ANT-MAN AND WASP: QUANTUMANIA
(*1/2)-VITO CARLI

"...a failure on almost every level."

Evidence of MCUís Shrinking Returns

(031723) In his poem "The Oven Bird", Robert Frost pondered what to make of a diminished thing. Although the poem was written in 1916, it could just as well have been written as a response to Disney's recent offerings of their Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). For a long time, this feeling of diminishment has felt true of most new Marvel TV/Disney+ programs and their related film projects. Even the misfires like Iron Man 2 and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron had redeemable elements and were relatively decent genre films.

Working ones way through the current Phase of films (4?, 5? who can remember) seems more like an exercise of obligation rather than an entertainment experience. Put another way: some say bad sex is better that no sex-I feel like Disney is testing that theory in Quantumania. With the recent spate of Marvel productions they are increasingly reliant on "D list" characters few care about stepping up to be replacements of iconic heroes their Universe was founded on (the quirky Moon Knight and the delightfully macabre Werewolf by Night being exceptions.) Thor: Love and Thunder failed to balance its action and comedy competently offering us one of the worst film depictions of the Greek gods I have ever seen. Failing on all levels was the She Hulk TV show,  utterly disappointing as a comedy, a legal drama or as a 4th wall breaking/self aware superhero film. Now, Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania arrives and it is perhaps the weakest, most aggravating and bloated film in the series (although I skipped Eternals because the previews looked so bad). Unlike previous Ant Man films it is neither humorous nor exciting. Although the film clocked in at only two hours it felt like I had sat through a film twice that long. Also, all the best scenes (which tend to be comedic) are already in the previews, and this film is as much of a relentless downer as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

The cool thing about Scott Lang/Ant Man in previous films was he was never a natural or likely warrior like Thor or a Wakandan king or a stone-cold genius; he was just an underperforming regular guy the audience could identify with-much like Ash in the Evil Dead films. Now that his redemption arc is over and he is a respectable hero, he has become a bit of bore (albeit a still likeable one). Also, the character is best used interacting with other more experienced, impressive, and well known heroes as a foil or fighting medium level foes like Ghost. This film completely misuses a character that has a proven track record of having much more juice-after this film I am not sure I want to ever see this character again.

But the main reason why the film fails so completely is that this is not really an Ant Man film or even arguably a film. Quantumania comes off primarily a MCU marketing exercise film featuring Scott Lang and his extended Ant-family. It was not designed to tell an individual good story that play to main characterís strengths, nor does it exist to use the Ant Man character well with a villain that is a good match for him. Kang the Conqueror being a better foe for the Fantastic Four, the whole Avengers, or maybe all of the MCU heroes combined. With his futuristic tech and armor, Kang should be able to obliterate the whole Ant-family in a few seconds-like insects.

Director Peyton Reed, whose efforts actually elevated the material in
Ant-Man and Ant Man II does what he can with a script that does no one any favors. It is so big and so grandiose and complicated with so many characters that the special qualities of Ant Man are lost. The filmís Quantum realm seems heavily borrowed from one of the many Star Wars world's, and everyone including the cast forgetting the realm (and film) was supposed to be fun. With so many characters, Ant Man is like a guest star in his own film, and thereís no reason why the MCU needs so many characters with similar insect powers.

The film starts off showing us some updates in the Ant Man clan. The former Baskin Robbins employee Ant Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has written a celebrity bio about his Infinity War and has become a somewhat well known celebrity (although one man confuses him with Spider-Man). The rest of the clan are portrayed by such well known retuning actors such as Michael Douglas (as Hank Pym), Michelle Pfeifer (as the first Wasp: Janet Pym) and Evangeline Lilly (as the new Wasp: Hope Van Dyne). Rarely have I seen such an assortment of fine acting talent so utterly wasted. Pfeiffer and Douglas were both top actors of the 80s and 90s in films considerably weightier than this.

They are joined by Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang, Scottís daughter, who has social activist tendencies and sees her formally socially conscious dad as a complacent sell out. The conflict between Cassie and her dad is somewhat predictable and not particularly fresh or engaging-they could be any "out of touch" father/ "woke" daughter trope. She manages to shake things up in the family and in her spare time builds a scientific apparatus that traps her family in the quantum realm. She's little more than a deus ex machina plot device.

The only thing that livens up the proceedings is the introduction of a truly monumental villain, Kang the Conqueror (Lovecraft Country's Jonathan Majors). Kang the Conqueror was imprisoned by the Time Lords (no relation to the Dr.Who characters) and when his ally Janet Pym sees what he has in store for the future she leaves him stranded in the Quantum Realm which he has conquered and expanded since her departure.

Bill Murray also has a not particularly important/"special guest star" role in the film as Janetís former paramour who helps give the Ant-gang the low down info dump on Kang. From the way he and Jan interact, it is clear that at one time they had an affair which she would rather forget. Murray exists as just another way to marginalize and humiliate Hank Pym who is a truly important character in Marvel Comics but almost an after thought here. In the comics he and Janet Pym were founding members of  the Avengers and they were integral in some of the teamís most important storylines. What has been done to his character here and im previous MCU appearances can be seen as character abuse.

I know that many people will see anything that takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to see the seeds of what will grow later on, and this film does (like the Loki Disney+ series) point the way to upcoming Kang projects which will hopefully be better. But viewers who have not seen the dozens of shows that make up the MCU or have not read years of comics will find this film almost impossible to follow. Without its connection to the MCU this film would have no reason to exist, and it completely fails to give us an interesting individual story that can stand on its own. Except in its portrayal of Kang (Majors seems incapable of playing an uninteresting character) this film is a failure on almost every level.
 

Directed by:    Peyton Reed
Written by:    Screenplay by John Loveness, Based on the
 Marvel Comics characters
Starring:    Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Kathryn Newton
Released:    02/06/23 (USA)
Length:    124 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG13 for violence and strong language
Available On:    At press time playing at local theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

ANT-MAN AND WASP: QUANTUMANIA © 2023 Walt Disney Films
Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

 

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