Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania and Marvel’s threequel problem

(L-R): Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Kathryn Newton as Cassandra "Cassie" Lang, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne/Wasp in Marvel Studios' ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.
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Marvel has developed a habit of using third instalments to further the wider story – but at the expense of the character whose name is in the title. 

This weekend sees the release of the first film in Marvel’s phase five – Ant-Man And The Wasp: QuantumaniaThat the movie is also the third instalment in the Ant-Man trilogy, however, seems less important to the studio than setting up the next big story arc.


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Quantumania catches up with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang – whose suit grants him the power to become both very big and very small – and family a few years after the events of Avengers: Endgame. They’re living an uneventful life, while Scott’s daughter Cassie (played by Kathryn Newton) gets herself into trouble fighting for good causes and experiments with her grandfather Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) molecular technology.

It’s one of her inventions that gets the entire group sucked into the Quantum Realm that exists below/within our own world, and the plot quickly ensues.

Of course, the Quantum Realm is closely linked to Ant-Man's characters – both Scott himself and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne have been stuck in the place at some point or another, and the story of Quantumania does focus a fair bit on the events of Janet’s decades-long stay there. But that also happens to link to the backstory of the film (and entire cinematic universe’s) big new villain – Kang the Conqueror.

Jonathan Majors’ big bad was introduced in the Disney+ series Loki, and is planned as The Avengers’ next powerful foe. Before his reveal in Quantumania, his shadow looms large over the proceedings. Once Majors steps into the frame, his menacing presence becomes the focus of the film.

Ultimately, the Ant-Man threequel uses the main characters as a means to an end: to introduce the new villain that will shape the fifth phase of the series and to demonstrate his power. It takes away everything that makes an Ant-Man film – the heists that Scott’s good at, the loveable side characters of the rambling Luis (Michael Peña) or Randall Park’s Agent Jimmy Woo – in favour of plonking Scott into a CGI-fest that doesn’t develop the character’s story or make the most of his skills set.

While it’s good to see the series have some direction after a meandering and extremely mixed batch of phase four films, the question plaguing me while watching Quantumania was “why make an Ant-Man film that doesn’t care about Ant-Man?”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Marvel has developed an unsettling habit of making threequels that advance the main plot (even writing those words feels slightly soulless) at the expense of telling a good story about the title character. While early Marvel threequels like Iron Man 3 dealt with personal plot points and development, like Tony Stark’s post-Avengers PTSD, later instalments have favoured pushing their main characters to the sidelines.

The earliest and perhaps most prominent example is 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. An excellent film, but while the central conflict may have revolved around the superhero’s best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), I’m not the first to point out that the large cast of superhero characters made it a mislabelled third Avengers film.

For those unfamiliar, Civil War sees the Avengers split off into two groups and fight… over a political treaty. Written up after the severe fallout of the last Avengers film, Age Of Ultron, the Sokovia Accords would give Governments control of the actions of superheroes, preventing them from running around causing collateral damage on foreign soil and creating, I presume, mountains of legal paperwork.

When you consider that a legal document is essentially at the heart of the movie, it becomes clear that Civil War is preoccupied not with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers and his relationship with his friends and colleagues, but with the political shifts going on in the world they inhabit.

It also introduced the late Chadwick Boseman’s character of T’Challa – the Black Panther – which would be followed by two Black Panther films.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Likewise, Tom Holland’s third outing as Spider-Man, Spider-Man: No Way Home, felt more a tease of what’s to come than a true Spider-Man tale.

The aforementioned Loki series introduced the concept of a Marvel multi-verse – multiple universes where different versions of characters who live very different lives exist. The animated follow-up What If? gave us a taste of some of the scenarios that the multi-verse would make possible, including if characters swapped roles – Hayley Atwell becoming Captain Britain instead of Steve Rogers’ Captain America or T’Challa becoming Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill. No Way Home was in many ways an extension of Marvel showing us what was now possible within the MCU.

Holland’s Peter Parker may be facing a personal crisis at the start of the movie, with everyone now knowing his super alter ego, but more importantly (both to us and to the studio) we got to see Tobey Maguire be Spider-Man again long after the conclusion of Sam Raimi’s trio of films. This was caused by (Holland’s) Peter Parker asking sorcerer Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to make everyone forget that he was Spider-Man. It, of course, backfires terribly.

With this instalment, the studio very much capitalised on the lingering affection fans have for previous incarnations of the character (and their respective villains). All eyes were on Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina. I don’t know anyone, myself included, who went to see the movie to find out what happens to Holland’s character.

It feels, especially after Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, that Marvel is desperate to keep the cogs in its massive franchise machine turning, to keep churning out films and get bums in seats with the promise of infinite possibilities and the next huge event.

In its scramble to give the post-Endgame Marvel Cinematic Universe a clear sense of direction, they’ve missed the point of what its audience actually enjoys. The heart of the series is not in epic CGI battles or the unveiling of big plot points – it’s in the characters at the centre of it all.

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