“It’s not you, it’s me.”
That’s a phrase we hear during a break-up that’s supposed to make the pain go down a little easier. I’m not the same person when we met. My needs and wants have changed. You’re great, you haven’t done anything wrong. We’ve just grown apart. Things like that.
Well, after Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, I’m thinking it might be time to have the Talk with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least for now. Who knows, maybe Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will feel like a marriage retreat that brings the spark back into our humdrum relationship. But right now, I’m eyeing the door, and trying to figure out who gets what in the house, and where I’m going to borrow the truck to haul my stuff out.
But it’s just one bad movie, you may be thinking. It’s not worth tossing out fifteen years of love and understanding, right? Well, the bloom has been off the rose for a while now. Other than Spider-Man: No Way Home, most of Phase 4 was a bust. It had its moments, sure, and a couple of the television shows were fun, but none of the films ever reached the heights on the other Phases at their best.
Granted, it’s hard to top Avengers: Endgame for sheer spectacle and scale, but there was a shared investment there, with character arcs that concluded satisfactorily and an emotional resolution that meant something.
Maybe I’m not giving it enough time? Maybe, but it’s been almost 4 years since Endgame and there hasn’t been a single story thread except for Spider-Man’s that’s meant a whole lot. Instead, we get a lot of wheel spinning, some clever jokes, and promises of an interesting story that never quite gets fulfilled.
Which brings me to Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, which has to be the most inert, lifeless film in the MCU yet. I wasn’t all enamored with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but at least that movie had a voice and a spirit to it, Sam Raimi bringing his spook-a-blast horror sensibilities into the MCU and having a thorough blast kicking down proverbial ant hills to see if they fight.
Peyton Reed (who I quite like as a director when he’s allowed to play – his Down With Love is one of the most underrated, and sexy films of the 21st century) gives us nothing of his personality here. Quantumania feels like it’s made entirely by committee, with checkpoints instead of story arcs, and completely subservient to everything that’s come before, utterly afraid to forge its own path. This doesn’t feel like a movie that was written so much as index carded and pinned to a cork board.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is trying to make up for lost time with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who wasn’t Blipped away like half the world, and when Lang returned, five years had passed, and a good chunk of Cassie’s childhood. Cassie is rebelling, getting thrown in jail at protests, but she’s also spending a lot of time with Henry Pym (Michael Douglas), Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), trying to use the quantum technology to better humanity.
When Cassie sends a mapping signal down into the Quantum Realm, something comes back, and soon the Langs and the Van Dynes are thrown deep into the microverse, stuck in the middle of a war between rebels and Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Seems Janet knows Kang, and she knows that if Kang gets what he wants, trillions of lives throughout all the universes and timelines are in danger.
There is so much green screen in this movie that I have no idea whether or not any of these actors actually spent any time outside. Granted, the Quantum Realm is visually impressive, a full on Jack Kirby-inspired universe, but we rarely get to spend any time exploring its facets because we’re thrust into a “Fetch the glowing orb” plot that is one long retrieval video game. Go here, talk to this person, and get this spaceship, to go to this building and meet this other person – you want to press X half the time to skip the cutscene.
There is nothing real for these actors to anchor on to, so far too often we see glazed-over performances that we are expecting to deliver important plot points and emotional moments but there’s nothing tangible for the actors to react to. I’ve never seen Michael Douglas look more bored, or Bill Murray looking so vainly for the exit to get the hell out of this place.
Michelle Pfeiffer fares a little better, but she’s given a past and a little something to do. Rudd and Lilly profess this great love for each other, but they hardly share any screen time together. Instead, Lang spends most of his time chasing after his daughter, who is in constant danger and has very little agency of her own.
Without spoiling, there is one character who makes an appearance that should have been far more fun, but instead we get this really bad Nintendo 64 effect, coupled with a truly weird and off-putting performance from the actor.
Perhaps it’s not the actor’s fault — the character gets some very clunky dialogue — but it’s practically Jar Jar Binks level humor. This is a franchise that gave us some remarkable effects work on characters like the Hulk and Thanos, but here it’s laughably bad.
At some point, I feel like the Marvel suits showed Jonathan Majors what his story arc in Phase 5 and beyond entails, because he’s the only actor here that doesn’t feel rote or bland. I’m still not entirely sure what Kang’s motivation is (although I’m sure some Marvel comics fans could tell me, but having talked to a couple, even they told me that Kang’s story is… complicated, and not something easily explained in a movie), but Majors gives Kang an inner life that informs the character, even if we aren’t privy to a lot of it.
We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Kang in the future — the next Avengers film is called The Kang Dynasty, and of course the Loki TV series will likely have more to say about him — but for now, he’s just the movie’s bad guy, and without understanding what drives him, Kang isn’t a very unique threat. You can tell Majors is having fun, though, and at times, that’s almost enough to move Quantumania forward. A little.
Is Quantumania bad enough to make me want to quit the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe? Well… I’ll see Guardians, but mostly out of obligation and because I’m a big fan of Dave Bautista. Those characters still inspire a bit of joy in me. But there’s nothing Quantumania does that makes me want to stick around.
There were moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I frankly thought I’d never see on a movie screen, and like many of you I let my inner child play with those movies. But we all have to grow up sometime, I suppose, and while Quantumania looks shiny and new, there isn’t much but a plastic veneer.
You know, at the end of a relationship, we are the ones who grow out of it, and sometimes we see that our partner isn’t growing with us. So, Marvel Cinematic Universe, it pains me to say this, but… maybe it’s not me. Maybe it is you. Text me when you get your crap together, and we’ll grab a coffee. Until then, just leave the keys under the mat.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA REVIEW SCORE: 3.5 OUT OF 10
The third installment opens in theaters on Thursday, February 16, 2023. It is rated PG-13 for violence/action, and language.
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He has been a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer,” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.