Jonathan Majors: What now for the Marvel universe and his career?

Jonathan Majors attends the "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania" Sydney premiere at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter on February 02, 2023
Image caption,Jonathan Majors made his Marvel big-screen debut in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania

Jonathan Majors was one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars, with a major role in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But a conviction for assaulting his girlfriend has left his career in tatters and mounting questions over where Marvel goes next.

Majors was due to be at the heart of movies that Marvel is pinning its hopes on to turn its fortunes around – and that were expected to cement his status in Hollywood’s A-list.

His first appearance as supervillain Kang the Conqueror was praised by many as the best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which got otherwise mixed reviews and box office results when it came out in February.

“Magnetic Jonathan Majors is the saving grace of Marvel’s baffling, illogical latest outing,” said the Observer.

“You’re on edge every moment he’s onscreen”, wrote the Hollywood ReporterTime Out added: “There’s a lot more Majors to come in future Marvel films and he’s really the only thing here that makes a continued story look even vaguely enticing.”

However, Majors has now been dropped from two planned Avengers movies after being found guilty of two charges of assault and harassment relating to an altercation with then-girlfriend Grace Jabbari in New York in March. He was found not guilty of two further charges.

Jonathan Majors attends a premiere for the film "Creed III" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 27, 2023
Image caption,Majors starred in Rocky spin-off sequel Creed III earlier this year

Majors’ career had been on the rise since he broke through in acclaimed 2019 drama The Last Black Man in San Francisco, before going on to star in Netflix western The Harder They Fall.

He also appeared in Spike Lee’s war drama film Da 5 Bloods, earned an Emmy nomination for HBO’s Lovecraft Country, and played Michael B Jordan’s adversary in boxing sequel Creed III earlier this year.

And he was hotly tipped for an Oscar nomination after playing an amateur bodybuilder in another drama, Magazine Dreams, following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year – but its release was delayed after his arrest.

Marvel Studios recruited the actor to play variants of the mighty multiverse-spanning Kang in Disney+ series Loki, and he made his big-screen Marvel debut in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Those who stayed for the credits will have seen how that film teased future storylines for Kang – or many versions of Kang.

Jonathan Majors as Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Image caption,Avengers: The Kang Dynasty is due to revolve around the villain character formerly played by Majors

“Kang was the new ‘big bad’ that they were setting up for the MCU after Thanos,” explains Alvin Addo-Quaye, who runs Big A movie and pop culture reviews on TikTok. “They were really setting him up for the future Avengers movies.”

The name of Majors’ character is even in the title of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, which is slated for release in 2026; and he was due to have a major part in Avengers: Secret Wars, which is scheduled for 2027.

“Marvel had more riding on Jonathan Majors than perhaps any other actor,” according to the Associated Press’s film writer Jake Coyle. “Now it’s parting ways with him, and throwing years of plans for its cinematic universe in disarray.”

Rolling Stone magazine’s Alan Sepinwall wrote: “It’s not tenable to build the next phase of a mega-billions franchise around an actor whose criminal history will dominate the press cycle for each film.”

Even before the verdict, there were already reports that Marvel did not “see a path to how they move forward” with Majors.

While Majors maintained his innocence, Ms Jabbari’s testimony – along with text messages revealing a previous injury and Majors calling himself a “monster”, and audio of him talking of his “temper” and that he was a “great man” – meant his reputation had suffered serious damage.

Marvel’s options

Marvel’s decision to dump him comes as the studio is seeking to re-establish itself as the all-conquering blockbuster machine following a string of lukewarm performances.

The studio’s latest release, The Marvels, recorded its lowest box office opening, and once-enthusiastic audiences have been diagnosed with a condition dubbed “superhero fatigue”.

So the company could take Majors’ departure as a moment to overhaul its plans and kick-start a change in direction.

Avengers: The Kang Dynasty has not started filming and lost director Destin Daniel Cretton last month, with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness writer Michael Waldron recently coming on board to rework the story.

The film could move away from the Kang character and pivot to a different antagonist, with other supervillain storylines such as Doctor Doom yet to be explored in the MCU.

However, Marvel may not be so willing to part from the Kang storyline quite so easily, with half a decade’s worth of projects based around the character.

That leaves them with the option to replace Majors with a different actor – which is not unprecedented in the Marvel universe.

Mark Ruffalo took over as Bruce Banner and The Hulk after Edward Norton left the MCU citing creative differences; and Don Cheadle stepped in as Colonel James Rhodes after Terrance Howard left the cast because of pay disputes.

Jonathan Majors

“Their options are recast, or leave what they have done and and introduce a new villain, but that’s going to take a lot of time,” Addo-Quaye says.

“I personally would prefer recast. Even though we’ve only seen Jonathan Majors play Kang and the various different versions of Kang, I would still be fine for another actor to take on the role because you can you can suspend your disbelief.

“It’s a comic book movie at the end of the day. I think doing a new villain is too much of a long haul.”

For Majors himself, the solution is perhaps less simple.

These were misdemeanour charges, and he faces up to a year in jail or probation when he’s sentenced in February.

Other actors have come back from similar situations after time and repentance, with independent films more likely to offer him a route than big studios.

One of Hollywood’s most promising talents is unlikely to return to the same heights, and he is the only one to blame.

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