This weekend sees the release of the 31st Marvel Cinematic Universe film. The childhood nerd in me cannot believe that one of the biggest entertainment blockbusters of all time are largely based on comic books that people have been reading and loving since the mid-1960s. It is astonishing to consider. (Want to be a full on Marvel Zombie: I propose Marvel March, 1 MCU film a day for the whole month.)
And, as they have now made 31 of these films, even a true Marvel Zombie like myself has to admit that there are some of those films that aren’t good. While I will defend some films that others dislike, there are some movies that just simply aren’t the best. (Listen, Thor: Dark World is a sprawling science fiction fantasy sequel that people weren’t expecting and so it gets unfairly bashed.)
And one of the realities is that in the current wave of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the franchise seems to be stalling out. And, unfortunately, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania may go down as this phases Iron Man 2, a film that really was just a bridge to get to what is next.
Pre-spoiler review between here and the next photo: Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is a weird, deep delve into the subatomic Quantum Realm, the world that lives far beneath our own world. Only once the accident that sends Scott Lang, his partner the Wasp, his daughter Cassie and the Wasp’s parents into the world, things get very weird and odd.
First, this film is a stunning visual exercise, almost to its detriment. The Quantum Realm that we see feels like Disney and Kevin Feige went to all the special effects folks involved in Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar movies, took their leftovers and threw into a blender, dumped it out and said “Ladies and Gentlemen: the Quantum Realm!” Visually it has some stunning set pieces; this is one of those films that people will screengrab and make wonderful desktop backgrounds. There are several different points where it is just fascinating. But truthfully, there is almost too much of it. After 30 minutes of that kind of compelling visual background, it moves to the background and then there starts to be a glaring issue: this movie doesn’t have a core plot, other than this one particular mandate: introduce the new villain Kang and make him terrifying.
From there, things feel like they are on a rail, and that rail progresses along at the expense of this movie. Like I mentioned, Iron Man 2 had that fill early in the MCU: it just needed to get us from where we were to the Avengers film, which is really weird since there were 2 more movies after it before the Avengers assembled. Ant-Man and the characters are shortchanged to have their own story; you leave this film thinking that it didn’t do much but bridge into the next movies.
So, is it worth seeing in the theater? I would say so just because of the visual lushness of the film and the special effects in creating worlds, visuals and creatures. But that alone should be your driver; if you are expecting some of the peaks of greatness that we have gotten in the MCU before, this, sadly, isn’t the film for you.
Spoilers from this point forward: To be incredibly blunt, this film feels like was the victim of a studio going “We have a few notes.” And that is frustrating as a viewer because there are some things that I wanted to see developed and advanced.
My guess is that if we had the first draft of this film, the core concept is around family, because the core heroes of the film is what we can come to see as The Ant-Man family. Obviously, we have the titular characters but we also have the aged Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas and Janet Van Dyne, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ant-Man’s daughter who seems to be a genius, with her own suit but still very raw in the superhero game. The core issue of the film is that Janet hasn’t discussed what happened to her years and years in the Quantum Realm before she was rescued, which includes the backstory of The Conqueror aka Kang, who, since she left, has completely taken over everything, destroying places and people wherever he goes. But it feels like the Marvel notes was “Wait, peel back some on the family thing; we have a Fantastic Four movie coming.” So, you get the necessary exposition scenes to set up Kang but other wise, the Wasp and her parents are sidelined until the big finale, minus some comedic scenes with Bill Murray.
And the thing is, if you are a hardcore Marvel fan, we’ve already been introduced to Kang in the fantastic Loki series, which is alluded to in one of the post credit endpoints. And the Kang in this film is ably played by Johnathan Majors. In some ways he is a frightening despot, a conqueror of various worlds across the multiverse. But his frightening, conqueror at all costs persona is offset because he is the Kang exiled by the other Kangs, who all seem to get along in the end credits scene where there was stadium full of them cheering for one another. Sure, a lot of Kangs seems scary but, if there are a lot of Kangs, there are a lot of Captain Americas and Hulks etc. as well, right? But the obvious main point of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is this multiverse (and Kang).
But that multiverse is starting to feel like the main thing that has been talked about so much that it is anticlimactic. It is as if in all the recent Marvel films, we get a scene that is supposed to be a grand reveal of the multiverse and the audience is now firmly into two camps, one which doesn’t get it and goes “Huh?” and one that goes, “Okay, Spider-Man or Scarlet Witch or Doctor Strange or Loki or Kang, we get it; there are multiple universes.” And, that doesn’t bode well because we still have 7 movies between this one and the conclusion of this phase, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, scheduled for May 2025. My hope is that they lay low with Kang until later, where it makes sense to use him; honestly, if there was no Kang reference until the Fantastic Four movie, where a universe hopping Richards family shows up, having chased him across the multiverse would be fine by me.
But that means you have to ignore the last end credits scene, where Loki and his handler from the television show seem to find Kang in the Victorian era, where Kang is running a stage show talking about Time.
Overall, there are some seeds of good things that don’t deliver in this film. And, without a doubt, the visual effects are amazing, and the creatures allow for some real Marvel Zombie moments. (When one of the D’bari shows up and is talked about…I started scanning the sky for Dark Phoenix.) And with Cassie’s powers and suit, it makes me more and more hopeful for an excellent Young Avengers film, which would be amazing. But I hope the next few films are unburdened of Kang and trying to set-up what is still 7 films away.