These are exciting times for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and fans of superhero media, in general. The COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted and delayed certain plans, but things do seem to be back on track. The success of the recent Disney+ shows and the release of “Black Widow” are encouraging signs that the MCU will continue to grow, evolve, and bedazzle.
However, if the MCU is to continue its unprecedented streak of success, it’ll have to address one massive Thanos-shaped hole that has remained since “Avengers Endgame.” Even as it introduces a new generation of characters while continuing to explore others, it’ll still need one key detail to keep the awesome flowing.
It needs a powerful, over-arching villain who will require the Avengers to assemble once more.
That is no easy feat to pull off. Thanos set the bar very high through three phases of MCU movies. He raised the bar for villains of all kinds, both for the MCU and for movies in general. He presented a threat that required the full force of the Avengers to stop. That’s why so many of us cheered during the climactic battle in “Avengers Endgame.”
The idea of any character presenting a threat like that is difficult to imagine. However, Marvel Studios has proven time and again that they can keep raising the bar. It certainly helps that Marvel has no shortage of villains from the comics, but the recent events of “Loki” have already revealed that one in particular is poised to become that next great threat.
He was already confirmed to show up in “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” He also has been cast to an accomplished actor in Jonathan Majors. Most importantly, he’s a character who has a lengthy history in the comics of being a huge threat to both the world and the multiverse. Much like Thanos, he has often required the Avengers to assemble in a big way in order to stop him.
By almost every measure, Kang has a lot going for him. He even has more to offer in terms of overall complexity. Both the comics and the “Loki” finale mention that Kang has multiple version of himself. You could argue that’s one of his most defining characteristics. Since he’s a time traveler, there are a near infinite version of him with varying levels of power, motivations, and malice.
One could be Immortus, who often carries himself as Kang’s final form.
One could be Iron Lad, a younger version of Kang who tries to walk a more heroic path.
One could be Rama-Tut, a version of Kang who ruled Ancient Egypt as a pharaoh.
It’s that flexibility that puts him in a unique position to be the MCU’s next great villain. It’s also something that helps him stand apart from Thanos in a big way. Thanos was big, bad, and menacing, but there was still only one of him to deal with. There are many version of Kang. Some are potential allies while others could be an even greater threat than Thanos. That could add a lot of drama and tension to every battle.
Since the rise of more complex villains like Killmonger and Baron Zemo, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made a concerted effort to give depth to their villains. Kang, given his many variations, is in a better position to provide that than most villains. You can have version of him trying to avoid his ultimate fate of becoming a ruthless conqueror doing battle with others who’ve already embraced that fate.
In the comics, this has always been a major struggle for Kang. It’s also a personal struggle and the Avengers often get caught up in it. As shows like “WandaVision” have so nicely demonstrated, Marvel Studios have shown how much they can milk a personal struggle for emotional resonance. If they can do that with Kang in a way that builds further drama with the Avengers, then they could set up something every bit as epic as “Avengers Endgame.”
That is likely the ultimate goal. However, there’s still a chance this effort could fail or fall short of Marvel Studios’ lofty standards.
I offer this possibility as both a long-time Marvel fan and one who isn’t too big a fan of Kang. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying he’s one of my least favorite villains. My reasons are purely personal. I just think he’s one of those characters who’s too malleable. He’s also one of those characters who do a lot, yet still ultimately achieve so little.
That’s just an unpleasant side-effect of him being a time traveler. While plenty of other Marvel characters travel through time, Kang really overdoes it. You could argue it’s the only truly defining aspect of his character. As a result, it could also be something that seriously hinders his story.
It’s not unusual for stories involving Kang to get confusing and complicated, even by time travel standards. It’s also exceedingly common for his time traveling antics to be solved with more time travel. Every time he seems on the cusp of defeating the Avengers, something happens that either changes the timeline or undoes everything Kang did to that point. He’s one of those villains who can do a lot, but leave a very limited impact.
That’s why I’m not too fond of him. Too much of what he does is easily erased or retconned by more time travel. On top of that, his reliance on time travel basically guarantees that you’ll be confused by the sequence of events within a couple issues at least. I can’t imagine it being much simpler over the course of multiple big budget movies.
That’s not to say he can’t work as the MCU’s next main villain. Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have proven time and again that they’re capable of making these seemingly impossible stories work. They were able to transform Thanos into this death-obsessed madman into someone with more complexity and emotional range. If they can do that with Thanos, then who knows what they can do with Kang?
Hopefully, we’ll find out soon enough. Jonathan Majors has already given us a taste in “Loki.” I look forward to seeing something even bigger in “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” These are exciting and chaotic times for the MCU. Only time will tell how chaotic it gets and for a character like Kang, that’s all too fitting.