‘Quantumania’ Proves that Marvel Has a Young Avengers Problem
“I don’t even know who you are.”
It’s no question that Marvel is at a crossroads. Since dissolving the original Avengers team in Endgame, Phase Four has been about rebuilding from the ruins of the Blip and setting the stage for the next generation of heroes. Kind of. Actually … not really.
Phase Four, which came to an end with 2022’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, has been scattered at best, and haphazard at worst. Over the course of seven movies and however many Disney+ shows, Marvel has managed to create a vision of its rapidly expanding universe that basically amounts to one big question mark. Where is this going? Who are our new heroes? What will happen to the old ones? And why should we care about Kang?
Marvel’s latest release, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, attempts to answer this last question — and somewhat delivers, thanks to the strength of Jonathan Majors’ bizarrely committed performance. But one of Quantumania’s biggest stumbles represents an issue that’s shaping up to be the most worrisome for Marvel’s Phase Five: the next generation of heroes aren’t heroes, they’re plot devices.
This article contains spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
There are a few exceptions to this growing issue, like Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop and Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, both of whom had deep personal connections with their predecessors and got to further test out their chemistry in Hawkeye (it’s probably no coincidence they’re both Oscar-nominated actresses). And we can exclude heroes who have their own solo projects (Kamala Khan remains innocent). But for the most part, the new generation of heroes doesn’t amount to much.
The most egregious example is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Introduced as a fugitive with the ability to travel through the multiverse, America spends the majority of the movie being hauled from one place to another. Outside of a tiny bit of tragic backstory and a cute gimmick with pizza, poor America is basically reduced to a walking MacGuffin. Her personality is little more than “girl-shaped plot device,” which is reductive of both Xochitl Gomez’s acting abilities and the comic book version of America, beloved by Marvel fans as a headstrong and fearless queer character.
This “new hero as plot device” stumble became an unfortunate trend with Thor: Love and Thunder (though, should we even count India Rose Hemsworth’s “Love”?) and Wakanda Forever. The latter saw Ironheart (Dominique Thorne) as … a plot device. Thorne’s Riri Williams is the genius whose tech becomes the impetus for the war between the Wakandans and the Talokanil, forcing Shuri to bring Riri under her protection, yada yada. But if two times is a coincidence, the third time is definitely a concerning pattern.
Teen Cassie Lang first appeared briefly in Avengers: Endgame (played by Emma Fuhrmann), but she makes her proper superhero debut (as Kathryn Newton) in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But apart from getting the Pym and Lang families sucked into the Quantum Realm and putting on a suit, she … doesn’t do much either. Her passion for justice may reignite her father Scott’s (Paul Rudd) own dedication to the fight, but — like everyone else in Quantumania — she mostly spends the movie getting moved from plot point to plot point. Cassie sits right in the middle of the generation of new heroes: not nearly as well-characterized as Kate Bishop and Yelena Belova, but slightly more fleshed out than the MacGuffins that are America Chavez and Riri Williams.
So why should we care about these new next-gen heroes? While a Young Avengers movie hasn’t been confirmed yet, it’s clear that Marvel’s Phase Four was about introducing these successors to the well-known Avengers as supporting characters that would soon get their own solo efforts. And with the introduction of beloved Marvel characters from the comics like Kate Bishop, America Chavez, Cassie Lang, and Kamala Khan, it certainly feels like the MCU is gearing up for a Young Avengers team-up. The only obstacle is getting the audience to care enough about these heroes to make a Young Avengers movie worth their theater ticket.