By Noah Mintie, Current Staff
The third Ant-Man movie is a big disappointment for a small superhero.
“Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” was released Friday, and to many’s surprise, returning director Peyton Reed dropped the ball on one of the simplest Marvel series. Critical reception has been harsh, and fans are disappointed. What went wrong?
The original “Ant-Man” (2015) was a simple, fun, and engaging superhero/heist movie full of heart, containing a wholesome theme about second chances. It wasn’t a masterpiece that shook up the genre, but it brought enough fun to the table to set it apart from the vast majority of superhero movies. Three years later, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” changed things up. No longer a heist, this sequel was a larger-than-life action/adventure superhero flick packed to the brim with witty humor and high stakes. Was it as good as the first? No, but it still carried that “Ant-Man charm,” with a heartfelt theme and snappy jokes that landed more often than not.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is none of these things. It lacks the core identity of the Ant-Man films, retconning previous movies while adding nothing to the table. It lacks witty humor, heartful morals or any sort of payoff. Returning characters have been fridged or forgotten, and new characters have tired, played-out arcs or are uninteresting. It could be left at that, but in order to further understand the downfall of “Quantumania” and the MCU as a whole, let’s take a look at specific points of this movie.
The “Good Stuff”
As much as “Quantumania” fails, it should, of course, be noted that no movie lacks any good qualities, and this movie does still bring a lot to the table. For one, the worldbuilding is very strong. The Quantum Realm doesn’t feel like just another CGI pit of sci-fi schlock. Its color palette, oranges and yellows contrasted with the villain’s harsh electric blue technology, is visually fantastic. It is about the only good-looking visual effect in the whole movie. The different societies built in this setting are each distinct from one another, yet still share a unique style that feels separate from other Marvel properties. There are also several scenes that add fantastic new ideas to the MCU, such as one in particular that explores the concept of existing in a theoretical state.
The movie’s score is good as well, though not quite a standout compared to others in the genre. The acting is also decent for the most part, and there are standouts. Paul Rudd’s performance isn’t as good as in previous MCU films, but he still solidly portrays the “lame dad” persona of Scott Lang with jovial energy. Micheal Douglas still kills the role of Hank Pym, a sassy and sadistic take on the “old mentor” trope. While Jonathan Majors’ Kang is not as compelling as his portrayal in 2021’s “Loki,” this is more the fault of the writing than the acting. Regardless, he still brings a commanding presence to the role of Marvel’s Crazed Conqueror.
Beyond this, “Quantumania” fails to contain much else of note. Further traits of the movie range from mediocre to downright awful, so here they are.
Why So Serious?
If the Ant-Man series could be best described in one sentence, it would look something like this: A superhero/comedy series filled with witty humor and feel-good energy that explores the world from a small person’s perspective, figuratively and literally. Notice that of all the things to include, the first mentioned is comedy. The Ant-Man movies are undeniably funny. Yes, humor is subjective, but Ant-Man’s humor stems from its down-to-earth relatability, broad appeal, physical comedy and witty jokes. There was a healthy mix of all of these things in the first two movies.
This movie? Not so much. There’s an over-reliance on one type of humor: quippy jokes. Having a character make snarky remarks all of the time for comedic purpose kills any rising tension. In this movie, the quips don’t always get in the way of dramatic tension (with a few tone-deaf exceptions), but they are too repetitive to be funny, either. This creates long pauses where the audience is supposed to laugh, but it’s just an empty void. Quips are funny in moderation, but the same kind of joke eight times? Even Paul Rudd’s excellent timing can’t save these jokes from being worth only a shrug. The thing is, if the only bad thing about this movie was that it wasn’t funny, that wouldn’t make it a bad movie. Unfortunately, bad jokes are not the only things that drag it down.
Executing the Execution
You could write the greatest movie of all time, and if it was poorly executed, it would still flop. Editing, visual effects, cinematography and setpieces play vital roles in the way movies are made. If any one of these things is sub-par, it significantly drags down the movie and the emotions it tries to convey to the audience. It’s a shame then that “Quantumania” fails to deliver on all of these fronts.
Let’s start with the editing. Scenes are cut together in strange, seemingly random ways that make viewing a little disorienting. There is one scene in particular where this really stands out, a scene where characters are walking through what appears to be a forest of sorts, and it cuts away to a different scene. Then it cuts back to the same characters, except they’re in an entirely new biome. While watching the movie it feels as though a transition scene is missing. Little moments like this are present all throughout the movie, especially in the first half.
At least the editing isn’t quite as poor as the CGI. To say it plainly, the visual effects range from okay to atrocious. There have been several allocations in the past regarding overworked, under-paid employees in Marvel’s visual effects department, stating that they were rushed into producing things more quickly then they’d like. This ultimately leads the MCU products to feel more cheap and fake. “Quantumania” is one of the movies to fall victim to this issue. The visual effects (on one character especially) look rubbery and fake, feeling like this movie had an exceedingly low budget when that’s anything but the case.
Cinematography and setpieces in this movie are both seemingly neglected. The shots are never dynamic or interesting like other MCU properties of the past, and are shown in strange ways that make characters feel like they were shot in different rooms. Conversations are usually just generic Camera A-Camera B over the shoulder shots, and during action scenes the camera rarely moves. The cinematography just bounces between generic and incomprehensible.
The set pieces are mostly CGI and while they’re just about the only thing to look amazing, the camera never really appreciates that by viewing a full landscape. It’s just the green-screened wallpaper to whatever characters are doing. Characters hardly ever interact with their surroundings in a meaningful way, so they might as well just be trapped in a big corn field and it wouldn’t change much of the story.
The Writing Problem
So yes, the execution of this movie is messy and nonunique. But what about the concepts? The script is half the battle, right? Yes, it is, and “Quantumania”’s is as bland and tasteless as a rice cake.
Many attribute the MCU’s success to its larger-than-life action, but the true hook that keeps people coming back is its ability to get the public so attached to its characters. Some fans only watch the movies because they like one character and want to see their development! This is what good writing does for the MCU, so a strong script should be the #1 priority. If it was the first priority in “Quantumania,” it sure doesn’t show.
Starting with dialogue, all of the characters talk in the same sort of manner with few exceptions. For the most part, the cookie-cutter lines are entirely interchangeable. In previous movies, Hank Pym had a very distinct, sadistic tone. It was a spin on the usual “wise mentor” trope, but all of his sarcastic energy is thrown to the wind in favor of painfully normal lines. Each character has generic, boring dialogue and it’s written in a predictable way. Generic movie lines are prevalent and expository dialogue is the most common type.
Character motivations are also really weak. Ant-Man himself has an okay arc, but when it comes to the other essential characters, cracks begin to show. The Wasp, a crucial character from the other movies, hardly says or does anything at all. She could be removed from the story and nothing would remotely change, and she is a central character to these movies! Hank’s wife Janet rarely does anything that isn’t just spewing expository dialogue about the quantum realm.
The only other developed character is the main villain. Kang has appeared once before in the MCU. In the Disney+ show “Loki,” Kang is brilliantly set up to be an evil mastermind, but in reality he subverts the audience’s expectations by being portrayed as a friendly, relaxed “cool guy.” That distinct energy is gone here, as he just plays another mustache-twirling cartoon villain. Not awful, just underwhelming. That’s a basic summary of the writing of this movie in general. Too disappointing to be good, but too passable to be bad.
‘Avengers 5′ Trailer: The Movie
In the end, the MCU has been steadily getting more and more hatred over the last few years for prioritizing profit and future film setup over making movies that are good on their own. “Quantumania” reinforces this sentiment by making a movie with no unique appeal, no purpose other than to get talked about for a week and make millions in that time. “Quantumania” will fall into the obsolete corners of Disney+ and be rarely thought about again. Even the most hardcore fans who enjoy the movie won’t remember it the way they do previous films.
The movie itself leaves no resounding impact on the greater MCU. The status quo of the universe is relatively untouched, save for a few loose ends that only really exist to set up the next major MCU villain. The characters remain the same, making this a yet another piece of skippable Marvel mediocrity.
Let’s hope that this April director James Gunn can change our minds about the MCU with “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3.”
(Images are official publicity material.)