The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been continually criticized for its lack of focus on the stories it’s telling in favor of teases for future projects. While it’s true for a handful of films, it’s perhaps at its worst here with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The third film in the Peyton Reeds’ directed sub-franchise flips the script over Scott Lang, taking away the charm and heart of the previous movies and replacing it with sloppy CGI and sloppier writing.
The film picks up where 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame left off, with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) now leading a celebrity life after saving the world but estranged from his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) after losing out on much of her childhood. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne tries to lead a normal life with Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly), avoiding any mention of the Quantum Realm where she spent the last 30 years. Of course, peace doesn’t last long as Cassie’s newly invented device for mapping out the Quantum Realm sucks all of them in after a malfunction, with the remaining running time devoted to building out this new universe and its ruler. It’s mostly downhill from there…
The MCU has also been criticized for its uninspired filmmaking, a claim I think is overblown but here it’s on full display. With 90% of the film taking place in an alternate universe, it never quite catches the same sense of wonder that it should. While the visual design of the Quantum Realm is cool, teeming with new cultures and civilizations, the painfully shoddy background replacement never makes me believe that this world is a living, breathing world. Combine that with basic coverage, some weird choices for its lenses and lighting, and you have a film that mostly looks like visual noise. I was getting excited in the middle of it when presented with the possibility of Marvel going full Star Wars with the Quantum Realm, but it was only for a fleeting moment, just like the one scene Bill Murray’s in.
Ever since I started working in the entertainment industry, I try not to focus on the negative aspects of any film/show/game I experience. Knowing that it had hundreds of crew members giving it their all for multiple years, it just seems mean to me to roast their hard work. However, it is quite hard to defend the sloppy filmmaking here, and given Marvel Studio’s (and by extension, Disney’s) compulsion to throw money at the problem but not extra time into the scripting/development process, can you really fault people for wanting all of this to start slowing down? I don’t know where things went wrong, whether the script was rushed, or whether things were patched during post-production, but all of it leads me to believe that Marvel is hell-bent on marching on without caring for how the audience reacts to its machinations.
Quantumania is the MCU’s first proper introduction to Kang, its next big bad over the course of the next few years, played exceptionally well by the Jonathan Majors. Discounting Kang’s cameo at the end of Loki’s freshman season, Quantumania dives deeper into the time-traveling maniac but doesn’t give us any more answers than it makes us ask questions. Majors delivers every word of dialogue like a king, a world-weary conqueror who must escape this realm to realize his destiny. But what is his destiny? Idk lol.
quANTuMANia should've been better.— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) February 16, 2023
Jonathan Majors commitment to Kang can't save the sloppy filmmaking on display.
A lot of wasted opportunity, serving as a grand, incoherent teaser for future projects.
The cast do what they can, but it's not enough.
Loki did Kang better... pic.twitter.com/mIcuavsl8x
It says a lot about Marvel’s lack of planning when I know more about Kang from his variant’s expository dialogue in the last half of Loki’s finale than in a movie where he’s the primary villain. Who is he? Where does he come from? What does he want, and why? We get glimpses of all this, but never enough to form the full picture. Of course, hardcore fans might argue that we knew next to nothing about Thanos’ motivations before Infinity War, but man it was simple. Kang The Conqueror’s goals are one-dimensional (for now), and his powers are made up on the fly. Can he literally manipulate time? Can he shoot lasers out of his hands? Is he a master combatant? He’s got all of that apparently, and yet by the time the third act rolls around I can’t help but wonder - this is the guy we’re supposed to be afraid of? The post-credits scenes tease the first half of the Multiverse-saga capper, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, but what we see in execution is so hilariously bad that an SNL skit starring the same concept would carry more weight.
Introducing time travel and multiverse hopping is a tightrope walk in itself, and I’m all for weird convoluted stories if they all loop back in to make sense, but this right here is making shit up along the way. We’ve now had 5 projects in the MCU dealing with the Multiverse, and all of them contradict each other on the rules and lore of the mechanic. It’s also funny that our heroes across these franchises are only now dealing with the multiverse in what has shaped up to be one giant coincidence.
What can I even say about our protagonists here, when they’re so devoid of any meaningful progression? Paul Rudd brings his usual charm, and Michelle Pfeiffer seems to be the most comfortable wandering around the Quantum Realm, but everything else feels like a farce. Hank Pym is a completely different character here, as is Cassie who, in an increasingly frustrating trend, is perfectly talented and smart. Forget heroes with faults and nuances, these are paper-thin characters whose only role is to fulfill whatever the plot needs them to. Hope Van Dyne, the leading lady as the poster and title would suggest, is operating in a wholly different plane of existence as she’s hilariously underutilized.
And then there’s MODOK. Oh my god. What is a pretty funny joke at the start gets repeated ad nauseam, beating me over the head with it, and by the end leaves me wondering what to make of any of it. Corey Stroll’s upgraded(?) villain has some fun moments recalling the first Ant-Man film, but I just can’t believe that this is Kang’s right-hand guy. I get that MODOK is supposed to look ugly and the movie calls itself out on it, but I wonder if the countless hours and manpower going into creating these frames at a VFX vendor were worth being meta about how terrible it all looks.
We get rid of Ant-Man’s supporting cast from previous films (Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, T.I.) for new Quantum Realm freedom fighters with less than half the charm of those they’re replacing. William Jackson Harper and Katy M. O’Brian are fine on their own, with a few standout moments but they never elevate the material they’re presented with.
In shredding the “palate-cleanser” approach of previous films and following an ‘Avengers level’ plot, Peyton Reed seems to be lost on what most fans want from the franchise in the first place. If you do doubt whether this film really is just a teaser for Avengers, look no further than the film’s final dialogue that all but winks at the camera, hoping desperately that we all show up to the next one.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a new low for the MCU, though I wouldn’t call it the worst of the bunch. I wish I could say it’s a stupid movie that I love, but it’s just stupid. Its sloppy filmmaking is concerning and is a clear sign that Marvel needs to hit the brakes, stop and re-strategize its conveyor belt mentality for blockbusters.