Marvel Needs To Fix Kang Quickly And Here’s How To Do It
Marvel needs there to be one Kang for the character to have any significance, which is directly against how he is portrayed as a Multiversal threat.
When Marvel Studios officially announced that Kang the Conqueror would be the franchise’s next Big Bad at Comic-Con 2022, it confirmed fan suspicions and heightened anticipation for the upcoming MCU phases to a new level. As played by Jonathan Majors in multiple variants, Kang has been positioned as the new Thanos, a seemingly unstoppable adversary for the Avengers and the entire Multiverse. But Marvel has a huge problem in Kang: he is just too confusing to make a really great villain.
In the short term, it makes sense that Marvel would select Kang as the post-Infinity Saga antagonist. For decades of comics continuity, he has been portrayed as a foe powerful enough to easily take on multiple teams of Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the Inhumans, and sufficiently brilliant to manipulate the likes of Doctor Doom and the Time Keepers. If you have to follow up Josh Brolin’s shockingly nuanced performance of a giant purple alien with genocidal aims and surprising emotional depth, you can do a lot worse.
But where the strength of Thanos as a character (and thus, Marvel’s main antagonist) was his singular level of focus and stated explicable goals, Kang does not have that. The character was introduced to much brouhaha in Loki, with a variant known as He Who Remains vaguely describing his Multiversal nature and that basically, really bad things will happen if he’s allowed to exist.
Marvel is stuck between a rock and a hard place with Kang. On one hand, having a super-powerful antagonist with a specific goal (get the Infinity Stones, disappear half the universe) would undoubtedly cause the studio to be accused of repeating itself and a million think pieces titled “Is The MCU Out Of Ideas?” to appear as if by magic. But, on the other hand, having an antagonist who not only does not have a clear goal, but even a clear identity makes it difficult for fans to care.
The problem Marvel has with Kang is that his greatest and most unique strength is also what makes him difficult to understand and thus care. He is not a singular entity, but a being that exists in infinite variants, many of which have distinct personalities and opposing. While that works conceptually (and on the comic book page), it is functionally no different from having multiple different characters on screen, essentially just a generic supervillain team.
So far, Marvel has shown us six different variants of Jonathan Majors’s character: He Who Remains, the Conqueror (i.e., Kang Classic), Immortus, Centurion, Rama-Tut, and Victor Timely, with countless more being glimpsed in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s mid-credits scene. For all intents and purposes, they are all separate characters, which means all of them will need screen time and narrative function in order to register with any importance.
Remember how Thanos’s Black Order all looked cool and distinct, but ultimately served as generic bad guys to be defeated before getting to the main guy? Marvel is about to have the same problem with Kang, but on a much larger scale, because of the company’s own need to raise the stakes and push the next Big Bad as even bigger and badder.
All of this is an issue for Marvel even if the studio does the wise thing and chooses not to get into the whole idea of Kang being descended from Reed Richards’s father from our future but his past (and maybe also Doctor Doom, though that idea has been written out of canon with varying levels of success). Kang is just too confusing to explain, particularly at a time when Marvel Studios is increasingly being criticized for requiring homework levels of backstory in order to understand a movie.
Ultimately, Marvel will need to back down on its presentation of Kang as a Multiversal threat of infinite variations and present some variant of him as the Definitive Conqueror in order for him to have a narrative impact. While Jonathan Majors is a talented actor and can undoubtedly play many different versions of the character to acclaim, unless there is one to focus on, it will just become a blur of green and purple armor and grand proclamations without weight.
Marvel had the right idea to bring in Kang, but in order for him to have any significance in the grand calculus of the Multiverse, there has to be just one Kang.