Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Loses Itself in the Multi-Verse

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It brings me no joy to say that the latest MCU movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a return to form for the MCU. In other words, it is a tediously entertaining outing with VFX and other visual effects bordering on dreck. If that wasn’t bad enough, the film’s cinematic language is essentially gibberish. I sat there in the dark, depressed at how little I cared about anything. 

A feeling that was mutual based on how uninvolved everyone on and off screen was. Peyton Reed directed the last two Ant-Man films, which one would assume he has some idea of what he is doing. But, as it becomes clear watching Quantumania, neither he nor the studio has any clue.

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Scott (Paul Rudd), Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and Hope (Evangeline Lily)

It’s hard to say whether Jeff Loveless’s script or Reed’s lackluster direction bogs down Quantumania more. However, it is safe to say that both are culpable. After sitting through one of the dullest visual eyesores since Endgame, the biggest shame was seeing the great Bill Pope’s name in the credits as the Director of Photography.

Say what you want, but if Bill Pope, a man who has lensed DarkmanBound, Spider-Man 2, 2 Matrix movies, 3 Edgar Wright films, and Charlie’s Angels, struggles to give your movie any visual heft, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. If it seems like I’m preoccupied with how Quantumania looked, it is merely because there is little else to talk about.

Loveless’s script is the cinematic equivalent of spinning one’s wheels. Quantumania is a movie that exists to set up other films, and during its entire runtime, it can’t be bothered to have a theme, an idea, or any emotion. It is a shoddy product shoved onto the masses because they have shown no genuine interest in quality before and will likely swallow the next installment happily. 

I will give Loveless this, Quantumania may be the most blatant and proudly leftist entry into the MCU. Hope (Evangeline Lily) now runs Pym van Dyne Foundation tackling housing and food shortages. Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is arrested for protesting the local police’s attitude towards the houseless, even shrinking one of their cars. Scott (Paul Rudd) is busy…being Scott.

Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) are retired but helping Cassie with her activism. Meanwhile, Hank and Hope have been secretly helping Cassie map the Quantum realm, and wouldn’t you know it, they all get sucked in. Loveless’s script begins to deflate about this time.

Not to mention the bright, cheery, and boldly political movie with a goofy wry sense of humor deflates into a tired old movie that trades imagination, heart, and fun for laying the tedious groundwork of other films. The lone bright spot is less a bright spot, and more a supernova is Jonathan Majors as Kang.

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Scott (Rudd) and Kang (Jonathan Majors)

Majors’ Kang is not well-written, nor is his dialogue worth listening to. But Majors make it so. He all but warps the film, pulling the entirety of the MCU into his orbit; Quantumania becomes compelling theater when Majors is on screen, even if his words are bereft of substance or wit.

This is not to say that the Quantum realm does not have interesting characters, far from it. There’s Quaz (William Jackson Harper), the reluctant psychic who pleads with Scott to “stop thinking that. Please…please stop thinking that.” I quite liked Jentorra (Katy O’Brian), a Xena-like freedom fighter who soon has Cassie forming her very first, that we know of, girl crush.

The problem is that everything that made Quantamania, in the beginning, vanishes once Scott and his family go to the Quantum Realm. A realm that feels more like early 2000 screensavers inspired it than any artistic vision. Quantumania goes from brightly lit to a dimmer and dinger version of Sharkboy and Lava Girl. The political aspect is still there but needs a real throughline simply because neither Reed nor Pope has any imagery to back it up. 

Reed and Loveness are not merely paying lip service; it feels like it by never backing the words with any potent imagery. Yes, hearing Micahel Douglas say, “I know socialism is kind of a dirty word but these Ants could really teach us something,” is cool, given the actor’s own activist past. Still, it feels shallow when it becomes a scene of people giving Hank a hard time about his obsessions with ants.

There are times when Quantumania is dangerously close to making a point, such as when Cassie tells her father, “Just because it isn’t happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” The unifying theme of all the Ant-Man movies is that Rudd’s Scott is easily Father of Year material for several years running. Reed and Pope have moments of visual flourishes, such as when an army of Scott’s band together to save Cassie; that works because, again, it is a neat image supported by something g else other than it looks keen.

However, judging by how Quantumania limps along, it wouldn’t have done much good. I know this is all supposed to be escapist fun, but for that to work, it has to be fun, and it’s not. Not at all. It’s just a multi-million dollar advertisement for a brand name, not even a specific product, just the idea. Do you know how embarrassing it is to play the theme song “Welcome Back Kotter” not once but twice and still have me uninterested in anything you do?

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Cassie (Newton) and Scott (Rudd) look upon Windows Vista

Quantumania is a shoddily put-together film by a studio that could have afforded to do better but once again chose the cheapest, less challenging road because it has trained its audience to expect nothing and thus give them nothing. As a result, the climactic battle is an emotionally gutless and dull fight for freedom on a grand scale. Nothing matters; therefore, nothing can matter. This might have been an interesting thought for a genre film, if there weren’t a titan of an emotional gut-punch film that came out in 2022 called Everything Everywhere All At Once

Yet, through it all, Majors and his superstar presence shine bright. Watching Majors onscreen, I was reminded that we no longer have movie stars because directors have forgotten how to use the camera to forge them. Of course, Majors doesn’t need the camera to be a star. But it would have been nice if someone had lent the poor man a hand.

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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