Friday, February 17, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

I hope you watched Loki.

Let me ask you an honest question: How much do you still care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Are you still wrapped up in this Phase’s ongoing storylines? Which current Avenger are you most excited to see in action? Who exactly are the Avengers these days? Despite the reliable box office receipts (a feat that grows less impressive in a thinning field of theatrical offerings), it’s hard to deny that Disney’s flagship franchise is in need of new energy if it hopes to regain anything near the cultural ubiquity it enjoyed in its heyday. My prediction that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ sheer ambition would be enough to solidify a base of ongoing mainstream interest was way off the mark, and with self-parodies like Thor: Love and Thunder, nostalgia trips like Spider-Man: No Way Home, and forgettable streaming content like Moon Knight filling out the rest of the first string lineup, there’s a real, tangible danger that Marvel’s omnipotence — once considered a generation-defining certainty — will begin to fade.
Either way, it’s a lot of pressure to put on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the third entry in what was once a delightfully-low stakes action/comedy series starring Paul Rudd as the titular pint-sized hero. You can forget about the heists and hijinx this time around, though — in fact, you can forget about Judy Greer, Bobby Canavale, Michael Peña, and most of the Earth-bound cast altogether — because Rudd’s Scott Lang and his partner (Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne) are now surfing the multiverse and its various timelines, incursions, and subatomic political revolutions. Frustrated with her dad’s growing disinterest in heroics, Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) begins exploring the Quantum realm, where Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) was once trapped before being rescued by her husband, original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Cassie’s signal triggers a portal — because Marvel — and our heroes soon find themselves in a tiny universe layers below our own.

That universe is ruled by Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), an alternate version of Loki antagonist He Who Remains. This Kang is an oppressive dictator who sees the Pym particle technology as his ticket out of the Quantum realm and back to destroying universes, the very tyranny that forced his variants — don’t ask questions, at least not yet — to exile him there to begin with. His transportation, a multiversal, space-dilating contraption best described as a “time throne,” is missing its core, and it’s only by threatening to execute Cassie that Kang is able to enlist Scott to retrieve it. Meanwhile, to defeat Kang and end his reign of Quantum terror, the rest of our heroes team up with warrior-queen Jentorra (Katy O’Brien), telepath Quaz (William Jackson Harper), goo man Veb (David Dastmalchian, returning to the series in a new role), and the haughty Lord Krylar (Bill Murray). These Quantum people are distrusting of Janet, however, whose secret Quantum past is revealed over the course of their Quantum journey.
Quantum mechanics aside, Peyton Reed’s third Ant-Man adventure is thin on ideas, a significant departure from Phase 4’s messy patchwork of tonal dissonance (Love and Thunder) and ramshackle plotting (Wakanda Forever). Instead, screenwriter Jeff Loveness (who will pen Avengers: The Kang Dynasty) delivers a streamlined caper that rarely stops to worry about trifles like character arcs or thematic resonance, content instead to have its heroes shoot, run, and fly their way through a colorful mass of CGI goop that makes the Star Wars prequels look tactile. A hero who can shrink to subatomic sizes should be able to do battle in subatomic worlds, of course — and floating-head assassins who spar with men made of broccoli are far more interesting than the numbing concrete aesthetic we put up with back in Captain America: Civil War — but it’s hard to invest in the ecology or texture of a world when our actors are clearly chasing tennis balls across a pop-up soundstage in a Best Buy parking lot.

But again, most of Quantumania’s cast is incidental — Evangeline Lilly has nothing to do; maybe the Wasp in the title refers to Michelle Pfeiffer? — as large swaths of screen time are dedicated to establishing Jonathan Majors’ fearsome Kang, who takes over Thanos’ place as the MCU’s chief antagonist. Majors brings more than enough gravitas to distract from Kang’s undersketched motivations, which we can only assume will be fleshed out in later installments. That’s all fine, by the way, as Quantumania continues to build on the esoteric comic book storytelling that really kicked off in Multiverse of Madness. That the film is designed solely to introduce a new series antagonist is not necessarily a strike against it — the MCU has been in desperate need of a coherent narrative direction for a few years now — it’s that so much of its action feels empty and unmotivated by character agency. It’s all wheel-spinning. Time-killing. Anyone else remember the moral quandaries of Civil War? Iron Man 3’s exploration of PTSD? Because I do.
And so we come back to the original question: How invested are you in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? If your answer is an eager “very,” then Quantumania is most certainly for you. It lays ample track for a crossover event that will finally bring together the New Avengers (whoever they are by 2025) and answer all the questions YouTube fanboys have been asking since the Mad Titan was snapped out of existence back in Avengers: Endgame. For the rest of us, though, the myriad timelines, variants, and parallel universes will be a difficult sell without characters who carry the depth and pathos of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Kevin Feige and his team have certainly earned the right to cater exclusively to their core, loyalist fanbase, and the buy-in for Disney’s unprecedented cinematic experiment can and should continue to be high. But as the first generation of moviegoers raised on the MCU ages out of its target audience demographic, they might consider telling the occasional human story to replace them.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in theaters now.


  1. I'm still a fan of the MCU. For all the grumbling these days of how bad phase 4 was, and how Marvel Studios has maybe lost its way, I think the Post-Endgame glow some were feeling has maybe caused people to remember the MCU's quality as being more consistent than it actually was. I'm not going to say that for every Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy, there was an Incredible Hulk, or Thor: Dark World, because it wasn't that balanced, but there have been a lot of Thor 1, Doctor Strange 1, Ant Man & Wasp, or Age of Ultrons, that were just ok.

    Reviewers seem to be in a bit of a quandary these days when it comes to reviewing MCU movies as with each new movie they seem to feel almost obligated to spend a lot of time reviewing the MCU as a franchise or as a formula. It's understandable due to the nature of the series and how connected everything is (although I'd argue in this case that Quantumania does not nearly seem to flow as directly out of Loki as one might expect). It's become in a lot of ways like reviewing episodes of the biggest budget TV series of all time, and how would one continue to go about that even as they lose interest in the show.

    For whatever it's worth, this is actually my favorite of the three Ant Man movies by far, as I found the first two largely forgettable. I don't think I can remember any individual scene of Ant Man & Wasp.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the movie!

    2. I enjoyed to about the same extent as I enjoyed Highlander III, The World is Not Enough, or [insert random Godzilla movie here]. It hasn't reached Highlander: The Source levels yet.

  2. Thanks for the review. Sounds like I should give it a miss. I do like Jonathan Majors, though - his 2022 movie, Devotion, has been really overlooked.

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  4. I checked out, it feels like homework now. And i hated Thor and Doctor Strange. I used to rush into articles like yours, but now i don't have that rush (and i love both ant-man movies). I'm the guy who watched most of them multiple times, got the bluray for all of them. Strangely enough, the one i prefer from the post-thanos era (era) is The Eternals. Which everybody hate, but is the most adults of the lot. Less cutesy sidekick critters.

  5. Does it say alot about my jet lag attitude towards the MCU, that I haven't seen any of the movies or Disney+ shows, post Avengers Endgame? Ive only seen Spider-Man: Far From Home (which I never saw until leading into the next) and No Way Home, (a great little epilogue for the MCU and the Raimi era aswell) Black Widow (super disappointing) and just the first three episodes of the Falcon and Winter Soldier (I gave up because I wanted to see other movies and shows)