Movie Review: ANT-MAN and THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. The MCU opens Phase V as it ended Phase IV: formulaic, underwhelming product that replaces the human element with CGI and uninteresting characters



So begins “Phase V” of the MCU, after Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Fiege said – in a way – that phase IV didn’t hit the target. If this newest entry is anything to go by, the MCU isn’t getting back on track for a long time, if at all. For me it continued the trajectory of mediocrity that started right after Avengers: Endgame’s credits rolled. There are so many things wrong with Quantumania it’s hard to determine what’s the worst part, and I didn’t find one great thing about it.

Which is too bad, because I like Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang a lot. He’s been the MCU comic relief since 2015, but that’s not all he is – he’s the everyman in a world of hyper-powered superhumans and – increasingly, monotonously – teenage hypergeniuses, a guy that most of us can relate to. He’s the most Paul Ruddest character in the entire MCU, and boy, does this bloated franchise need that.

Do you remember Iron Man? You remember how grounded it was in a world still recognizable as our own? Same goes for the early adventures of Captain America and Thor (well, mostly). Those days are long gone now, to the point where saving the world is the main plotline of just about every new entry in the franchise. Everything has gotten bigger, the stakes higher and higher and higher. Saving the world just becomes an abstract concept, because it’s clear that the people in that world, the humans with their lives and loves and hopes and fears, are no longer a real part of the MCU anymore, only in the sense “the human race” must be saved. MCU movies boil down to primal elements, the simplistic black and white battle between good and evil, but the human drama has been leeched out of these movies so much that watching them is more like watching a sports event, with one team you kinda root for, even though they don’t feel like your team.

Sure, Quantumania has some human drama, but it’s weak and perfunctory, thrown in just because leaving it out would make the movies even phonier than they are. The Langs and the Van Dynes make some cute(ish) family jokes, and Scott pays lip service to wanting to make sure daughter Cassie doesn’t follow his path … which is to be a famous superhero, now author. There are worse paths to follow in the MCU, sure. Outside of this light “family” banter, there’s nothing resembling true humanity in the MCU these days, it’s reduced to lame jokes and Conflict 101.

Ok look, I get it; the MCU doesn’t exist on the same plane as Kramer v Kramer, but there’s no reason emotional depth can’t happen in these stories. Marvel Studios knows how much a movie needs to make in order to break even, and 90% of budget is spent on cramming as much CGI through the viewers’ eyeballs ad it can for between two and three hours. The problem now is that tactic is wearing thin. I still think people go to the movies not just to be thrilled by action and effects, but by people they can relate to, in stories where things actually matter. Almost nothing matters in superhero movies any more, and I really felt this in Quantumania, just like in Multiverse of Madness and Love and Thunder.

In Quantumania, our five main characters are whisked off to the Quantum Realm, a place that should feel weird and mysterious, given that’s how it been described. But now, it turns out to be more like one of the Star Wars prequels, overly rendered CGI landscapes and cities, with a whole range of different species interacting in a hub. In short, it’s EVERYTHING we’ve seen before. It’s lazy, like no thought has gone towards making Ant Man 3 something the least bit interesting. There’s no kind of distinction made as to what a microverse would be like – now, that’s not exactly ripping on the MCU, because in the comics, it’s not so hugely different from regular old Earth either. There was a classic run of The Incredible Hulk, where he has to get zapped by a shrinking ray and injected into the brain of Major Talbot, a rival of Bruce Banner. The Hulk shrinks, has an adventure, then shrinks some more, to have other adventures, in places that aren’t crazy unfamiliar. I read these stories as a kid. As an adult I expect a lot more.

A lot’s been made about Jonathan Majors’ turn as Kang, but the character did nothing for me. I really like Majors – he’s got talent and presence in buckets, but in Quantumania, he’s (lol) reduced by the stuff going on around him. Apparently he’s a conqueror and not a nice guy to be around, but we’re only told how the other inhabitants of the Quantum Realm suffer under him. We never see it. We don’t see beings on the brink of starvation, dying from disease, rampant violence and subjugation. Instead, there’s a by-the-numbers “rebellion” subplot, that only needs a few lines of inspirational cliches from daughter Cassie to get everyone to take up arms, and when they do, Kang doesn’t exactly seem unstoppable. His motivations are kind of vague too – sure, he wants to destroy entire timelines. I guess that’s bad, but I don’t know why it means so much to him. At least with Thanos, you had a reasonably altruistic reason for annihilating half the population of the universe. With Kang, I was feeling he’s a bad guy, because, well, he’s a bad guy. Majors is a great actor, but the character of Kang and the frankly awful script, gives him nothing of any substance to work with, and the second end credits scene is just terrible. I’d heard it was epic, so I guess that’s what happens when you allow your own standards of what makes a great movie to be influenced by the MCU’s already fallen standards.

As I mentioned before, the Ant Man movies were the lighter fare of the franchise, and comedy has always been a big element, and most of it worked. Trying to inject that kind of goofy humour into a movie that clearly wants to be one of the more serious instalments in the franchise results in some painfully unfunny moments in the form of the appearances of MODOK, played by Corey Stoll (Yellowjacket from the first Ant-Man movie). This is a character I could have done without, and turns out, so could the entire movie. It was as if the writers pondered a way to keep the funny in the Ant-Man series, and MODOK was the first – and last – idea they had.

It really feels that the MCU is running out of gas. They’re writing their ideas on a balloon, and as it expands, those ideas become thinner and weaker, much less interesting. I’m a fan of the good old days before Endgame, and I hope that new life can be breathed into it. Unfortunately, Quantumania doesn’t even try to do anything exciting or different. It’s just another end product, another instalment, nothing more.


© Andrew Hope, 2023


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