We all have a moment in the not-so-young history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when we thought things went wrong. For many fans there is a full stop from which the franchise never recovered in ‘Endgame’. For me the torpor came even earlier, in the middle of Phase 3, when Disney began to confuse seriousness with melodrama, and humor with self-sarcasm. Of course there have been moments of regaining lost glory, like many moments of the ‘Avengers’ installments, happy bursts of wit like ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ and lesser and satisfying products like ‘Loki’ or ‘She- Hulk: Lawyer Hulka’.
But his biggest sin, what I missed the most, not from the first Marvel movies, but directly from the great superhero movies that preceded the MCU (from ‘Superman’ to ‘Blade’, passing through the animated ‘The Adventures of Marvel’) was the sense of wonder, that feeling that just around the corner we were going to have an unimaginable surprise, an unexpected twist, a daring and never-before-seen concept. In the Marvel of stencil-cut, no-risk movies like ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,’ it seemed like an element out of the equation.
‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’, the inaugural movie of Marvel’s Phase 5, has given me back some of my lost hope, because it has just what I ask of a superhero movie: on the one hand, that ability to Surprise that it is only recovered by getting rid of corsets, commitments and shared universes, which are very good to wink but are agony when they weigh down rhythm and arguments. Here we have an adventure without too many external continuities, without narrative debts, just a family lost in a microscopic dimension, almost microcosmic.
My other requirement, the one that elevates a successful and defensible superhero movie to the level of exquisiteness, and ‘Quantumania’ also shines in that, is certain knowledge and chemistry with the bases that underpin the narrative, aesthetics and spirit of the genre. That is to say, in this case, the classic superhero comics -from the classic cosmic sagas to the self-contained adventures-, the galactic exploration pulp and the science fiction of daring and abstract concepts. A small example, but one that channels what needs to be channeled: the credits of ‘Quantumania’, which are a tribute in the key of analog psychedelia to BBC science fiction from the seventies, like ‘Chocky’, ‘The Tomorrow People ‘ or ‘Doctor Who’.
Adventures in the small dimension
All of this fits into ‘Quantumania’ with overwhelming simplicity. Not to be too surprised: Peyton Reed has brought wonderful narrative agility to all three ‘Ant-Man’ films, refusing to play into Marvel’s game of long faces and medium shots and giving the film the frenetic dynamics of his best comedies (especially that classic for gourmands of unapologetic teen cinema entitled ‘Go for it’). He already demonstrated it with the previous ‘Ant-Man’ films, characterized by an unstoppable rhythm (especially the first one, an excellent caper movie) and by a superb direction of actors.
Here the performers take the cake once again, not only because of the five members of the ant-man family, all excellent (of course Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas, but Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd also make up a duo full of chemistry, and they are joined by Kathryn Newton as Cassie, one of the few genuinely heroic teens in the MCU.) But here, too, the two excellent villains take part of the credit: we met Jonathan Majors’ Kang in ‘Loki’ and his mastery of voice and body language is captivating. And Corey Stoll’s MODOK is the film’s great discovery, as goofy and terrifying as the character deserves, and right up there with his recent hilarious animated incarnation.
In fact, MODOK is the best example of the wonderful balance between humor, superhero mythology and thunderous science fiction that unfolds the film. Not quite a parody of a villain, but a ridiculous villain in his own right, MODOK is both terrifying and pathetic, and has the best parting line in all of MCU history. That unique tone that makes the two hours of film go by in a flash also shines when ‘Ant-Man’ becomes a mix of casteller and Schrodinger’s cat, or when he interacts with aliens in sequences of galactic twinning that are funnier than those of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.
In addition, and to round off the whole, ‘Quantumania’ distances itself from that dynamic of Marvel superheroes (especially the Avengers) of functioning as guardians of the status quo. Here, Ant-Man and his people lead a popular rebellion against a tyrant, in a use of superhuman powers with political resonances and in a situation where, of course, we will not see Captain America. And if that doesn’t make you regain your faith in Marvel, even for one hundred and twenty minutes, you deserve the second season of ‘Inhumans’.
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