Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania
Having helped save the world, Scott Lang/Ant-Man luxuriates in a happy life with partner Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), mentor Hank (Michael Douglas) and quantum explorer Janet (Michelle Pfeffer), as well as enjoying his newfound celebrity. When one of Cassie’s experiments in contacting the quantum realm goes awry, Scott and his family find themselves transported to a fantastical world, one ruled by the megalomaniacal Kang (Jonathan Majors), a multiversal traveller seeking escape.
I think I can officially say that I burnt out on the MCU, at least when it comes to cinemas. Thor: Love And Thunder was a potent turn in quality for the larger franchise and this, combined with the never-ending unloading of new films at a rate of about three a year, the inevitable increase in their running time and a sense that there’s nothing new for me to see that would motivate to not wait a few months for cheaper streaming options has seen me give Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 a miss in cinemas. I simply can’t seem to muster the energy or the commitment any more, not when there will be a chance to watch these behemoths in digestible chunks own the line. The quality of Wakanda Forever only justified the decision for me: a near three hour string of incoherency, balancing a deadly serious narrative on grief, succession and those left behind with another about King Merman and his army of Mermen trying to take over the world, or something. I only saw that in the new year, hence why Quantumania is my first chance to articulate some thoughts on the current state of the MCU.
And it is grim. There have been MCU films I’ve disliked before – Iron Man 3, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Eternals, the aforementioned Love And Thunder – but I wouldn’t say I flat-out hated any of them really, or thought they were irredeemable. Quantumania is the moment I hit that point with the MCU. This film really is a disaster in my eyes, a production that features some of the worst issues that have come to plague the MCU and then adds in some new ones, just for you. Coming as it does with the same cast and production crew that made the excellent initial offering of Ant-Man and the acceptable if somewhat humdrum Ant-Man And The Wasp, it’s a serious and deeply concerning comedown.
Lets go through it bit-by-bit then. The plot is nothing to write home about here, little more than proof that Peyton Reed, or maybe the puppetmasters at Disney, are big fans of Star Wars, Watchmen and Dune. The tropes and the cliches pile-up and up, and by the time you get to the films’ own version of the Mos Eisley cantina, you’ll be rolling your eyes. By the time you get to the plucky rebels facing off against stormtroopers, they’ll probably have fallen out of your head. Beings that exist outside of linear time, a desert uprising with lots of weird characters, super MacGuffins and a race against time: we’ve all been here before, and so many times.
But you could get past that, you really could, it’s just that Quantumania doesn’t do anything with the associated parts to make it all worthwhile. This is a very humdrum adventure, one where the effort to place the father/daughter relationship of Scott and Cassie at the centre just doesn’t do it: it doesn’t really help that Cassie comes off an insufferable “do-something” do-gooder throughout, whose obsession with violently helping everyone she comes across, and damn anyone possibly thinking more long-term, is perhaps meant to make her appeal to a certain modern demographic. Father Scott, who likes to take a step back and consider how helping the motley collection of quantum rebels will affect his primary goal of getting his daughter and family home, is portrayed as an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy, who should be less worried about his daughter getting arrested for stealing a police car and more about how his autobiography is lessening his appeal. Quantumania makes me feel like a old man for thinking there’s a better solution for a homelessness problem then getting into a consequence-free scrap with police, and that’s a weird feeling when you finish a MCU movie.
The tonal issues that have been a problem in the larger franchise for years now are so painfully evident in Quantumania that it actually feels like a bit of a watershed moment. The constant dichotomy of life-threatening peril/low brow jokes and quips has rarely been as bad, and not just because it’s an attempt once again to mix oil with water: this time the jokes are bad, written poorly and delivered lamely, as if the cast themselves just don’t really buy into the action-comedy efforts anymore. Love And Thunder was probably worse on this score I suppose, since it went from extreme to extreme way too quickly, but Quantumania gives it a run for its money: it’s difficult as hell to get invested in Bill Murray’s character as an unexpected Quisling when he’s matching his villainy with clunky efforts to flirt wit Pfeffer’s character while gulping down a living quantum squid, or something. None of it works: not as the establishment of an antagonist, not as witty humour, not as gross-out humour. The faux-feeling sentimentality of the major plot points and the over-reliance on repeated jokes of diminishing returns certainly don’t come as a surprise from a script from Jeff Loveness, one of the main writers of Rick And Morty, a series that has faux-feeling sentimentality and over-reliance on jokes of diminishing returns as its main selling points.
Murray’s involvement itself is symptomatic of the film’s cast problem. The charm of Paul Rudd has never been as weak in the MCU as it is here, caught as he is in routinely butting heads with Cassie, with Newton doing as well as she can with an terribly written character. Pfeffer is probably the pick of the cast, still relatively new to the MCU I suppose, and trying to sell the quantum realm as a place worthy of awe and horror, but she’s let down badly by a somnambulant Douglass, who very clearly wants off the Marvel train, and a Lilly who is relegated so much in terms of screentime and narrative importance that I’m surprised they had her character’s name on the marquee. Pointless extended cameos of various actors – the aforementioned Murray, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper – litter the running time, none of them able to really do much with the material, with Murray especially wasted: one wonders if his part wasn’t cut down bigtime in post given the recent allegations.
From there we have to talk about the actual villains of the piece, namely Jonathan Majors’ Kang and, sigh, Corey Stoll’s MODOK. I’ve seen Majors’ performance described as a huge saving grave of the film, and I just don’t see it: it’s an interesting character for sure, but Majors’ performance isn’t a patch on his turn in Devotion from later in the year: he’s just another bland Marvel bad guy there to occasionally monologue and claim to be the good guy, all evidence to the contrary. By the time we get to the mid-credits scene and a truly laughable introduction to the multiverse of Kangs (another Rick And Morty nod, or so it seems to me), he’s lost all sense of charisma or charm. Someone needed to tell him that delivering his dialogue in a sombre tone and occasionally pausing in the middle of a thought isn’t enough. His interactions with Rudd were cringey throughout, mirroring the similarly awful exchanges between Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill and Lee Pace’s Ronin in Guardians Of The Galaxy: a grimdark villain written to be as dour as possible, so he makes the plucky underdog hero look even more colourful.
Oh, but MODOK though. Talk about a trifecta of suck: a total waste of Stoll, especially egregious after his Yellowjacket was pretty much the worst part of the original Ant-Man; a total waste of one of the iconic Marvel villains, who deserved a lot more; and just about some of the worst, God-awful CGI I have ever seen used on an individual character. We have to acknowledge the state of the CGI industry within the Disney behemoth when it comes to this stuff, with over-worked and underpaid artists not exactly super motivated or simply able, to craft the kinds of things that are required for this sort of idea. Add on a reprehensible and unearned redemptive arc, and it all combines up to an unpalatable stew of awfulness, that drags Quantumania down a whole level all on its own.
Visually, I was struck watching Quantumania on how it seems to have become a requirement of the MCU films that their settings be as fantastical as possible, embracing the cosmic, the Lovecraftian or just the bizarre depending on what word you want to use. It’s not enough to be Earthbound now, you have to have an underwater kingdom where up is down in Wakanda Forever, or a heap of unique alien worlds in Love And Thunder or, in this case, a universe within a universe where you have free rein to have slug horses and broccoli heads and living planes and men with lasers for heads, or something. The MCU appears to have gotten a bit obsessed with this kind of spectacle, and it no longer really works for me: despite the efforts to craft unique landscapes, the increasingly hollow feel of the CGI matched with the humdrumness of the script and story, means that it just doesn’t stand out to me the way that it used to. It’s now feels more like some sub-par AI-generated fickleness. I will take the most bargain bin depiction of a skyscraper filled city as a backdrop for my superhero drama, if it comes with better characters and better narrative than Quantumania deigns to present.
Quantumania is a massive disappointment, coming as it does after two far superior entries in this particular trilogy. The MCU films seem undoubtedly to be on a downward swing now, with several poor entries to the canon in a row, with this just the latest. The “real world” issues with Jonathan Majors may yet make this backdoor effort to introduce him as the new big bad of the MCU a pointless exercise, so there really may not be anything left to recommend it soon enough. It’s a dire effort: a poor story, a poor script, a cast that doesn’t seem especially motivated and some visual effects that put a new meaning on “Must be seen to be believed”. Maybe the MCU’s tilt to television should have more of a focus going forward. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).