This article on recasting Kang the Conqueror contains minor spoilers for Loki season 2.
Last week’s bombshell Variety report looking at the chaos behind the scenes at Marvel Studios has generated a lot of discussion. The company is facing some very real problems, many of which are tied to larger market forces and so can’t really be solved by a few shrewd decisions. However, there is one lingering issue that the company is seemingly refusing to address: Jonathan Majors.
Majors has been cast as Kang the Conqueror, the multi-dimensional threat who will serve as the backbone holding together the next few years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU). He is essentially replacing Josh Brolin as Thanos, the villain who loomed large over “the Infinity Saga.” Marvel is betting big on Kang and, by extension, Majors. The next ensemble Avengers film has been announced with the subtitle of The Kang Dynasty, referencing a Kurt Busiek story arc.
When he was cast, Majors was regarded as one of the most promising actors of his generation. He had broken out in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, to the point that critic Kyle Buchanan advocated for a Best Supporting Actor nomination and even Richard Brody’s negative review singled out the performer as “reflectively and sensitively persuasive.” Majors followed that up with a starring role in Lovecraft Country and appeared as the youngest member of the ensemble in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods.
When Majors was announced as Kang in September 2020, his casting was a coup for Marvel. As the company had done by casting performers like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt during the previous decade, and arguably as they’d done in reinventing more established-but-adrift leads like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, Marvel Studios was making a big bet on an emerging talent with an incredible amount of potential. Ant-Man director Peyton Reed called him “the most exciting actor of his generation.”
Of course, things have changed dramatically since then. In March 2023, Majors was arrested and charged with assault in New York City. Very quickly, allegations of domestic abuse began to surface, along with reports suggesting a larger pattern of behavior. These allegations do not exist separate from his work with Marvel. Prosecutors are investigating “a Molineaux incident” that occurred while he was in London filming his role in Loki.
These reports are incredibly serious. To the credit of the major studios, it appears that the reports are being taken seriously in Hollywood. The actor was dropped by his management firm, Entertainment 360. There are unconfirmed reports that the talent agency CAA has also dropped him because of his “brutal conduct” towards staff.) He was removed from the upcoming adaptation of The Man in My Basement. Even Disney removed his awards contender, Magazine Dreams, from the release slate.
However, Marvel Studios has yet to make a decision about whether Jonathan Majors will remain as Kang the Conqueror. More than that, the company has done little to downplay or marginalize Majors within their shared universe. The performer was a significant part of the advertising for the second season of Loki, appearing as a big reveal in the trailer for the season, even though he is just a recurring guest star in the six-episode season.
According to Variety, the company is adopting a wait-and-see approach, considering the possibility of replacing Kang the Conqueror with Doctor Doom. This arguably makes sense anyway, given that Doom was a key figure in both Secret Wars comic book storylines. However, it’s unclear what exactly Marvel is waiting for. Court cases can take a long time, and it’s clear that the company needs to make some quick decisions to help fight the rising tide.
It’s important to be clear. Majors’ guilt or innocence will be determined by a court of law, adhering to a burden of proof. That standard does not apply to an actor starring in a gigantic multimedia franchise. Actors can be replaced and fired without a criminal conviction. No performer is entitled to stand at the center of the largest movie franchise in the world. Even beyond the standards of a basic “morality clause,” Marvel Studios’ decision to part ways with Majors is independent of criminality.
After all, Marvel Studios has recast roles before, under a variety of circumstances. The studio replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle because Howard asked for too much money. They swapped out Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo because Norton wanted to make a movie to his own standards. Harrison Ford will step into the role of Thunderbolt Ross vacated by the passing of William Hurt. None of these examples imply any criminal guilt for any of the actors replaced.
There are obviously examples where recasting might be a bad or tasteless idea. Chadwick Boseman was so iconic and definitive as T’Challa that it would be an insult to his memory to replace him in the role. Hopefully, it is not a controversial statement to suggest that Jonathan Majors is no Chadwick Boseman. Indeed, the possible emergency switch to Doctor Doom seems unnecessary. The character of Kang the Conqueror comes with a fairly handy internal justification for any possible recasting.
As established in Loki and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Kang the Conqueror is a supervillain with countless variants across the multiverse. Indeed, several of his variants have already been killed off on-screen: He Who Remains and Victor Timely in Loki, and the version who appeared in Quantumania. While the MCU has established that some variants, notably most of those featured in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, are identical, it has also revealed that many aren’t.
There is no hard-and-fast rule that every variant of a multiversal character needs to be played by the same actor. Spider-Man: No Way Home features three versions of the title character played by Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield. Loki has featured a diverse array of variants of the trickster god played by actors like Tom Hiddleston, Sophia Di Martino, Richard E. Grant, Deobia Oparei, Jack Veal and more. There is no reason that every version of Kang needs to look like Majors.
Majors is a growing problem for the studio. Reviews of the second season of Loki tend to mention the actor’s controversies, creating a narrative that ties them to the studio. ScreenRant noted that the controversy “hangs over what is otherwise a solid run of episodes.” SlashFilm opined that Majors’ grandstanding “made for an unpleasant viewing experience.” Even an agnostic Hollywood Reporter review conceded that Majors’ presence “either will or won’t prove to be a point of distraction.”
Part of the issue is the nature of the role itself. It is perhaps possible for an actor mired in controversy to give a compelling and engaging performance. The morality of employing such a performer is a larger debate, but there are cases where the work speaks for itself. Oppenheimer, for example, makes excellent use of Casey Affleck, an actor who comes with no shortage of off-screen baggage, by casting him in a role that relies on his ability to make the audience feel ill-at-ease.
In contrast, Kang is a role that can often feel like an acting exercise. Over the next few years, the audience is going to see countless variations on Kang, and the actor playing the role will have to come up with a way of differentiating them from each other. It’s an interesting concept — one that feels quite academic. Can an actor play what is essentially the same role in an infinitely diverse number of ways? It’s the kind of challenge that attracts a showy performer.
Majors has talked about “the potential” that Kang has and how he “didn’t recognize” himself as Kang in the Quantumania trailer. According to Majors, the role of Kang “is an actor’s dream or an actor’s nightmare.” It’s a fun idea to play with, and one that taps into the improvisational roots of the shared cinematic universe. Producer Jeremy Latcham has talked about Marvel Studios as a place where people “want to come play,” and that is certainly the vibe with Majors’ approach to Kang.
To put it simply, Majors is doing a lot. Watching Majors in Loki and Quantumania, this is an actor who is putting a lot of mayonnaise on the sandwich. Particularly on Loki, Majors distinguishes the different versions of Kang by giving them mannerisms and tics. Victor Timely even has a pronounced stutter. Majors is constantly making big choices in the role, which makes sense. He needs to be able to sell these characters as fundamentally the same, but superficially different.
However, this performance relies on the audience’s goodwill. It’s playful and fun, but it requires an actor with whom the audience wants to play and have fun. There’s a minimum threshold of goodwill required to sell and sustain this sort of performance, and Majors has lost that. As IndieWire mused in their review of Loki’s second season, “it’s hard to kick back and enjoy his frenzied energy or stilted intonations when you know the monstrous accusations levied against the man in real life.”
Loki executive producer Kevin Wright has explained that the show’s second season didn’t recast Majors because it was “maybe – not maybe – this is the first Marvel series to never have any additional photography.” In a world where Quantumania was seemingly reshooting its ending just weeks before release and Multiverse of Madness was shooting up to the last minute, recasting Majors might be a more valid excuse for the studio to employ its trademark postproduction reshoots.
Still, with Loki wrapping up its second season, there’s no excuse for Marvel to wait any longer. The past few years have been surprisingly tough for the company, and those in charge will undoubtedly face tough decisions in the months and years to come. Right now, they face an incredibly easy problem with a very simple solution: just recast Kang the Conqueror.