It was pretty obvious to every superhero fan that Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, until his sad demise, sat at the centre of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who brought Ultron into existence? Yes, the billionaire philanthropist with the zippy one-liners. Who invented time travel in order to defeat Thanos? That guy who loved shawarma, weapons of mass destruction and casual sexism (at least in his early outings).
Since Tony Stark’s death in Avengers: Endgame, the MCU has been crying out for a focal point. Doctor Strange looked like he might step up, but soon lost his position as sorcerer supreme to Wong and almost destroyed the entire universe while trying to help out Peter Parker. Thor still isn’t quite his old self after gaining a beer gut and attempting a journey of self-discovery, while Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel has been largely awol since Endgame.
So why not Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne? The new trailer for the forthcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania suggests that the size-shifting superheroes are about to find themselves at the centre of a new Marvel chapter in which Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) emerges as the – possibly ultimate – big bad.
There’s a pattern to Marvel’s films these days, usually involving one of our heroes making an error that ends up causing chaos in the universe / multiverse / miniaturised plane of unreality (delete as applicable). We know from previous trailers that Lang’s daughter Cassie decided to send a signal into the quantum realm, which seems to have resulted in Scott, Hope, Cassie, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne and Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym being sucked into that freaky netherworld.
In the new trailer, released this week, it looks as if Lang has been lured into a trap by Kang. Unless there is sleight of hand going on here – and you never can tell these days with trailers – the story seems to revolve around Ant-Man foolishly signing up to a deal that would restore the lost years he never got to spend with Cassie due to the events of Avengers: Infinity War.
It’s hardly out of character for Lang to make bad life decisions – he is an ex-con – but it’s difficult to think how the film will convince us that anyone would sign up to a deal with some dodgy bloke they met in the quantum realm. Surely one of the gang – and it looks like Pfeiffer is trying – can talk Lang out of becoming the latest in a long line of Marvel superheroes doing really braindead things on a whim that could end up destroying the whole of existence.
Anyway, wasn’t the whole point of the Disney+ show Loki that Kang was back, primed and ready to wreak havoc in the multiverse after being accidentally freed in the final episode of season one? If so, what’s he doing stuck in the quantum realm? Are there multiple layers to Kang’s imprisonment? Might each member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes end up freeing him by increment, with the final hurdle cleared just in time for 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty? Or perhaps this is just one of Kang’s variants – though that seems like something of a cop-out.
Either way, Lang has come a long way since we first met him as a common-or-garden burglar with a cheeky smile. Let’s hope he won’t go down in Marvel history as the guy who let Kang loose and failed to make it out alive. But if the saga’s billionaire geniuses, deities and mighty wizards can be destroyed by hubris, perhaps the saga’s ultimate nice guy will mess up in a big way sooner or later.