Kangs that were terrorizing our heroes.
For now, though, Kang (and his variants) are just an existential dread. For Scott and for the rest of us.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.