With the post-Thanos phase of the MCU concluding with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” audiences have been left confused as to what this is all leading up to and whether it will ever converge. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” expands on what “Loki” brought to the table with variants, the Multiverse, and a new Thanos-level threat, Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror. I’m not one to give much credit to Rotten Tomatoes scores, but it’s evident that the fatigue is kicking in when it took the MCU this long to get two nearly back-to-back rotten percentages when they put out movies like “Iron Man 2” and “Thor: The Dark World” in their first five years. That said, this movie is not nearly as bad as it’s being made out to be. In a world where Marvel seems to have been slacking (and I love this franchise), this isn’t even close to some of their recent stuff. There were many aspects that I did enjoy, but I seem to find that in the overall scope of things, there were more cons than pros. Most of what was shown here was an extended end credits scene that was a preview of what to expect in phases five and six.
“Ant-Man” is not one of my favorite sub-franchises in the MCU. There’s a constant reference in the film to how we always have to “look out for the little guy.” The first two films have been generally grounded, fun, and inconsequential to the bigger picture, but Peyton Reed’s attempt to make the third entry an Avengers-level event worried me. Reed’s direction in the first two is not strong, mainly in the action sequence department, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t an improvement. This isn’t even my favorite “Ant-Man” film – and that’s largely due to the script – but the direction is by far the strongest of the three, despite not having a single notable fight scene. Marvel has to just lose these “Rick and Morty” screenwriters as soon as possible because they’re not doing these films any favors. Michael Waldron did a very good job on “Loki,” only to follow that up with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” I’m one of the people who not only like that movie but believes it’s superior to the first “Doctor Strange,” and now Waldron is writing “Avengers: Secret Wars.” Now, Jeff Loveness wrote “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quatumania” without a single other film credit to his name, and will go on to write “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.” I think Kevin Feige knows that there are certain issues, but I can’t tell if he’s as good at pointing them out as some of us.
“Quantumania” is less of a cohesive three-act structure and more of a ten-act structure. Everything before entering the Quantum Realm is a nice setup, but once Scott and Cassie split from Hope, Janet, and Hank, it’s almost an hour of these two groups aimlessly walking around while side characters spew exposition. I liked the idea of exploring and world-building this side of the universe, but devoting so much time to just that and little necessary progression felt needless if the movie ends with the problems solved and our heroes are back on Earth. I would classify most of what happens here as a couple of side quests jumbled into a plot with a movie title slapped on it. The freedom fighters were a complete waste of space and time. I don’t know who came up with these “Mad Max” looking characters or why they had so much screen time (Katy O’Brain’s especially) because, in the end, they were useless. Hank Pym ended up bringing in the ants anyway to take down Kang, and as for Kang’s army, the Ant family could’ve taken them down by themselves because these guys are no better than Stormtroopers. Also, I like David Dastmalchian just as much as the next person, but his character Veb was an annoying use of comedic relief. Just because his human character from the first two films didn’t show up this time around doesn’t mandate him to be recast in another role for this film. If that’s the case, where’s Michael Peña’s Quantum Realm alien? The same goes for T.I., Judy Greer, and Bobby Cannavale. I don’t even know where to start with Bill Murray because what a damn waste of another actor. He’s great in one scene and then disappears from the movie and perhaps the MCU because I don’t believe we’ll be seeing Murray (or William Jackson Harper) ever again.
I love Paul Rudd in this role, he can do no wrong. In terms of range, I’m not sure if it’s the writing or him, but he’s okay in the more dramatic and emotional scenes. This movie is fairly tame on humor, although the MCU can never resist throwing in a joke at a moment I would’ve preferred not to have one (I’ll get to M.O.D.O.K.). I was surprised to see Evangeline Lilly have a significantly smaller presence than not only her male counterpart but the other Wasp in the movie as well. I’m still not sure whether I like this character or not, and after four appearances, I feel I should be able to know by now. I know the ending was rewritten because it was leaked, and it could not be more obvious considering the tacked-on Paul Rudd narration and the scene they cut to the credits.
On that note, how should we expect to get attached to a second generation of Ant-Man and the Wasp when the first hasn’t even been fully established? Michelle Pfeiffer is by far the second-best performance in the film. She was great in the more subtle scenes opposite Jonathan Majors in her time stuck in the Quantum Realm. There is a massive exposition drop focused on this time about halfway into the movie that did a lot less showing and a lot more telling than I would have hoped. Regardless, both Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas don’t seem to be playing the same characters as the last time we saw them. Aside from Janet van Dyne being a complete badass, Pfeiffer plays her as someone with PTSD, not wanting to even utter the Quantum Realm’s name. For a reminder, the last time we saw her she was willingly sending Scott Lang into the Quantum Realm for research. Michael Douglas clearly doesn’t want to be here anymore. I’m not sure if it’s the superhero movie paychecks not being enough (I saw the red carpet video of him admitting he wants Hank to die), but I appreciate the Harrison Ford energy he has towards Han Solo.
Kathryn Newton does her best with this severely underwritten character that honestly didn’t need to be in this movie. It is an obvious shoo-in to fast-track the Young Avengers. I have no idea why they fired Emma Fuhrmann for Newton because I thought she was legitimately great in her one scene in “Avengers: Endgame.” Newton was very energetic and seemed like she had a lot of fun playing Stature, but I would have liked a breather from Scott’s instincts defaulting to “I can’t let my daughter down.”
The quality of visuals in an MCU film ever since the Blip has looked like the status of a heart rate monitor, we never really know what we’re going to get. For a movie set entirely in the Quantum Realm (which in and of itself had problems), I think they did a fantastic job design-wise. Everything felt very unique and interesting. Some scenes may be boring, but the visuals never were at least. Some of the green screens were hit or miss and there was one rightfully abysmal character design, but otherwise, the only complaint about how the film looked was the lighting. Bill Pope, the same guy who shot “Spider-Man 2” and “The Matrix” trilogy, shot this movie. Not even the best shot in this movie can top the worst shot in any of those movies.
M.O.D.O.K. is not a Marvel comic character that can successfully be done in live-action; it is impossible for the most part from a visual standpoint. This is a floating, disfigured head that is not human nor machine but a combination of the two designed to kill. Never has M.O.D.O.K. been involved with Kang the Conqueror or the Quantum Realm, he’s not even an Ant-Man villain. His character was changed so drastically that they had to stretch back to 2015 and slightly retcon Darren Cross (aka Yellowjacket) into still being alive. I’m not sure why such significant changes were made just to bring back Corey Stoll for another movie, but I have to admit all of this intrigued me. I loved M.O.D.O.K. in this movie, and I know it kind of goes against everything I just said about how hard it is to do this character, but I wish they took him seriously. The only way it would work for general audiences is if he was made out to be a joke character and look ridiculous (which he is and I still enjoyed it), but his sacrifice in particular was seriously undermined by the baby hands joke that “Deadpool 2” already did. I wish Scott didn’t brush off Darren saying “at least I died an Avenger” because, yes, he was a bad guy in “Ant-Man,” but I thought him nearly being the nail in the coffin for taking down Kang was an excellent redemption. Yellowjacket is one of the worst MCU villains to date, but M.O.D.O.K. gives me second thoughts about him in a good way.
To end on a good note, the one thing this film gave us that not a single person is complaining about is Kang the Conqueror. If the movie had failed on this part, I would have been extremely nervous about the future of the MCU. I loved the end credits teasing another season of “Loki” with Loki and Mobius seated before Victor Timely, as well as a tease showing the Council of Kangs. I liked it as a tease, but if this is how “The Kang Dynasty” turns out in terms of execution (it was a little goofy), then I will believe the MCU has officially lost its magic. Since Kang the Conqueror is officially declared dead, I hope one “prime” Kang is presented as the one above the others. He doesn’t seem all that threatening or intimidating if the Avengers will be going up against a bunch of cannon fodder. That said, I have hope for what Jonathan Majors can bring to this role because, with established Kang’s, he is already two for two.
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