IS THE LATEST MARVEL CINEMATIC OFFERING A SATISFYING TRIP TO OZ OR AN EMPTY POPCORN BUCKET OF REGRET? OR BOTH?
Super-Hero partners Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne return to continue their adventures as Ant-Man and the Wasp. Together, with Hope’s parents Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, the family finds themselves exploring the Quantum Realm, interacting with strange new creatures and embarking on an adventure that will push them beyond the limits of what they thought was possible.
DIRECTED BY PEYTON REED
WRITTEN BY JEFF LOVENESS
STARRING: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathryn Newton and Jonathan Majors
ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA surpassed industry expectations to take the top spot at the box office over the weekend, pulling in an estimated $104 million domestically. I saw it Thursday, and with the popcorn bucket & cup combo and IMAX tickets, my wife and I contributed $70 to its coffers. It was fun, but I wanted to wait a couple days to gather my thoughts on the MCU’s latest theatrical offering.
Often with my “renegade reviews” of films, I’ll begin by focusing on commentary on something with similar- or sometimes dissimilar- properties. I do this in order to provide you, the reader, with an objective base line to better understand the position of my opinion. I’ve done this for nearly a decade now, and in order to talk about the MCU’s kick off to Phase Five, I have to do it again. Twice.
Yes, ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is not only the third film in the ANT-MAN trilogy, it’s also the launching point for the next phase of Marvel’s Multiverse storyline. It establishes the Big Bad for the arc, and is he ever a big, bad, motherfucker if we ever saw one. And yes, the rumors you’ve heard are indeed true, it’s the MCU’s STAR WARS. But I’m not sure if that’s the film’s strongest point. In fact, I think it’s the weakest. Now, before I get into all that, let me first answer the following question:
Did I love the movie, did I just enjoy the movie, did I think it was meh, or did I think it was a stinking pile of shit?
Tom, you had four choices, and none of them were all of the above.
Shush. Let me explain…
We are both blessed and cursed to live in a unique time, one of flux because of technology. Cyberspace and the accompanying technology allowing us to connect to one another through portable devices, has had as much of an impact on society as the discovery of fire. The crater it’s left after slamming into the entertainment media, resulting in a multitude of changes regarding how we consume it, is undeniable.
From Napster and Pirate Bay to Social media, the internet has led to innumerable changes. And one of them this tech has changed is entertainment reviews. Now, I’m not talking about the one to five stars plus comments you leave on Amazon (but those do help the indy writers who publish through the Evil Empire). I’m talking about professional film criticism.
There are two fundamental types of entertainment critiques: the critical appraisal and the enthusiasm review. With film, the former came to prominence in the Seventies and Eighties, making stars out of the journalists in question. Under the scrutiny of legendary film critics the likes of Leonard Malten, Gene Shallet, and the team of Siskel and & Ebert, their opinions on film both in newsprint and on the television, influenced the films we watched. But with the advent of the internet, and ultimately Ain’t It Cool News in the late Nineties, society experienced two important changes.
The first was a paradigm shift in the manner in which we appraise a films. With the birth of the internet, newspapers were already losing their power, and as a result, the venerated film critics found their jobs in jeopardy. Movie reviewers (not critics – there’s a difference!), under internet pseudonyms like Moriarty, Massawyrm, and The Infamous Billy The Kidd, became the voices the public listened to when deciding on the films they wanted to see.
You all know Massawyrm better as C. Robert Cargill, the screenwriter for DOCTOR STRANGE. Moriarty is screenwriter and reviewer Drew McWeeney (MASTERS OF HORROR), and Billy the Kidd was my Infamous mentor. I came from this group, late in the game, when I started writing for Billy “the Kidd” Donnelly at This Is Infamous ten years ago, after Harry fired him by email. All of these men influenced me. When I review anything, I do my best to be professional and justify my position with examples supporting my opinion. You can’t say something is “bad” without using some example as justification.
The second was the birth and growth of the Toxic Internet Troll. It’s not ironic at all when I say Ain’t It Cool also gave birth to the Toxic Internet Fan. The talk back forums on Ain’t It Cool were a toxicity wasteland with no moderation. Some of this leaked into the way reviewers on Ain’t It Cool approached their jobs. And it led to the birth of the enthusiasm reviewer, ie: fans overtalking what they like and shitting on what they don’t like. This is what you find when your buddy gives his opinion of a TV show, book, or movie on social media or in a forum like reddit.
It’s a sports rivalry mentality, one indoctrinated into our children during their formative years in public & private schools. Rah rah my school’s the best cheer rallies evolved into the Bills vs the Dolphins rivalry and the dehumanizing and hazing of another person for daring to wear the colors of the visiting team. Then pop culture edge lords took it a step further, labeling others Beatles or Elvis people, Star Wars or Star Trek… and so forth. Allegedly this meant you could only like one, or the other. I’ve grown to call foul on this philosophy, especially since I once found myself guilty of it.
That mindset changed when I put on my big boy pants and started taking entertainment journalism seriously. Shit, my biography on This Is Infamous said I like both Star Trek and Star Wars, but Battlestar Galactica is my favorite. If you want to more about Ain’t It Cool news and its influence on media, something I experienced and lived first hand, check out the podcast DOWNLOWD: THE RISE AND FALL OF HARRY KNOWLES AND AIN’T IT COOL NEWS .
Now that we’ve established these ground rules for what is and isn’t a professional film critique… I want you to be fully aware my position on ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is going to be equal parts editorial critique and enthusiasm review. It is also semi-spoiler free, though not totally, so here’s your warning to step back if you care about that. All this talk about Ain’t It Cool has made me hungry. Let’s make an Oreo, shall we?
Going into QUANTUMANIA you will have expectations based off the trailers. Those expectations will be crushed. This is a good thing. The film’s trailers, though they reveal a great deal of the film’s impressive special effects, they mislead you on more. This bait and switch magic trick is great, and adds a little surprise to the film. You’ll notice the primary differences with Scott and Janet’s storylines. And though Scott’s main goal in the trailers is still the same in the film, it’s achieved in a more appropriate manner then the trailer implies.
QUANTUMANIA is a visual feast to behold. If you are a person who likes to indulge in a vice before consuming your entertainment, this is truly a movie that begs for, um, let’s call it enhancement. The plot wastes no time taking us into the Quantum Realm, a sub-universe outside of time that also happens to be the gateway to all realties (ie: time lines). It’s basically a reimagined Marvel Microverse (or is it? #TalkAboutThatLater), once home to the Micronauts (whom Marvel has lost the rights to and can’t mention!). The land is populated by a plethora of unique and alien characters, which add to the imagery and total experience. It’s truly breathtaking to behold, especially in IMAX.
We often forget that there are two Ant-Mans and two Wasps in the film, and the movie does it best to let each have their shining moment. The most notable is Janet Van Dyne’s Wasp and her adventures, before, and during the primary events in the film. This is also where the STAR WARS comparisons begin on a positive note. She comes across as a Obi-Wan Kenobi type character, exiled to the wastelands of the Quantum Realm, and when she returns, that rough and tough persona re-emerges.
Screenwriter Jeff Loveness (RICK & MORTY) plants plenty of verbal Easter eggs throughout. There are homages to not only STAR WARS (most notably a famous line regarding a rescue) but ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, when Bill Murray’s Lord Crylar declares “I thought you were dead.”
As far as sequels go, QUANTUMANIA is a solid trilogy closer, with callbacks to the first and second film throughout. The best of which is Yellow Jacket’s return as MODOK, still played by Corey Stoll, from the chin up. In typical MCU fashion, the character is reimagined for the live action 616 Universe. For as foreboding and menacing as he (it?) is, MODOK is a great comic foil to the film’s true antagonist, Kang The Conqueror.
Jonathan Majors first introduced us to a variant of Kang in the season finale of LOKI. He Who Remains, the last Kang standing in a multiverse war, showed how versatile an actor Majors is. The second after credits scene, wherein we find Loki and Mobius tracking down Victor Timely, another Kang variant, leads me to believe the show’s second season will focus on this alternate reality TVA hunting down Kang variants in much the same manner the TVA previously went after Loki variants. Is the TVA the tool of the Council of Kangs introduced in the first after credits scene… or to Kang the Conqueror himself? I guess that’s part of the mystery to come.
Now, why did I just go down that rabbit hole? To prove a point. You see, QUANTUMANIA is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It really is a good movie. It hits all the feels, so to say, it’s supposed to. Is it a great movie? No. It is flawed, which we’ll dig into shortly. But it is good, and good art, good movies, make you postulate like I’ve done above. Speculation of where a storyline is going is one of the great things that surrounds a good story.
This was proven in the cliffhangers of the old matinee cinemas and comic books. Smart writers and producers brought it to the small screen, in the serialized television programs starting with daytime soap operas, which evolved into who killed Bobby Ewing and the season finale where you have to watch because you don’t know what’s going to happen to your favorite character! All of these did two things. First, they made people talk, first at water coolers and now on social media. Secondly? They made advertising revenue like mad.
Marvel and their film franchise was ankle to trick us into watching what turned out to be a 10 year long serialized television series, shown in theaters. Twenty films, and the average television season for an hourly program is twenty episodes. As the story has progressed, Marvel has diversified, spinning off with different properties designed to appeal to specific audiences.
This is most evident in their Disney+ TV shows. SHE-HULK was their Lawyer Comedy and it’s focused demographic was woman who liked Alley McBeal. Ms. MARVEL was targeted at young women. FALCON & THE WINTER SOLDIER was targeting fans of action and espionage. And so forth with each series. Each one has also had strong themes present within them, addressing troublesome issues from dealing with grief, to drug addiction, mental illness, and the effects of systematic racism.
The movies don’t delve too deeply into that territory, though they are the prime movers of the story. QUANTUMANIA is no different in that aspect. And that’s part of it’s problem. It’s more focused on moving the MCU storyline forward than it is with resolving its own story. As a result, some parts of the movie don’t resonate with you after you leave the theater. Some characters didn’t get the attention they deserved.
Yes, it’s full of weird shit. Yes, it is a visual feast with a cornucopia of alien beings… and yeah they’re cool and all, but who are they? This is where it tries to STAR WARS again, but fails. Do I even give a fuck about any of them? There’s so any of them, more than the fish James Cameron put in AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER for fuck’s sake. I don’t know what Peyton Reed or Marvel was thinking.
James Gunn takes a similar approach with his GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY franchise, but those characters are more than window dressing. They have a life, where as the aliens in QUANTUMANIA seem to exist only to fill the screen with weird shit and do weird things. Often it seems like the screen is filled with homages to THE FIFTH ELEMENT and other classic sci-fi properties, just for the sake of resembling something recognizably cool. We easily could have spent another half hour to forty-five minutes exploring these characters and I wouldn’t have cared.
There is rumors that an extended fight scene between Kang and Scott does exist, but it was so violent, it could have given the film an R rating. I’ll say this, they didn’t fuck around hitting the “shit” quota in dialogue. “Shit” has turned into Disney’s darling cuss word, and it was as evident here as George RR Martin’s affinity for CUNT is in Game of Thrones.
But where I think this movie most missed its mark, where it made its biggest travesty, was the complete omission of Michael Pena’s Luis and partial neutering of Randall Park‘s Jimmy Woo. We see the latter in B-roll footage in a montage, but it’s not enough. And there is no sign of Luis or the gang from San Francisco. They all added that comedic element this film desperately needed. Yes, we got some of it with the Darren jokes with MODOK, but it wasn’t enough.
As I already indicated, the buttons are the most important portion of this film, establishing Kang as the big bad of this story arc. In the first, we are introduced to the Council of Kangs. Their triumvirate- Rama Tut, Centurion, and Immortus, meet to say the exiled one has been killed, and they set about plans to avenge the death of one of their own.
Now I think this was all a red herring. It was established in the film that Scott could go smaller, into a point in the Quantum Realm where he would be undetectable. So, I don’t think Kang The Conqueror is dead. I think he’s not in the Quantum Realm, I think he’s in the MICROVERSE! I think he is there, with his Time Chair- and this is the location of Chronopolis and the TVA, and HE is the one we will learn is in charge of TVA, not the Council of Kangs.
See what happened there? It happened again. A good movie made me speculate, again. Set aside your petty notions of “Super hero fatigue” or Marvel vs. DC. ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA isn’t perfect, but it is worth the trip to the multiplex to see its visuals on the biggest screen you can view it on.