Marvel has amassed a huge fanbase, and Kevin Feige and co. have crafted a form of episodic storytelling over the course of multiple movies and TV shows. Going by the box office returns and the viewership; literally, millions of people are hooked on this particular franchise. But, post “Avengers: Endgame,” some folks have been getting off the proverbial bandwagon and critiquing Marvel’s products based on their subjective opinions about the state of entertainment. Now, this minor shift has been labeled as “superhero fatigue.” Hardcore fans have said that all the negative comments are coming from individuals who are being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. Some big-brained geniuses have even said that the increase in diversity, in terms of stories and actors, is the reason behind the pessimism. But have you all considered the possibility that Feige’s focus on quantity is leading to a decrease in quality? Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of saying that the latest installment in this exhausting series, Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” is colossally awful.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” opens with Kang (Jonathan Majors) landing in the Quantum Realm when Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) was trapped in there for around 30 years. In the present, we find out that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is living a happy and peaceful life with his daughter Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton). Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet share the same roof along with Scott’s girlfriend, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Cassie has become a rebel and a scientist who has invented a device that works as a telescope into the quantum realm. Kang picks up on this activity and pulls them in. The group gets separated into two, with Scott and Cassie on the one hand and Hope, Janet, and Hank on the other. As shown in the trailers, Kang gets to Scott and Cassie and threatens to kill Cassie if Scott doesn’t do his bidding. Since Janet is aware of Kang’s ulterior motives, they make a mad dash to Kang’s empire in order to stop him from breaking the very fabric of space and time.
Marvel isn’t in the business of telling stories. They are in the business of selling action figures. That’s why you have so many characters wearing brand-new but hideous-looking costumes frolicking around to pad the runtime. Think about it: “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is just about Scott and Cassie. Scott regrets that he hasn’t watched Cassie grow up like a father usually does. Cassie is kind of all over the place because she is in this crazy world with superheroes, and she’s the daughter of Ant-Man; hence, she wants to make a difference. But the moment Kang comes into the picture, their personal journeys are thrown into jeopardy again, and they’re forced to save the universe and have some father-daughter time in the process. That’s what’s at the core of the film. However, by adding three other non-essential characters, Loveness doesn’t only hamper the evolution of Scott and Cassie but also takes away crucial screen time from Kang. For what? A few toys? Well, I hope the revenue from them is worth the damage done to the film’s storytelling.
The counterargument that usually pops up when you ask for character-based stories or a little focus on “themes” is that nobody is going to Marvel movies for the story; they are going to them for the spectacle. If that is the case, then where is this spectacle? Because all I can see in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a constant barrage of sludgy, muddy, bland, choppily edited visuals, accompanied by an uninspired score. The great thing about the first two Ant-Man movies was the sense of scale. That’s totally absent, and the characters have to say they’re big to make sure that the audiences understand that they aren’t regular-sized. The action sequences are insulting. It’s one thing to not have a single memorable hand-to-hand fight scene or a chase or anything that’s remotely thrilling (because it’s an action-comedy, after all), and a whole another thing to make sure that the audience can’t see who is fighting whom, feel the impact of the hits, or where everyone is in relation to one another during a battle. There is a lot of VFX and CGI, but that isn’t a compliment anymore. Ensuring that it looks aesthetically pleasing and serves the story instead of populating the background and foreground is what’s important.
When it comes to the performances in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” everyone seemed to be running on autopilot. Everyone is being paid millions to not be in character and just spout some exposition that sets up the next chapter of the franchise. So, I completely understand why nobody was putting any effort into their acting, and I wouldn’t have minded it either. But the existence of three people in the film truly infuriated me, and for different reasons. Murray has been accused of sexual harassment in real life and seeing him and others crack sex jokes about his character was vomit-inducing. Lilly has been on an anti-vaccination tirade and seeing her say anything synonymous with science or movie science felt weird. And Kathryn Newton can’t act even if her life depends on it. However, I’m not just angry at these people but at Marvel as well because, despite everything, they chose to stick to their original decisions. Murray and Lilly’s roles are so inconsequential that they could’ve been completely cut out. Emma Fuhrmann’s Cassie had more expressions on her face in that small scene from “Endgame” than Newton displayed over the course of 124 minutes. I don’t know what Newton managed to bring to this role that Emma couldn’t have. Yet, here we are.
There’s no doubt that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has been instrumental in opening our eyes to the fact that CGI and VFX-heavy movies can look beautiful, have lots of action, and have a beating heart at their center. But that James Cameron film had been in the works for around a decade. So, you can say that it’s an unfair comparison. That’s why I’ll gladly bring up the other James Cameron movie, “Titanic,” since it was re-released in the same week as “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” and state that the 1997 film doesn’t just hold up but surpass the quality of this 2023 pseudo-action extravaganza. If you don’t believe me, go and watch “Titanic” after you are done with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Or watch “Titanic” before watching “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumvania.” Either way, do watch “Titanic” (and other blockbusters of its caliber) to realize how Marvel is downgrading the quality of blockbuster filmmaking while flooding the market with their products. Actually, I have a proposition: Re-release a James Cameron film (or any other well-received blockbuster from the past few decades) every time Marvel comes up with something just so that people can do a comparative study. It’ll be educational as hell.