I just watched Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania for a second time on Disney+. That tells you something about the film from a Marvel fan who save End Game seven times in theaters. And the something has nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with the suspension of belief. As a science fiction aficionado, I suspend belief daily when reading, watching, or listening to audiobooks. Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania took me a step too far for a connected universe in which the Quantum Realm seems, well, disconnected.
We are asked to embrace the multiverse. For those of us familiar with modern physics, alternative universes spring from a theoretical basis. The artistic license demonstrated in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness can be forgiven in light of the story (you can read my review of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness in which I point out that there wasn’t enough multiverse or madness, but that is a different criticism altogether).
In Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania are asked to believe in a pocket universe that allows humans to live at a subatomic level. That the Quantum Realm could be used as a transport conduit for time travel, OK, but as the home for populations of life, compatible with a tiny human, including water and breathable oxygen (which would be too big to exist at that level). And yes, I hear myself.
But that is a lot of belief to suspend. When creating hundreds of comic books, writers can get away with far-flung ideas. In a blockbuster movie costing almost $200M, creating an entirely new world (read, subatomic, pocket universe) and dropping people into it is a big bet.
The blame for creating a world that is too hard to believe in falls to the writer and producer. I’m not sure what Peyton Reed was thinking or why Kevin Feige thought the setting was a good one, but both made a huge mistake in expecting an emotional connection to people visiting and living in a world that no one knew about, cared about, or understood its logic or possibility of being,
Weave then a plot that suggests Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) lived in the Quantum Realm for three decades, and one more level of disbelief must be suspended. The MacGuffin of the Quantum Realm mapper built by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his Granddaughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) as the entry point also strains credibility. And yes, again, I know it’s fiction, but there is good fiction and bad fiction, and unlike the “time machine” in End Game, the quantum mapper, nor the Quantum Realm, rise to the level of necessity—in this story, perhaps, but not in the MCU—both prove inconsequential.
MCU fans know Kang (Jonahtan Majors) is all about multiverses. We know that from Loki. Janet could have experienced time passing at a different pace, as was already established. She could have had a horrific experience for a couple of days and then found herself expelled into an alternative Earth, one cut off by other Kangs, adrift in the multiverse—and then discovered a MacGuffin to explain a forced incursion that reconnects Janet with her Earth, and the threat of her Kang moving into our reality. I’m not going to rewrite the entire movie, but that premise aligns more with the overall MCU direction in Phase 4. It connects things we have seen before rather than introducing new and unnecessary complexities. The MCU is complex enough without dropping in entirely new concepts without a reason to care about them.
And given the Quantum Realm is a place of exile for a now-dead Kang, it appears, for all intents and purposes, that the Quantum Realm need not play a role in any future MCU stories. This populated Quantum Realm, rather than the End Game conduit, was a MacGuffin to puff out an otherwise sparse story.
None of this suspension of belief or failed science fiction thinking, of course, really matters if no one cares about the characters. And we don’t in Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, not beyond the opening and closing scenes in San Francisco, which are the only relatable parts of the film—and they exist for minutes among a sea of unfathomable atomic-scale-Lilliputian entities that both look nothing like humans and entirely too much like them.
Kevin Feige’s big plot board in the sky needs to have a few lines redrawn and the logic tightened.
I teach scenario planning at the University of Washington. I tell my learners in the course that the difference between science fiction and scenarios is that we strive, when creating alternative possible strategic futures, to ground them in the possible, if not the probable. Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania steps so far into improbability that it does matter what happens because our heroes exist in a world that we don’t understand and, therefore, cannot feel any sense of shared jeopardy.
What we know going in is that the stars will survive and that the movie’s day or so of action is insignificant to the larger story—and that gets reinforced in the end credits scene where we learn that the Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania Kang is dead. The 2 hours and 4-minute runtime took us to that end credit and expelled us where we should have been all along, in the multiverse of waring Kangs that Loki’s Kang warned us about.
That’s a lot to ask of an audience Kevin—in a connected universe, the connections need to be more explicit, and they need to be important enough that the audience cares about them.
Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania did make time pass at a different pace. Rather than feeling like just minutes had passed, this visit to Quantum Realm seemed to elongate time as my mind reeled with ways to understand and repair the CGI-laden spectacle before me.