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Marvel's Fall From Grace Continues With No End In Sight
From must-see to someday, maybe
I finally got around to watching Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which shall henceforth be known as Ant-Man 3 because I’m not typing that out again.1 Here’s my elevator pitch for the film, which I thought of during the proceedings because that’s how my mind works and also because the movie doesn’t demand much of the viewer other than a pair of eyeballs: John Carter of Mars, starring The Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by George Lucas. That tells you everything you need to know.
The movie is fine in the way all Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films are more-or-less okay these days—stuffed with action and fun bits but weighed down by the prevailing sense of been-there, done-that. Which they have—nearly 30 freaking times. So that feeling is inevitable. But also, do we really need three Ant-Man movies? I love Paul Rudd but that’s like two too many. How long do we need to pretend to be entertained by a guy who’s only ability is shrinking and growing on command?2 (Mom, don’t read that footnote—it’s about penises.)
Where else do you find Ant-Man penis metaphors?
The movie is ultimately let down by the writing. Here’s a small list of cliches the film employs:
The character who knows something bad but continues not to talk about it, to the detriment of literally everyone. Even when the other people ask her straight-up, she says stuff like, “there’s no time to explain,” even though they are just walking through a Quantum forest and there is actually plenty of time.
The Big Bad who could have had an Erik Killmonger type of pathos but instead the film insists of making him out-and-out evil.
The female hero—who is mentioned in the freaking title of the film—exists solely to encourage the hero.3
The climax is magically undone in order to have a happy ending.
Oh, and Cassie is a Quantum Realm genius and has her own suit. Isn’t she like 16 years-old? I’m all for female ass-kicking but her dad is an electrical engineer and convicted felon, and her mom has no backstory at all. There’s unlikely, there’s implausible, and then there’s “let’s clumsily establish Scott Lang’s daughter as the Ant-Person heir apparent for the Avengers: We Got Next teenage rom-com coming to Disney+ next fall” stupid.4
(BTW, are you telling me they couldn’t have pulled Luis into the Quantum Realm? Michael Peña instantly improves any film he’s in by at least 20%. And I also would’ve loved him freaking out about all the weird Quantum people.)
All that aside, here’s the most damning thing I can say about Ant-Man 3: I only watched it grudgingly. We wanted to watch a movie, it was sitting there free on Disney+, done and done. That’s how far the MCU has fallen—I guess I’ll watch it.
Here’s how I unofficially grade films:
Watch on opening night. I hate dealing with big crowds so these are true rarities. My need to see the film has to outweigh my hatred of the crowd. Examples: Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars
Watch during the theatrical run. These are typically the big blockbusters you gotta see on the biggest screen possible or the movie everyone is talking about. Recent examples: Mission Impossible, Top Gun: Maverick, Barbie.
Watch once it hits Redbox. These are films I intended to see in the theater but missed for Life Reasons or ones I was curious about but not theater-dollars curious. Examples: John Wick 4 (busy), The Fabelmans (curious).
Watch once it lands on streaming. The lowest priority. This is a true wasteland because there are so many streamers and so many options on each. It’s hard for anything to rise above, which is partly why Ant-Man 3 has been on Disney+ for three months and I just got around to it.
And that’s probably an apt summary of the MCU as a whole. We used to be theatrical run viewers, if not opening night itself. Now I can’t even be bothered to want to watch the MCU’s latest. Not when Justified: City Primeval and H/jack and Only Murders In The Building are also streaming, and they are all so much better. In a vacuum, I prefer film to TV. But in reality, I watch vastly more TV these days.
Ant-Man 3 was the first film in the MCU’s fifth phase.5 The other films in this grouping, with my level of excitement:
Guardians of the Galaxy 3: Good, not quite great. Saw in theater.
The Marvels: I love Brie Larson as Captain Marvel but I couldn’t care less about this movie. Maybe watch on Disney+.
Deadpool 3: Same Deadpool, much larger cast. I’ll see it in theater.
Captain America: Brave New World: This feels like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the Movie. Coin flip on if I go see it.
Thunderbolts: MCU’s version of DC’s Suicide Squad. I’m a Bucky apologist but the premise is sus. Then again, David Harbour and Florence Pugh are both in it, reprising their roles from Black Widow. I’ll have to see some trailers before deciding.
Blade: Did we really need this? I liked the Wesley Snipes films just fine. Disney+.
So I’ll probably see half of these in theater. But even of those, I have little to no excitement about the prospect. Thunderbolts comes closest. If it can dial into the Captain America: Winter Soldier vibe, I will be foaming at the mouth.6
When I look at that list of films, I just see a whole lot of meh. I can’t imagine a scenario in which the MCU reverts to form, without taking at least 5 years off from making new films. But the parade of bland sameness will only relent long after we’ve all stopped caring.
Not to be all curmudgeonly, but I sorta miss the days when superhero sequels were just the name of the character and a numeric identifier. What it loses in razzle-dazzle it more than makes up in utility.
All the shrinking and growing is just a metaphor for erections, right? Since we’re on the subject of enormous penises: You know what would’ve knocked me out of my chair? An homage to Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan. Can you imagine Ant-Man walking around, knocking over buildings with his swinging dong? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t watch it.
Hope’s big hero moment is saving Scott, which she does twice. The second time is admittedly pretty cool. But she still doesn’t get to do much in this movie.
I’m making a joke here but there is a group called Young Avengers made-up of teenage and young adult superheroes, and Marvel has been seeding these characters into the movies for a while now. It’s definitely happening. Probably.
The MCU’s phases are a loose structuring of films mostly for marketing purposes, but sometimes they culminate in a franchise-spanning come-together against a Big Bad.
I haven’t ranked MCU films in a long time but Winter Soldier is typically my top film.