How Marvel Studios has sold its latest microscopic adventure
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, in theaters this weekend, marks the official beginning of Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you’re trying to keep up, Phase 3 concluded with the showdown with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame. Phase 4 was a bit more nebulous, largely because it was taking place during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, so the movies were often delayed and much of the action was taking place in the Disney+ streaming series like “Moon Knight”, “WandaVision” etc. And now we’re opening up a new chapter, one that focuses on the time traveling despot Kang the Conqueror, introduced in the “Loki” streaming series and played by Jonathan Majors.
In this movie, once again directed by Peyton Reed, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) continues to try and make his life work along with his teenage daughter Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton) as well as his partner/love interest Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Lang and Van Dyne are already active adventurers and super heroes under the pseudonyms Ant-Man and Wasp and Cassie has also begun experimenting with size-changing powers. When an experiment sends them all into the Quantum Realm from which they rescued Janet in the last movie they encounter Kang, a villain able to travel through time and with designs on the multiverse.
Clearly there’s a lot going on, especially since we already know the culmination of Kang’s story is planned for 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. So let’s take a look at the campaign Marvel Studios put together.
announcement and casting
The movie was announced, along with the casting of Majors and Newton, during Disney’s December 2020 investors presentation though of course everyone already knew it was happening.
A few months later in May 2021 later it was briefly name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video, a sizzle reel designed to reaffirm the studio’s commitment to theatrical releases.
As 2021 went on various cast members continued to comment on aspects of the film while they were promoting other projects. That included Lilly sharing how she still struggled with tapping into who her character is and Majors occasionally hyping things, including how he kept his casting as Kang secret for so long.
During the press cycle for The French Dispatch Bill Murray let it slip he had taken a small role in this film but also said it had quenched whatever thirst he might have had for anything else related to superheroes.
William Jackson Harper was cast in an undisclosed (at the time) role in October of 2022, the timing indicating it was primarily voice work he would be doing.
the marketing campaign: phase one
While it was still early on, Marvel started whetting people’s appetites in July of 2022 when footage from the movie that included glimpses of MODOK and Kang was shared during the studio’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con. At the same time there was confirmation the movie was the kickoff point for the MCU’s Phase 5, an announcement designed to make this an essential watch for fans who wanted to get in on the ground floor of the new chapter.
A poster was also revealed at SDCC that shows not just Kang looming in the background but also Cassie Lang, now with a size-changing suit of her own, fighting alongside Scott and Hope.
The stars then appeared on stage at Disney’s D23 event in September of that year where Rudd praised Majors and hyped the story as a massive spectacle.
the marketing campaign: phase two
In October the formal campaign finally kicked off with the release of the first trailer (29.5m YouTube plays). It starts with Scott continuing to not get the respect or recognition he deserves as an Avenger before things get serious when Cassie’s attempt to send a signal into the Quantum Realm pulls everyone in. Janet is understandably concerned given she spent 30 years navigating this universe and knows what dangers lie there. They meet Kang, who wants Scott’s help with something that’s never clarified and is willing to help Scott in return.
An “ant-sized” version of the trailer was also released in a nice little bit of fun.
Kang’s presence is the focus of the poster that came out at the same time, the villain’s face seen as he examines the handful of microscopic heroes standing on his fingertip.
Reed teased the impact Kang was going to have in this movie and the larger MCU in an interview that included some new stills of Majors and Rudd together. He also talked about how he didn’t want this to be a B-level story compared to the Avengers movies but be an epic in its own right.
An exclusive featurette on the legacy of Ant-Man and his story to date on film was released at Brazil Comic-Con in December, with the cast and crew also appearing in person to get audiences there excited.
Another trailer (22m YouTube plays) was released in early January, debuting during the College Football Playoff National Championship. This one more clearly sets up the conflict of the story, namely that Scott is lamenting the time he’s lost with Cassie, who grew up while he himself was stuck in the Quantum Realm for so many years. Kang promises he can help him get that time back. That promise eventually becomes a threat as things get serious.
Scott, Hope and Cassie are the heroes seen on the new poster, Kang and his fleet of ships looming in the background. Another more traditionally super heroic one-sheet has Ant-Man out in front and the rest of the supporting characters and locations placed around him.
Kang is featured on an Empire Magazine cover story that included comments from Marvel’s Kevin Feige as well as Majors, both of whom talked about the new disruption the character adds to the MCU.
Scott promises Cassie they’re going to get home from their adventures in an extended TV spot released in mid-January that mostly hits the same beats as the earlier trailer.
Character posters give all the major players their own turn in the spotlight. Interestingly that includes Murray’s character, a citizen of the Quantum Realm who has some sort of history with Janet Van Dyne. There were also exclusive one-sheets from RealD 3D, IMAX, ScreenX, Dolby, 4DX and Fandango, all of which follow the same basic playbook in the elements used and message conveyed.
All of that happened as tickets were going on sale, a moment marked with a new TV spot introduced by Rudd and Lilly.
Feige opens a new featurette by talking about Ant-Man’s importance in the MCU before Rudd takes over explaining how much fun he still has in the role and how much he loves working with the rest of the cast, most of whom also appear and share some details on their characters.
A profile of Rudd was ostensibly about his health routines and related topics but also about his general demeanor and how playing Ant-Man for nearly a decade has fit into his career.
In a meta twist, Rudd appeared in a video selling Scott Lang’s autobiography, which was originally just a prop in an earlier movie but which is now an actual physical book you can order ahead of its release later this year.
A special “fan event” was held in Australia at the beginning of February that included appearances by the cast and crew. That was followed a few days later by the Los Angeles red carpet premiere where everyone talked about the fantastic addition of Majors to the cast, the threat posed by Kang and more.
Movie-themed content was added to at least a couple of Marvel’s mobile games, including Marvel SNAP! and Contest of Champions, with Cassie Lang and Ant-Man (Future) being added as playable characters to the latter.
Additional featurettes offered more in-depth introductions of Kang and Cassie. There was also one that focused on the film’s visuals and locations.
Press stops included Lilly and Rudd on “The Tonight Show”, Newton and Rudd on “Late Night” and lots more.
Goodness everyone here is working *so* hard to make MCU Phase 5 happen. Like…SO hard.
And that sums up the biggest issue with the MCU as a whole. The campaign for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has become just part of the campaign for the next three things, all of which spin out of this movie or are setup by this story. So only about half the usual space is still available to sell this movie, which is positioned only partially as a movie in and of itself and otherwise as a stepping stone to what’s coming soon.
Part of that includes everyone here making sure to praise Majors’ performance as Kang. Those accolades may be well deserved (Majors is a very good actor) but it’s also them endorsing him because he’s already committed to those future projects, so best to talk him up.
There’s also a notable shift in tone here from how the first movie was sold in 2015. At the time it was positioned as a funny lark of a film, kind of a break from the super-serious tone of the rest of the MCU. The stakes were very small and personal, though of course the connections to the rest of the story were clear. Now even Ant-Man and Wasp are facing multiverse-ending threats in stories said by the cast and crew to be epic and sprawling in their scale. So while it’s a good campaign that gets its point across effectively it also feels very heavy, like it’s another movie we’re going to have to spend a lot of effort paying attention to every side character so we can remember who they are three years from now.