Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania – Review
Reviewed and Written by Jan.
Here we go: Phase 5! Much is riding on this next chapter of the MCU after phase 4 didn’t exactly set the movie world on fire – to put it mildly. After two years of cringe (except for No Way Home which was produced by Sony), the MCU is in dire need of another hit. It will have to wait a while longer though. Quantumania is pure cinematic sludge, just as its predecessors. Before we get into the details of Ant-Man’s third solo outing, here's two general problems with the MCU which are as relevant to Quantumania as they were for most of phase 4’s content.
First: Too much content being produced at the same time – Disney running their own animation, Pixar, Star Wars, and the MCU – will inevitably stretch thin their resources. And boy, did they pump out content in the last two to three years. Meanwhile, there’s just a few FX studios in Hollywood who can do this kind of work, and they’re overworked and underpaid. The result: The CGI lacks the polish it needs to add up to an immersive on-screen world. This was the case in phase 4 and it’s the same with Quantumania – some of these blue screen copy/paste jobs are just embarrassing to watch. Especially after the refined FX work of Avatar – The Way Of Water, lightyears ahead of the MCU. And that’s not because FX artists are bad at their craft. That’s because Marvel/Disney is a f*cked up employer who crunches these workers to infinity and back.
Second: By now, these movies and shows almost all go into production without finished scripts. Yes, there is some stone cold classics that had this problem too. But these are rare exceptions that work not because of the shooting chaos but despite it. The disregard for script work at Marvel these days is preposterous – just listen to screenwriter Michael Waldron (Loki, Strange 2) explain how things went down on Strange 2 in the official (!) Making Of on D+. They had a script ready and threw it in the trash weeks before production (probably because of other projects being reshuffled around Strange 2), forcing Waldron to come up with something new in under a month. The new draft was mostly discarded too. So he had to make up the story up as they shot, having to connect already pre-vizzed and finalized setpieces. That’s why Strange 2 is so full of blatant contrivances and contradictions. Similar stuff happened on other phase 4 products.
And it’s the case once more with Quantumania, which was heavily reshot and re-edited until days before release. The result was to be expected: The movie is unable to build up to a larger dramatic or thematic point. It glosses over important character work and conflict while zig-zagging through a series of tangential side plots without emotional resonance or even consequence for the MCU’s phase 5 worldbuilding. Poor Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). He deserved better.
The movie kicks off with Scott enjoying some new-found celebrity fame and free time, with no world-ending threat around the corner at the moment. Meanwhile, his teen daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) gets herself into jail for shrinking a cop car at a demonstration that has something to do with the Blip. Yes, that thing the MCU just isn’t interested in exploring, except for Falcon & Winter Soldier. But even that show couldn’t come up with any solutions to the problem of homelessness in the wake of 4 billion people returning to Earth all of a sudden after 5 years. „You gotta do better, Senator!“ It appears the Senator didn’t to better and all of that conflict is still going on at the beginning of Quantumania. I’m really disappointed in that Senator.
Scott gets Cassie out of jail and the social unrest theme never comes up again. But that’s not all Cassie is up to: With the help of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) she has been building a Quantum Hubble Telescope to map out the Quantum Realm. It appears there’s a lot of genius kids in the MCU these days. When Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) – along with Scott and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) – learns what Cassie is up to, she almost suffers a heart attack: Cassie shouldn’t have sent a signal to the Quantum Realm since there’s danger lurking there. What kind of danger? Janet never cared to inform anyone about that after she returned. Oh well. Remember when at the end of Ant-Man 2, she sent Scott back into the Quantum Realm to gather healing particles? It didn’t seem to be a concern for her just a few movies ago. Screw basic continuity though, right?
And she doesn’t explain herself now either. Because before she can do that, the machine opens a portal and sucks Scott & his family into the Quantum Realm. In for some nice psychedelia? Look elsewhere! Quantumania’s Quantum Realm is a bore. Things down there are mostly like they are here on Earth. There’s humans (even though they don’t know the term human – very clever) who eat, drink, sleep, sh*t, think and behave pretty much like us. Some of them got broccoli on their shoulders instead of normal heads – basically your regular Mos Eisley Cantina crowd. Other than that, things are quite normal. Language barriers aren’t a problem either since they got a universal translator (in this case: a slimy juice you have to drink). Oh, and some folks live in „living houses“ and they wonder: Are houses dead where Scott comes from? It’s like a Rick & Morty joke that doesn’t work because of course there is dead houses in the Quantum Realm too. Like the entire capitol city where an evil dictator resides (more on him in a bit).
None of that is by any means stranger than what we’ve seen in, well, Doctor Strange. Or in the Guardians films. Or in Infinity War. I’d say less so. And it makes me wonder: Wasn’t the Quantum Realm supposed to be this terrifying void where – in case your tech malfunctioned – you shrink forever until your consciousness is put out like a torch in the ocean?
How is there drinkable water in Quantumania’s new Quantum Realm if you already went sub-atomic to get there – way smaller than a water molecule? And how come Janet was missing there for 30 years and aged 30 years, whereas Scott was lost in it for 5 years but aged only 5 hours? The movie has a handy explanation: This new Quantum Realm is actually under the old Quantum Realm (the void) and it‘s a place outside of time and space. You might say: The new Quantum Realm which exists outside of space is somehow (spatially) underneath the old Quantum Realm which contains both a place still adjacent to time and space (where the tardigrades live) as well as a place outside of time and space (the void). Got it? It all makes perfect sense. Doesn’t it?
Anyhow, Scott & the fam need to get back home. But there’s a problem: If they do manage that, their ride home will most likely be hijacked by our new villain Kang (Jonathan Majors). Kang has been trapped in the new Quantum Realm below the old Quantum Realm and all he wants is to escape. Since he couldn’t up until now, he spent his time conquering the place. It seems the new Quantum Realm isn’t that big. Rather Earth-like, with a wide-stretching military empire in place and Kang on top as some kind of cruel Roman Emperor. And that’s all there is to Kang. Majors is charismatic but other than that, Kang belongs down there with Malekith, Ronan, and Ultron in the „underwritten evilmen who want to destroy everything“ ditch. Don’t buy the hype: Kang is nowhere near as interesting as Killmonger, Thanos, Loki, Vulture, or Wenwu.
At this point, the movie has basically forgotten about Scott. Quantumania is not his story. He’s just along for the ride. The middle section of the movie is focused on what Janet was up to in her 30 years down there, what she had to do with Kang’s rise to power, and whether she f*cked a Quantum dude (she did, and it was Bill Murray). Hank of course doesn’t take this well – finally, some actual character drama? A conflict for them to solve one way or the other?
Nah, just kidding. The movie forgets about it quickly afterwards and re-focuses on Cassie leading a revolution of random Quantum people who have been oppressed by Kang. Then Hank stumbles upon a colony of super-advanced, mutated ants. And then these ants defeat Kang (what an Avengers-level threat he was). And then the gang returns home. And then the movie is over.
Almost. There is a mid-credits scene in which other Kang variants from the multiverse hear about our Kang’s demise and pitch to one another the idea of kicking the Avengers‘ asses. I guess they’re comics accurate… which means that one of them basically looks like Fu Manchu. And that is pretty funny, considering the MCU has avoided racist Asian stereotypes since Iron Man 3’s subversive take on the Mandarin, until his re-invention as Wenwu in Shang-Chi. But I guess we’re throwing all careful consideration out the window now, since with this Kang variant we get the full-on, old school Ancient Chinese Wizard from ‚yellow peril‘ times. Somewhat strangely though it seems that woke audiences haven’t taken issue with this. So far. Instead they seem to adore this movie about a "white family trying to keep a black guy eternally imprisoned!"
Also, there’s MODOK. I just want to forget about MODOK.
And that concludes Disney’s Kevin Feige’s Marvel’s Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. After Loki and this, we’re two Kangs down and I could do without a third. Oh well. There’ll probably be a dozen more Kangs until we’re all the way through Secret Wars. I do wonder whether the MCU will manage to put out at least one more good film until then.