Let me say in advance: I enjoyed this film. This first installment in Phase 5 is a very solid movie.
I used to know the dates of Marvel’s film releases months in advance, have blocked off opening night on my calendar, arranged child care. These were events. A lot of things have changed since then. My wife just isn’t as interested in Marvel (Civil War was a very negative experience for her), so I frequently am seeing these films with a friend or, in the case of this one, solo. The black swan event that was the two-year pandemic also de-prioritized these sorts of events for me, given that I was waiting until the last possible moment to see movies in as sparsely-attended an auditorium as possible.
In any case, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania sort of crept up and caught me unawares. I didn’t write about much of Phase 4 of the MCU here, because almost half of it was such a massive disappointment. The series began strong and then fizzled, and had it not been for Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, I think I may have stopped going to see the films entirely. Black Panther was technically Phase 4 also, but it and Dr. Strange felt like a turning point to higher quality offerings again. So, on a snowy New England evening, I made time to get to a theatre (still more than a week after it opened) to see this quantum adventure.
I think that Ant-Man is an interesting character, both conceptually, and in his backstory. Scott Lang is very much an everyman, turning away from a life of crime and only falling back into it in order to have contact with his daughter, lost in a divorce. Conceptually, his ability to control ants very much sets him apart from his DC counterpart, the Atom, and makes the character unusual. His journey from everyman to reluctant hero makes Ant-Man more relatable to the audience than many other super-hero characters, and I really like that he was so instrumental in defeating Thanos at the conclusion of the Infinity War saga. Still, I initially thought that this movie was a curious choice to begin Phase 5.
What worked well in that respect is that this movie is a great bridge. No new characters are really introduced here, with the exception of the new identities of characters we’ve seen before in MODOK and Stature. The world-building of the Quantum Realm is exceptional. What we thought was a dangerous, lonely, sub-atomic plane we discover to be a populated universe, a realm outside of time and space, which is why Kang has been exiled there. Building out this place and filling in the events in the original Wasp’s life over her 30 years lost in the Quantum Realm make it a solid film from a storytelling perspective. Not the most amazing we’ve seen from Marvel, but a very enjoyable, well-written adventure.
What is particularly well-done in this movie is the development of the relationship between Scott and Cassie as they make up for the lost years of the Blip. Janet trying to recover a lost childhood with her mother runs as a parallel story arc, the through-line being something that the audience can’t help but relate to: Failures in a parent-child relationship and attempts to repair them. That is ultimately what drives this film.
The purpose of Quantumania, though, is developing our villain. While Kang was introduced in Loki season 1, and while we will see many variants of him moving forward, this film was really two hours to develop him as a character and establish his backstory. This is really critical. A hero story or story arc (think Phases 5 and 6) cannot succeed without a compelling villain. Impotent villains, or stereotyped villains, make the heroes opposite them feel 1-dimensional, the conflict predictable. Kang is a very different villain than was Thanos, and we now have a solid foundation for him moving forward. My only complaint is that, after building him up as such a dangerous character, it almost feels strange that Ant-Man and the Wasp manage to defeat him in the end. This is slightly more workable than the all-too-easy defeat of Ultron years ago, because we know that we will encounter more dangerous variants of Kang moving forward. Still, it was a moment of incongruity.
This is a really good movie, with great world-building and solid character development. In case you were skeptical of the MCU after a mostly lackluster Phase 4, this movie isn’t going to astound you, but it’s worth seeing as a good foundation for what’s to come.
Here’s to Phase 5.