'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' Jumps a Tiny Shark for the MCU

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O'Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray

Photo: Jay Maidment / Marvel

BY Rachel HoPublished Feb 15, 2023

Welcome to Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the green screen is plentiful, seasoned actors are phoning it in and we're a few curse words removed from being a full-blown kids' movie! With a few exceptions, Phase Four of the MCU was an exercise in conveyor belt filmmaking, prioritizing quantity over quality. Although those films continued to make a pretty penny at the box office, there has been a growing sense of restlessness, and a sense that a reset is needed. Who else to call on then to undertake this mammoth task other than Ant-Man?

Don't worry if you aren't fully caught up with the MCU to this point: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania dutifully provides the quippy jokes and flashbacks to bring audiences up to speed. We reunite with Ant-Man (a.k.a. Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd) as he continues to milk the superhero cow with a memoir and book tour. He discovers that his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), alongside Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), has created a map of sorts to explore the Quantum Realm, much to the chagrin of Janet Pym (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Janet, audiences may or may not recall, spent 30 years stuck in the Quantum Realm and has been cagey about what happened while she was there. But all is revealed when Cassie's digital map sucks the entire family into the dimension and they find themselves reckoning with the aftermath of Janet's time there. 

In recent years, Marvel movies have been rightly criticized for essentially being grand commercials for the next project. Initially, these commercials were restricted to mid and post-credit button scenes, but as the factory churned out project after project, entire films became introductions to new characters and an advertisement for what was to come. Interestingly, the television arm of Marvel Studios also began participating in this exercise, leaving boss Kevin Feige in a predicament. Of course the intention is to drive audiences to watch the movies and the many series they produce, but can Marvel assume that enough people have actually watched both?

The answer seems to be no. Quantumania has been touted as an introduction to the MCU's next villain, Kang (Jonathan Majors), but those who watched Loki will already be familiar with what a force the actor and character should be for the franchise. This shouldn't be a big deal, but because Quantumania's use of Kang is so pedestrian (with the exception of the mid- and post-credit scenes that do hint to something intriguing to come), the use of this film as his cinematic introduction will feel like a nothingburger to those who watched Loki, i.e. Marvel's more committed fan base. 

It also doesn't help matters that Majors, an actor who is set to have a break-out year, is acting circles around his colleagues. And that's no disrespect to Hollywood veterans like Pfeiffer and Douglas, but it seems like those who don't have much to gain from being in these films anymore are starting to feel like they're just going through their contractual motions. (Although Rudd does have his moments — it's hard to repress that dashing charm.)

In addition to being Kang's movie introduction, Quantumania is meant to be the reset the MCU so sorely needs and set the tone for things to come. And oh boy, if this is where we're going, Marvel fans are in for a real trip that will incite only constructive and respectful online discourse, I'm sure.

Quantumania has a lot going on visually, and very little of it is actually interesting. Oddly, there was a choice to paint the film as if it was a straight-to-digital Star Wars movie with its set design and background CGI characters. MCU's CGI is a tired critique at this point, but it truly baffles me that a studio as successful as Marvel has such little regard for its fans that it continues to produce generic and flat visuals when it has more than enough resources to put out the best of the best.

But the CGI has not been Marvel's key to success all these years: it's the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously, unlike the darker and more morose DC films. The stars of Marvel movies are the superheroes, not the villains, and the storytelling reflects that in its optimistic and more lighthearted tone. Marvel has always attempted to make their films as universally appealing as possible, and in the beginning they did a great job at achieving this difficult task. Quantumania, though, seems to be taking this to an extreme, feeling more like an actual family film with a few curse words and some fighting thrown in to earn that PG-13 rating.

But maybe doubling down on this tone is what the MCU needs right now. Jumping the shark to appeal to people's fun ridiculous side may be a tonic from otherwise heavy film fare in cinemas — that introduction of MODOK is a choice to say the least — but if we're going down the family-action-adventure road, I'll take Spy Kids over Quantumania any day.
(Marvel Studios)

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