I was a huge fan of the original Ant-Man movie released back in 2015. In a world already drowning in homogenous superhero movies, it was a welcome departure.
Instead of going for big, it went for small. And in doing so, it turned everything topsy turvy and upside down. It was refreshingly different, and it was fun.
Shrinking characters down in size wasn’t anything new. There was The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and The Incredible Shrinking Woman with Lily Tomlin (1981), as well as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989).
The shrunken character idea wasn’t new. Adapting it to the genre of superhero movies was.
It worked, spawning a sequel (Ant-Man and the Wasp) in 2018. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania marks the third Ant-Man installment, all directed by Payton Reed.
Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are back in the starring roles, as are Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer (digitally de-aged once again) in their supporting roles.
At a glance, it might have looked like a sure-fire hit, but that was before anyone had actually seen the movie which, as it turns out, is a real disappointment.
A lot has changed over the years and the evolution of the story. In short, it went from cute and fun to overblown and boring.
The charm of the original has been sucked out of the story in an attempt to make Quantumania look and feel like all the other overblown, boring superhero movies that we have seen again and again. And again.
The creative forces behind Ant-Man have succumbed to the temptation of making a big-budget, effects-crammed fantasy epic along the lines of The Avengers. Or the X-Men. Or Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or any other major superhero franchise.
Ant-Man doesn’t spend much time being ant-size in this installment. He’s either normal size or 50 stories tall, lumbering through a sprawling urban setting like Godzilla, smashing everything in sight.
Quantumania borrows heavily. Besides Godzilla, there are multiverse portals right out of Doctor Strange, fantastical flying creatures who look like they might have escaped from Avatar: The Way of Water, a cantina bar borrowed from Star Wars, a floating, oversized head right out of Dune, and a broccoli-shaped creature that is a dead ringer for the Groot character in Guardians of the Galaxy. It is perhaps worth mentioning that during the Godzilla sequence, the 50-story high Ant-Man rips off the metallic dome of a building and begins to wield it like Captain America’s iconic shield.
Quantumania seems to scream that the creative team has run out of creative juice and is grabbing instead for the low-hanging fruit of other major franchises.
The overall tone of the film shifts from colorful fun to dark, brooding seriousness underscored by the predictable epic chorus of voices and swelling orchestral music that have become the staple of all superhero movies (“Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!”)
The Marvel Universe has expanded from a limited number of popular characters and storylines to an endless expanse of multiverses that extend to infinity, and beyond. And while the creative possibilities might have initially seemed thrilling and brain bending, the initial foray seems to have only half-heartedly scratched the surface.
It all seems like an excuse for digital effects departments to journey down a modern-day, Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole into strange, surrealistic worlds that seem inspired by hallucinogenic drugs.
Digital effects have allowed Hollywood to bring anything to the screen. If you can imagine it, you can create it and charge people to see it. It’s the Hollywood Magic that drew audiences into theaters to witness the parting of the Red Sea (in both of Cecil B. DeMille’s versions of The Ten Commandments, 1923 and 1956).
You can’t argue with the success of Hollywood special effects, but these days they have become the heart and soul of so many movies, including the top money-makers of all-time.
Effects have replaced story and character development and memorable dialog. Case in point are the lines uttered by Kathryn Newton who plays Ant-Man’s teenage daughter, Cassie Lang. It’s essentially the word “Dad!” said a hundred different ways. It’s the stuff of great drinking games.
I’ve been critical of the overall formula approach of superhero movies, for me, many of them are just plain repetitive and boring.
What I liked about the first two installments of Ant-Man was the freshness and fun, two things that are sadly missing in this third installment which gets bogged down and crushed under the weight of its ramped-up pretentiousness and new-found seriousness.
If there is a fourth installment, I’d like to suggest that the filmmakers heed the advice in that famous 1960s Volkswagen ad campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle which suggested that we should all “Think Small.”
Bigger is not necessarily better.
Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in theaters now.
Photo Credits: 2023 Marvel