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‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’: Too much Marvel, not enough context


New year, new phase! The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off its fifth Phase — a distinct narrative unit within the larger Marvel franchise — this month with the release of the third Ant-Man film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” The film follows Scott Lang (a.k.a. Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd) as he and his family are transported to the enigmatic Quantum Realm. There, he quickly learns that he must stop a powerful threat before it brings destruction to the Multiverse. 

While the film itself is not bad, it does suffer from its overbearing status as “Marvel property.” The first thing that struck me was its lack of accessibility. As the introduction of a new Phase, you’d think that the film would orient potentially new audiences to the current state of affairs in a post-Thanos world — where we meet Scott. But it doesn’t. Even I, an avid Marvel fan, struggled to keep up at times.


The film opens with Scott relishing in the fame he’s amassed as an Avenger and comically critiques him for remaining idle since the Battle of Earth, to which he is quick to rebut “I saved the world!” But if you haven’t already watched the preceding Marvel films, or even just “Avengers: Endgame,” you don’t know what this man saved the world from nor how he did it. There is an inside joke that plays out as Scott exaggerates his involvement in the Battle and even writes a memoir about his experience. Only returning viewers know that Scott was just one of the hundreds of superheroes who banded together to defeat Thanos, and that historically, his abilities have not been as respected as Iron Man’s or Captain America’s. The film shoots this opening act in a very tongue-in-cheek way, with the camera honing in on Scott’s smug face as he cites an excerpt from his book to rousing applause. But the film gives no explanation as to why an outsider should find this funny and why they shouldn’t take Scott at face value. It just assumes you have prior knowledge and expects you to laugh.

This lack of orientation continues with the central conflict of the film: Scott, his girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly), daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), as well as Hope’s parents Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) are transported to the Quantum Realm after a communicator Cassie built to contact the Realm malfunctions. Before this major event, we only get vague references to the fact that Scott was stuck in the Realm for a long time and that Janet has traumatic memories from being trapped there for decades, leading her to beg her family not to contact it. 

But, once again, we do not get a lot of explanation on how the Realm functions nor of its importance. We do not learn why nor how Scott and Janet ended up in the Realm nor its relevance to their family of scientists. I cannot recall the film ever explicitly stating what “quantum” even means, or why time behaves differently there. Without this context, I’m forced to chalk this up to “Marvel physics” and me being a clueless English major.

Some may wonder why I take such an issue with this. After all, countless films have been criticized for doing exposition-dumping instead of just telling the story. But in the case of “Ant-Man,” the lack of orientation makes for quite a confusing viewing experience.

The major threat of “Quantumania” is Kang the Conqueror, compellingly portrayed by Jonathan Majors. We learn that Kang is the reason why Janet is so terrified of the Quantum Realm. While she was trapped there, she helped Kang repair his multiverse-traveling ship, believing she was helping her new friend escape. Janet quickly learns that Kang is not who he appears to be; instead, he is a maniacal destroyer of universes who was exiled to the Realm to keep the Multiverse safe. It’s a captivating narrative development — that is, if you understand that the Quantum Realm is a plane of existence that exists outside of space and time. If you don’t know that, then Kang’s lack of power does not make sense. Why did he fail to obliterate this particular universe? Once again, the film assumed its viewers already have a solid grasp of the Marvel universe, a bold assumption to make for a Phase introduction.

This issue also hinders Kang’s impact in the film. For the uninitiated, Kang is powerful and menacing. He telekinetically tortures Scott and Cassie Kylo Ren-style and takes down entire fleets of people with powerful energy blasts. Majors, with his formidable ability to switch between calculating utilitarian and deranged conqueror, definitely sells that Kang is a force to be reckoned with.


But for those of us who have watched Marvel films before … he’s not that impressive.

I’ve thought for a while now that, in a post-Thanos era, Marvel has written itself into a corner. For three Phases, Thanos was The Ultimate Bad who could eliminate half of all life with a snap of his fingers. Marvel seems to believe that the bigger the scale, the more people will care. So now, it’s not just the universe at stake, it’s the multiverse. You thought Thanos was bad? Kang should make Thanos look like chopped liver compared to what he’s capable of.

At least, he’s supposed to. 

Only he doesn’t. 

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Kang is far from the only Marvel character who can shoot energy blasts from his hands. This universe already has a teenage boy who can stop a moving train with his bare hands and a witch that can rewrite reality with a single thought. Is the film actually saying that yet another guy with a super suit and energy blasts is more powerful than all of them? Or, at the very least, more powerful than Thanos? That is a pretty hard sell. This frustrates me as a viewer, because I can tell that Majors is putting 110 percent into his performance, and all I can think is “I’ve seen this all before.”

And that, to me,  is the biggest issue with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and the current state of Marvel at large: it stinks of capitalism. Gone are the days of relatable, human stories: now, it’s all about intergalactic wars between insanely overpowered characters because that’s what sells tickets, apparently. The less you orient viewers, the more they’re compelled to consume the entire Marvel catalog to understand what’s going on, and the more money they spend. 

But what Disney doesn’t seem to grasp is that its audiences aren’t mindless drones who can be placated with energy blasts. You still need compelling stories in order for a franchise to succeed. That’s why a Marvel film like “Eternals,” which arguably introduced the most powerful characters the saga has seen so far, is consistently ranked low on critics’ lists of Marvel movies, while “Black Panther,” a self-contained film about a civil war and familial betrayal, is consistently ranked at the top. Disney would be wise to return to these smaller-scale, character-focused films before it reaches its narrative ceiling and simply cannot go bigger. But, as long as the cash keeps flowing in, I don’t foresee any major changes anytime soon.

Auhjanae McGee is a senior in the English department and a senior writer for The Prospect. McGee previously served as Head Prospect Editor and co-director of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Board at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at, on Twitter at @auhj_marie, or on Instagram at @marionettes_jubalee.