I want everyone to know that I figured it out years ago: The secret, the masterstroke, the ace up Kevin Feige’s sleeve, the one incredible trick that was going to prove the haters wrong and convince the world that Marvel Studios Phases Four through Six were not a boondoggle but in fact an incredible gambit of corporate planning and careful IP management. Trouble is, I don’t think this plan will work anymore. Marvel must, and probably has, gone back to the drawing board. Change is in the air, and while I have no actual insight into the matter, I am pretty sure that the grand finale of the Multiverse Saga that will make it to the big screen is not the one that was planned when it was announced on the Comic-Con stage.
There is no way to confirm this beyond Marvel brass saying so (Kev, buddy, call me), but I want them to know that even if Marvel changed its plot, for one beautiful moment, I had figured them out. The trick was a simple one: Kang, the big bad of the current MCU saga, was also going to be its biggest hero. He was going to be Mr. Fantastic.
I’m sorry, what?
Wow! A claim so bold that it has summoned the disembodied “Q&A” voice! Trust me, I’ve thought about this. I can land this plane.
I can! Let me lay out the bread crumbs. Marvel announced its casting of Jonathan Majors as Kang in September 2020. This announcement, to me, seemed suspiciously early, the kind of news blast that seems like it’s trying to get ahead of an appearance in something else Marvel had planned. You know, like He Who Remains at the end of Loki season 1.
Are you saying you called HWR’s appearance in Loki? Bullshit.
I am not. I am just, no matter how much I run from it, a gifted comic book scholar, and I cannot escape my nature. I did not think HWR or any kind of Kang would appear in Loki, but I did think that Marvel Studios would have a little bit of fun with the comic book stories that suggest that Kang is kind of, sort of, the father of Reed Richards. (Please, trust me: This is really not worth sorting out. None of us have the time.) And given that Reed’s story had been told in two other aborted franchises, and that the Fantastic Four are kind of a Big Deal in Marvel history, I just thought casting the same guy as both Kang and Reed Richards would take out a lot of birds with one Infinity Stone.
It’s a take on Reed that would be very different from what came before, but steeped in a deft remix of comics history. And on top of that, it immediately conveys the Fantastic Four as important without having to introduce them ahead of time — because their leader is the good version of the MCU’s current big bad.
What about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
What about it?
Reed is in that. Played by John Krasinski.
Doesn’t that disprove this whole thing?
Not so fast. Look at all the other characters in that scene. Professor Xavier from the animated series. Captain Carter from What If. Characters pulled from across the multiverse, not representative of “canonical” versions in the MCU. Besides, that Reed ate shit like five minutes after we met him. Not the genuine article. Then, there’s what happened in Loki’s season 1 finale.
What’s so significant about that scene?
The story that He Who Remains tells Loki and Sylvie at the end of time, about meeting a whole multiverse worth of Kang variants? It’s not a Kang story in the comics. It’s a Reed Richards one.
Ohhhhh. I think I get it.
Neat, right? This scene is such a big tell that I felt pretty vindicated when I saw it. But it’s also such an obvious lift that I started to worry I might be wrong. And now I’m not so sure it’s what we’ll end up seeing when the Multiverse Saga reaches its climax.
The MCU is in flux. Disney, Marvel Studios’ parent company, is reevaluating its plan for the streaming shows that have been pitched as a cornerstone for this era of Marvel programming. The dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have had an impact on Hollywood’s long-term planning across the board. And Jonathan Majors, the man Marvel has hitched its Kang wagon to, faces domestic violence charges, with a trial currently underway.
From a bird’s-eye view, Marvel’s long-term plan needs a serious overhaul, with the optics of adhering to that plan made even worse by Majors’ alleged misconduct. Herein lies the problem at the heart of the Marvel method. When it works, there’s nothing like it. But when it’s falling apart? It is quite hard to turn a helicarrier this big around.
Despite its fondness for timelines and production slates announced well in advance, Marvel Studios has established an equally notorious reputation for contingency plans. Characters have dropped in and out of various projects, film rights have been juggled, and creative conflicts behind the scenes impact the trajectory of movies all the time. The neat, ordered performance of Phases and Sagas is just kayfabe, all part of the show this now massive studio is putting on as it tries to make the most successful cinematic universe live for as long as possible.
Marvel’s ability to build the MCU was bolstered by a lack of scrutiny — each successive film was regarded as a potential flop right up until 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, however, everyone’s watching, and the Marvel method has resulted in some checks the studio is struggling to cash: Its VFX workers are unionizing after reports of grueling and unreasonable demands, its Disney Plus series haven’t gained traction, and Disney is looking to scale back the studio’s future output.
Kang? He was a plan Marvel came up with years ago. But to borrow a term from a show I recently saw, the timeline branched from that plan a long time ago, and pruning it is the only thing that makes sense.