With the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania last week, Phase 5 of the MCU has officially begun.
After a mixed Phase 4 led to a shaky start to the Multiverse saga, it felt like Quantumania had added pressure to get Marvel Studios’ next chapter off to a good start. While the previous phase had some highlights, like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and WandaVision, far too many films and TV shows didn’t work as compelling standalone projects, and it wasn’t clear where the collective narrative was heading, either. Quantumania makes tremendous efforts to get this larger narrative on track, but in doing so it loses much of the whimsical charm that characterized previous Ant-Man films.
Like almost every MCU release, Quantumania dominated the box office in its opening weekend, grossing an estimated $120 million over four days. However, it also follows a trend of the Multiverse saga, as it’s currently considered one of the under-rated Marvel Studios entries by critics and fans alike. It’s one of only two MCU films to ever receive an unwanted “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it has earned the lowest audience-driven MCU CinemaScore yet, joining Eternals 2021’s company on both counts.
While Quantumania is technically an Ant-Man and the Wasp film, the driving forces behind its story are Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror and key plot points from Loki’s first season. The film’s characters and primary setting in the Quantum Realm are sequels to the previous Ant-Man films, but sacrifice a narrower focus on the stories of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to further expand the MCU into multiverse. Part of the franchise’s soul feels lost in the process of better serving the MCU’s larger agenda. We don’t even get a chance to hear Michael Peñas Luis tell a story about his experiences during the blip.
Loki featured the first MCU appearance of Majors; He played an alternate version – or variant – of Kang known as He Who Remains, and Quantumania now bridges that multiversal narrative and the main MCU universe. Most importantly, the 31st film is positioned in the MCU to set the stage for the future of the Multiverse saga as the studio moves towards its two-part Avengers finale: The Kang Dynasty (2025) and Secret Wars (2026).
“In very broad terms, as you can see with Quantumania, it’s all about building the big overarching thread that will go through the next phases,” Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president, recently told Entertainment Weekly. “Not every movie in the Infinity saga focused on the Infinity Stones or Thanos, and it’s going to be the same everywhere [Phase 5] And [Phase 6]. But we’re gearing up. People will get a big taste of that in Quantumania as we lead into Avengers: Secret Wars, which I’m really excited about.”
As chaotic a spectacle as Quantumania is, it’s – for better or for worse – a crucial table setting for the next few years of MCU content, which continues to come faster than ever. So let’s go in the direction it’s all headed.
What happened to Kan?
Despite all the hype surrounding Kang, by the end of Quantumania, the villain is defeated by a bunch of oversized ants and a giant floating head with tiny legs. And then he’s defeated again by Ant-Man and the Wasp. For a man who’s been billed as the next Thanos, it’s not the most ominous debut, although Majors’ grandiose (and very sinister) performance is by far the film’s bright spot.
But there’s something of a cardinal rule when it comes to characters who die in the MCU: if there’s no body, they’re probably not dead. (Or in the case of MODOK, I’m guessing, a massive head with tiny legs. And luckily we saw the head die here, so we’ll never have to see this monstrosity again.) Kang’s demise in Quantumania is reminiscent of the Red Skull’s defeat at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, or better yet, Darren Cross’ Death in Ant Man. When Kang “dies” at the end of the film, he appears to be sucked into his ship’s multiversal power core. After his exile in the Quantum Realm, he might as well be abandoned in another realm of the multiverse.
No matter where or when Kang went at the end of Quantumania, I don’t know if it’s ever been more certain that a dying character isn’t dead. Scott has a rather clumsy inner monologue at the end of the film; the music intensifies and he begins to wonder if they actually defeated Kang or if they triggered something worse by not letting him escape the Quantum Realm. The post-credits scenes confirm his suspicions almost immediately.
We’ll get to the spikes in a moment, but it’s also worth noting that the film’s final tag doesn’t promote the return of the titular characters like most MCU films do. There’s no news saying we’ll be seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp again – it’s not exactly clear what the future holds for either character. (Based on how many times the Wasp has been sidelined in the film—despite her name appearing in the title—I’m not sure we’ll be seeing her again any time soon.) Instead, we get a goad at the film’s villain: “Kang will return.” And as the post-credits scenes tell us, that line should actually read “Kangs will return,” since “Exiled One” is far from the last Kang variant we’ll see in the future.
The future of the Multiverse saga and Avengers: Secret Wars
In Phase 4 we saw several stories that touched on the concept of the multiverse in some way, whether by introducing new universes (as in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Ms. Marvel) or by introducing variants and the multiverse itself ( as in Spider-Man: No Way Home or Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). But Quantumania confirms that the story that emerged in Loki – relating to He Who Remains and the multiversal war its variants started – is what drives the main narrative on which the Multiverse Saga is built.
After Kang’s “death” near the end of the film, the first stinger gives us a chance to meet some of the other dangerous variants that He Who Remains warned Loki and Sylvie about in Loki. In particular, we meet three of them, all played again by Majors, who makes some decisions about how to speak for each variant. These three are Rama-Tut, a version of Kang who ruled as a pharaoh in ancient Egypt; (probably) Scarlet Centurion, who appears to have been rebuilt in the MCU to become something of a cyborg; and Immortus, the eldest Kang of them all, who has a rather raspy voice to make up for it.
Immortus has summoned the entire Council of Kangs, and the trio are just a small fraction of an army of Kang variants gathered in an arena. (The rest of the Kangs are all upset and barking for some reason. Majors is just having a good time out here.) Immortus summoned them all to discuss the death of the Conqueror, or the “Exile” you refer to him; her plans for what to do next, now that he’s out of the picture; and the superheroes responsible for defeating him. “None of us killed him,” says Immortus. “They did. They’re starting to touch the multiverse. If we let them, they’ll take everything we’ve built. So let’s stop wasting time.”
Before this very messy, goofy spike even happens, perhaps the most important explanation of where it’s all going comes from Kang himself (aka The Exiled One) as he explains his origins to Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) in his citadel. “My variants throughout the multiverse play like children over time,” says Kang. “But I’ve seen how it ends. I saw their chaos spreading across realities. Universes collide. Endless ideas. I saw the multiverse and it died – all because of you. So I took control.”
Between that scene and the first Stinger, we get a more direct follow-up to Loki and the multiversal war that unfolded in its first season. When Sylvie killed He Who Remains in the finale, she got rid of the one person who prevented the war, while letting go of its more dangerous variants in the process. Now there’s a clearer sense of who exactly is involved in the multiversal conflict and what’s at stake – and the keyword pointing to where we’re going is “encroachments”.
The first time we heard about incursions into the MCU was in 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Doctor Strange learns of them when he stops by an alternate universe, and it is John Krasinski’s Reed Richards who provides the explanation: “A slump occurs when the boundary between two universes erodes and they collide, completely destroying one or both.”
That’s more or less how Kang describes them in Quantumania, and an invasion also marks the start of the Secret Wars 2015 comic book event that the upcoming Avengers movie will draw from. In the comics, the incursion provided a narrative path to incorporate popular alternate universe characters, such as Miles Morales from the Ultimate universe, into the main Marvel universe. In the MCU, it could just as easily be used to introduce a group like the X-Men, bring in former actors and characters from other Marvel properties like Multiverse of Madness, or even justify the resurrection of dead characters like Iron Man.
There’s still almost two full phases of movies and TV series left until the Multiverse saga ends with Avengers: Secret Wars, which means we’ll somehow get more than 14 projects in the meantime – with much of Phase 6 still to be announced must. Quantumania offers the biggest clues yet as to how we’ll get there, but there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more about the upcoming Avengers films over the next few years.
Cassie Lang and the Young Avengers
When we first reintroduce Cassie in Quantumania, she looks… different. Scott’s daughter has grown up since the events of 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, particularly with the time warp in Avengers: Endgame. But she also looks different because she’s a completely different person; Marvel Studios has recast the actress who plays Cassie for the second time – from Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp) to Emma Fuhrmann (Endgame) to Kathryn Newton in Quantumania.
Given that Wagoner only appeared in a small part of Endgame, Marvel Studios jumped at the opportunity to bring Cassie with a bigger name — Newton previously starred in films like Detective Pikachu, Blockers, and Freaky — for her expanded role in the latest Ant-Man -Recast film. In Quantumania, Cassie is given a Pym-Tech suit just like her father’s and takes a pivotal step in becoming a superhero herself, Stature.
Cassie is the latest teenage superhero in a growing roster as Marvel continues to build the inevitable Young Avengers lineup. In Phase 4 we were introduced to Kate Bishop (Hawkeye), the Maximoff twins (WandaVision), Elijah Bradley (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Kid Loki (Loki) and America Chavez (Multiverse of Madness) who are members of the youth team they put together themselves from Avengers in the comics. Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Riri Williams (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) are members of another teenage superhero team, the Champions, but they might as well fit into the MCU’s Young Avengers. (And while we’re throwing options here, Hulk’s son from She-Hulk: Attorney at Law might join in to show off that handsome head of hair, too.)
Marvel has yet to announce a series or movie about the Young Avengers, but as it continues to bring new, younger versions of the Avengers old guard – including some who even borrow their names, like Bishop’s Hawkeye – it’s only a matter of time. Given Kang’s importance in the rest of the Multiverse saga, it’s even possible that a younger variant of him could also be part of the team. Just like in the comics, the Kang variant known as Iron Lad might even be the one that brings the Young Avengers together in the MCU.
Loki season 2
If there wasn’t enough of Majors’ Kang in Quantumania (and there really wasn’t), the film did its best to let audiences know that we’d be seeing a lot more of him in the future. After countless Kang variants appeared in the first Stinger, the second focuses on just one: Victor Timely. And he’s joined by Mobius (Owen Wilson) and the Asgardian god of mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), in our first in-depth look at the upcoming second season of Loki.
The scene is set in a theater in the early 1900s when Kang – or a variation of his name Victor Timely – is giving a presentation on his theory of time and relativity. Loki and Mobius stand in the crowd, and when the curtain rises, Loki recognizes the man on the stage as He Who Remains. Mobius sneeringly tells Loki that he “made him sound like that horrible character,” which Loki only reinforces.
But more important than anything Loki, Mobius, or even Timely says is the setting of the scene and the introduction of Timely in particular. The character made her comic book debut in Avengers Annual No. 21 (released 1992) as a version of Kang going back in time to 1901 and founding a town in Wisconsin that he named Timely. (Besides the obvious reference to time in everything Kang-related, Timely is a reference to Timely Comics, the name of the publisher that would eventually become Marvel Comics.) After adopting the name Victor Timely and Timely Industries Kang was essentially using this company to develop the time travel technology that would grow and evolve over generations, eventually allowing Kang to be the so-called Master of Time in the first place. In a self-fulfilling way, it becomes ground zero for Kang’s empire.
Avengers Yearbook #21
As I speculated at the end of Loki’s first season, Timely could also be where He Who Remains was leading Ravonna the last time we saw her (she happens to be Kang’s romantic partner in the comics). As always, it remains to be seen how closely Loki will follow the outline dictated by the comics, but we now know for certain that Timely will be a defining setting in Season 2 and it won’t be long before we’ll see Kang again .
Quantumania may not be the promising start to Phase 5 that fans were hoping for, but at least they can take comfort in the knowledge that Majors has played his part as well as he can. And starting with Loki season 2 later this year, there will be many more opportunities for the actor to show his boundless range as the story of Kang – and his many variants – continues.