June 25, 2024

Even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe exists in a different reality, there have been connections to our world throughout the franchise that makes it all feel a bit familiar. While this has certainly led to plenty of pop culture references and celebrity cameos, many segments have dealt with hot-button political issues. Black Panther explored colonization and systemic racism, Captain America: The Winter Soldier examined government oversight and surveillance, Iron Man 3 he saw the media’s fascination with terrorism, and also Thor: Ragnarok He dealt with historical imperialism. These films took the time to develop a nuanced political thesis, and unfortunately tread on these overtones too lightly. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

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The third film Ant-Man trilogy and the first film of Phase 5 of the MCU, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania he’s balancing a lot of story threads already. The film restores the united (but emotionally fractured) Lang/Pym family after the blip. Scott (Paul Rudd), Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank (Michael Douglas), and Cassie (Kathryn Newton) are all transported to the Quantum Realm after their attempt to use satellite communication turns on the connection with Kang (Jonathan Majors), seems to be stepping into the “Big Bad” role for the entire Multiverse Saga.

The movie is already packed with exploring Kang’s motivations, flashbacks to Janet’s past, showing the evolution of Scott’s relationship with Cassie, and introducing several new characters, environments, and theoretical concepts in the Quantum Realm. In a film full of ideas, Peyton Reed attempts to touch on some political issues that feel oddly interspersed and underdeveloped. It would be better to spend more time developing these concepts or simply cut them; paying lip service does no one any favors.

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‘Ant-Man 3’ explores Cassie’s activism

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne in Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania
Image via Marvel Studios

Early in the film, Scott interrupts his book tour when he notices that Cassie has been arrested. In the midst of a protest against the police for harassing homeless people (she was left homeless after the clip), it was revealed that Cassie used one of Scott’s devices to shred a police car. It has also been revealed that this is not the first time he has been in prison, and that he has participated in other activist groups. Of course, we never see Cassie organizing an assembly or working in protest. The nameless victims roughed up by the police are never mentioned in the rest of the film.

In theory, this would have been an interesting way to bond Cassie and her father; Scott was once an incarcerated thief who had to find criminal jobs to make ends meet as a young man. However, Scott immediately becomes an overprotective parent, warning his daughter to stay out of trouble. Signs of Scott’s checkered past are laughed off when he becomes a minor celebrity in the area, winning free Baskin Robbins cake and promoting his autobiography. It’s as if all vestiges of the confused and desperate working-class father introduced in the first film have been eroded.

Little time has passed in this Kingdom beyond Scott’s joyous strolls through the neighborhood, so it’s very difficult to ground the film in a sense of reality that can give agency to Cassie’s cause. Attempts to link the wondrous events of the Quantum Realm to anything resembling the police just don’t work; Cassie begs her father to “do something” to stop Kang. Perhaps the film sees stopping a renegade warrior with mystical powers as the equivalent of confronting systematic oppression under government control, but the poor attempts to bridge any thematic connections are particularly distasteful given how well this was deconstructed. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Kang and Hank have different ideas about perfect societies

Jentorra stares intently at something off-camera in Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania
Image via Marvel Studios

When the heroes venture into the Quantum Realm, Janet reveals that Kang wants to create a “perfect society” where its inhabitants will have the power to mold it in their own image. Kang’s argument would ultimately create genocide on a massive scale, and there is a brief discussion of how this ties into cultural hatred. There’s also a brief hint of modern political discourse when Hank praises the “socialism” of the ants he’s discovered creating pioneering scientific achievements, though he admits it’s “a loaded word now.”

This is another example when the development doesn’t go deeper than a few references. Kang’s genocide does not appear to be aimed at a specific species, race, or individual. It simply seeks total domination, regardless of collateral damage. Kang has no personal hatred for specific people other than Janet, who he initially abandoned after discovering his plot. While Thanos (Josh Brolin) had a similar plan to carry out mass genocide, Avengers: Infinity War At the very least, he took the time to consider how his upbringing on a resource-overpopulated planet led him to consider a more balanced way of evening things out.

Marvel has many complex villains whose motivations are driven by real issues, among other things Black PantherKillmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and Spider-Man: HomecomingAdrien Toomes (Michael Keaton). However, it also has plenty of villains who are pure evil and want to destroy the world, and that’s okay! Majors has enough charisma and presence to be menacing, but the loose connections to actual government and war systems limit the irreverence of how shy the movie is to deliver on the details. In fact, we are not even given time to explore the cultural conflicts between the different races of beings in the Quantum Realm and their societies.

The Ant-Man movies are now about a famous family that never recognizes its privilege; they are happy to use their image for promotions, receive free food and take pictures. The idea that Janet is doing charity work is never explored for more than a few moments in an opening montage exposition. Perhaps a more nuanced approach would have benefited the film, but then again, maybe Marvel shouldn’t have tried to tackle the housing crisis, over-policing, genocide and imperialism. Ant-Man the movie

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