Marvel's Majors Problem

The actor behind the titular villain for 'Avengers 5' will be criminally tried in New York in late November.

Quick spoiler warning: If you’ve not seen Loki Season 2, you might want to read this newsletter after you have caught up. I don’t spoil much, but the context is important. Happy reading, folks!

It’s a big week for Marvel Studios.

Tomorrow, the company is releasing the finale episode of Loki, undoubtedly the most popular and well-reviewed of its series on Disney+, and debuting The Marvels, the sequel to Captain Marvel, in theaters worldwide. The company is in uncharted territory, as MCU fatigue is significantly affecting ratings on the studio’s shows and the ticket sales at the box office, for the first time ever. Marvel has lost much of the goodwill with fandom that it had post-2019.

But its even bigger problem lies two weeks from now: Its major villain for the next six-to-seven years of content is set to go on criminal trial in New York.

Jonathan Majors, the Emmy-nominated man behind Marvel’s new big bad Kang the Conqueror and its hundreds of variants, will face charges of assault in a Manhattan court on Nov. 29, based on allegations of domestic violence.

Since the release of Loki Season 1 in summer 2021, Marvel has positioned Majors as its new Thanos, the central villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it has continued to double down on him, both before and after the allegations arose.

It has not edited out any of his scenes in Loki Season 2, which ends tomorrow, and it prominently featured Kang—and countless variants of him—in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which released in February.

So far we’ve seen six prominently featured versions of Majors’ multiversal villain feature on screen: Kang the Conqueror in the feature portion of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; Immortus, Rama-Tut and presumably Scarlet Centurion in Ant-Man 3’s post-credit scene; and He Who Remains and Victor Timely in Loki Season 1 and 2. Not to mention the hundreds featured on screen in that aforementioned post-credit scene.

It’s not stopping, either. The finale episode of Loki Season 2, due out tomorrow, will clearly put Kang and his variants on the path to be the titular villain in the fifth Avengers film, according to a recent Variety story.

Majors’ prominence in the current era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far different than that of his predecessor, Josh Brolin’s portrayal of Thanos, who before the third and fourth Avengers films had been featured prominently only in the post-credit scenes of The Avengers and as a secondary villain in Guardians of the Galaxy.

At any point, Marvel could have pivoted away from Thanos and set up something different — in part because, at that time, according to my interview with “MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios” author Joanna Robinson, the studio was writing much more on the fly. If it never returned to Thanos and pivoted away, the average fan would have hardly noticed.

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But now it’s stuck with Majors, and if it decides to somehow kill off the hundreds of Kangs in its universe, it won’t be able to do so lightly.

Marvel has written itself into a corner with Majors. In Episode 5 of Loki Season 2, it hints that the events of the show are an ouroboros—an endless loop—in which Loki likely creates the Time Variance Authority by recruiting variants of his friends Mobius, Hunter B-15, Ouroboros and Casey, to build it, and then, in a desperate attempt to fix the timeline, accidentally puts Timely, or a Kang variant of some kind, in power to run it all. That sets up for a years-long showdown of Majors’ Kang versus Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Not some other simple recast of Majors’ character.

The Variety story reports that Marvel has internally discussed paths forward without Majors — including potentially introducing fan-favorite villain Doctor Doom, who could be featured in the May 2025-slated Fantastic Four reboot (though, with the writers’ strike having only recently ended and the actors’ strike still ongoing, Marvel’s previously announced release calendar will almost certainly be delayed).

It seems, though, that the company is awaiting the outcome of Majors’ criminal trial, which begins on Nov. 29 in Manhattan. Majors, 34, is indicted for a March incident in which he is alleged to have abused his then-girlfriend, Grace Jabbari, 30, during a car ride to a New York apartment. Following that incident, Jabbari was admitted to a New York City hospital for “minor injuries to her head and neck,” which police say originated from a domestic dispute with Majors.

Majors was arrested later in March and has since denied those allegations. Other women have privately accused Majors of abuse and are reportedly cooperating with the Manhattan prosecutors in this case.

At Marvel, the studio is reportedly taking a “wait and see” approach, Robinson told me in our interview. Marvel’s sister studios, however, are being much more active. In late October, Disney-owned studio Searchlight Pictures indefinitely pulled the Majors-fronted film Magazine Dreams from its release calendar. The film’s initial release date was Dec. 8, a bit more than a week after the start of Majors’ criminal trial.

Critics believed Magazine Dreams would almost certainly earn Oscar nominations, including a potential nod for Majors in the lead role. Disney has not indicated that the film will be rescheduled for another release date at this point—signaling doubt about Majors’ future post-trial.

Before his indictment, Majors was en route to the upper echelon of Hollywood. From fantastic performances in HBO’s Lovecraft Country to the main antagonist in MGM’s Creed III, plus the already-revealed He Who Remains variant of Kang—which ranked among the highest-rated episodes of Season 1 of Loki—Hollywood trade publications positioned Majors to be one of the next greats in this generation of movie stars. But just a month after the release of Ant-Man 3, news of the indictment and his arrest hit.

There’s no easy fix here for Marvel.

This weekend, analysts are projecting that Marvel will release its biggest box office “flop” to date in The Marvels, amid MCU fatigue and generally poorly-reviewed shows, such as Secret Invasion.

After the success of the films leading up to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Marvel came out of early 2019 with a brand that signaled prestige. But with new leadership at Disney under short-lived CEO Bob Chapek and a push to put more and more Marvel and Star Wars content on Disney+ during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, it lost its luster. Marvel films aren’t appointment-booking like they used to be.

One way it could get back on track is through a dominant villain like Kang and the fourth and fifth Avengers films, which, given the comic book storylines they’ll likely pull from, could turn out to reinvigorate the fandom. That seemingly requires Majors, though — which, regardless of the outcome of his trial, will be hard to swallow.

So Marvel has a Majors problem, and as it rolls into 2024, it will be faced with maybe the toughest decision in its studio’s 15-year history: Does it stick with a man accused of domestic abuse? Or does it find a way forward and risk the future of its studio at the box office?

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