Usually when I do these “bad writing” articles I like to cite a number of issues. For Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania I want to focus on a single scene. I think it embodies everything that’s wrong with the film’s writing.
In the climax, Scott Lang grows to his kaiju size and begins an assault on Kang’s fortress. As a countermeasure, Kang sends out a wave of high-tech fighter jets. There’s a shot of Scott moving forward. Wasp is on his shoulder. They notice the fighter jets. Wasp says, “Keep going. I got them” then heroically flies off to confront the jets. She shoots down EXACTLY ONE but there are dozens of these things. We immediately cut to Scott flailing around because so many of these ships are firing on him. He can’t “keep going”. All he can do is hunch over to protect himself. Then Wasp yells, “Scott, I can’t hold them!” When it looks like there’s no hope, a bunch of reinforcements arrive and destroy Kang’s aerial forces.
The ships launch at 1:30:26. Wasp delivers her “I got them” line at 1:30:29. She blows up the first ship at 1:30:31. From 1:30:33 to 1:30:47, Scott’s blasted into submission. At 1:30:50, Wasp says, “I can’t hold them.” 1:30:51, Scott seems like he’ll succumb. 1:30:53, reinforcements arrive.
The issues here are with pacing and substance. It takes less than 30 seconds for Kang’s ships to launch, overwhelm Ant-Man, then get completely annihilated. In only 21 seconds, Wasp goes from “I got this” to “I can’t hold them!” We have no sense of what Kang’s thinking or feeling about this. We get no reaction from Cassie. We barely get a reaction from Scott and Hope. How much do the laser blasts hurt? Are they actually doing damage to Scott? Is Hope growing more desperate as she sees Scott under serious fire? Is she being attacked? Has she been hit? What about Kang’s forces? Are the ships AI or are there pilots? Do they care about one another? Are they fighting because they believe in Kang or because they’re afraid of him? Cassie hasn’t witnessed her dad face forces like this. Is this a moment where she is truly impressed by him? Or does it awaken her to how dangerous all of this stuff can be?
So much of Quantumania is just this: a superficial hurdle that presents itself and is overcome in the time it takes you to sigh deeply from disappointment.
“Okay, Chris. Smart guy. What should they have done?”
Just a basic example is the use of a sub-villain. We already have MODOK, but he’s off chasing Cassie, giving her something to do. But you could introduce another lieutenant, someone who, like Bill Murray’s character, had been with the rebellion but gone over to Kang’s side. Maybe they have ties to Jentorra and the rebellion. Give them a couple scenes earlier in the film, have them lead the aerial forces. When Hope takes off to provide cover for Scott, she’s pursued by the lieutenant. So now she can’t help Scott because she’s fighting for her life. You can have a brief bit where she’s chased, flying through the swarm of ships firing on Scott, still trying to help. Have MODOK taunt Cassie with what’s happening to her father. Let the sequence breathe for a bit. When the rebellion forces arrive, have the lieutenant’s ship shot down to set up a confrontation between the lieutenant and Jentorra. Have Hope check on Scott or acknowledge that now she can clear the way for him and then follow her as she does just that and Scott runs behind her.
In the movie, Wasp is gone from the “I can’t hold them” at 1:30:51 until 1:34:33. That’s nearly 4 minutes. When we do come back to her, she’s still just fighting some random ships before deciding to fly to Scott. It’s a completely pointless sequence for her that doesn’t add to her character, her relationships, a theme, a subplot, nothing. What even is her character arc in this movie? It seems it’s “Find out what Janet has been hiding” but Janet explains everything an hour into the movie. Hope has absolutely nothing to do after that. There’s nothing going on with her and Scott. There’s nothing between her and Cassie. There’s nothing with her and Kang. With her and the rebellion. HER NAME IS IN THE TITLE! Yet she has absolutely no characterization. The only moment of substance is when she crosses back through the portal to save Scott. That was nice. But it’s way too little.
Quantumania is almost entirely without substance. That’s because it barely takes the time to develop any characters, themes, arcs, or subplots. Compare the development of Jentorra to Korg in Thor: Ragnarok. Or Cassie’s ascendancy to being a hero to Yelena in Black Widow or Shuri in Wakanda Forever. Look at how Spider-Man: No Way Home built the conflict between Peter and Green Goblin versus Ant-Man and Kang.
The only thing Quantumania did well was give Jonathan Majors time to show how incredible he is. Every scene where he had a decent amount of dialogue was far and away better than anything else. It’s like when Kang was on screen, it was a completely different movie. That’s because Quantumania slowed down to give Majors the space to be Kang and establish the aura of Kang. Then as soon as he was off screen it resumed skipping from superficial moment to superficial moment and never developing anyone or anything (aside from Kang).
Oh and don’t get me started with the amount of people putting helmets on only to take them off 5-10 seconds later. It’s happened so many times I was in total disbelief. Because either they were trying to be funny in a kind of meta way. Or they had no idea how insane it was. Either way, it was painful.
I generally agree with all this. The first half of the film is thin and the jokes don’t really land (couldn’t tell whether it was a directing, editing, or writing issue, or maybe all of that). The scenes with Kang are generally excellent, due to either Majors’ ability and/or they actually had an idea on what to do with him. But yup, Hope barely gets anything to do that matters, there’s very little actual character arc, and there’s a lot of wasted opportunity for building actual tension. I’d still watch the second half of the film again, but disappointing otherwise.
Hi Jennifer! Yeah, it’s so bizarre. I saw some people trying to blame the writer. I get that this was his first film and he had previously only ever worked on Rick and Morty. It does feel like maybe there was a bit of a lower ceiling due to the inexperience? But… he’s part of the Marvel machine. The writer isn’t the main person behind the final project. Feige and Reed probably deserve a majority of the questions here.
You have summed up all of my thoughts here Chris, great read! As a big fan of the MCU during the Infinity Saga, Phase 4 and now 5 has been really difficult to enjoy/see the direction of what they’re trying to do. The writing was probably the worst I’ve ever witnessed in an MCU film.
As much as I like Ant-Man, it feels like this should not have been his film. Why put a hero who’s charm and likeability is all about size and scale into a place where you have no idea of the size and scale. Bill Murray has hardly been mentioned in people’s reviews and I agree with you, what a waste of him. Why not have him come back at the end, sub-leading an army/freedom fighters for Kang showing the change he made. Instead we get CGI blobs and yet another waste of actors like William Jackson Harper. Oh and as you say, don’t get me started on the helmets. I have fun pausing and playing trailers or clips of Marvel’s on YouTube seeing the helmets mid faze. It’s the one of the worst changes Marvel made to their heroes and films. I also hated everything about MODOK. All in all, this probably would’ve been more interesting as a story focused more on Kang and Janet. Fingers crossed for GOTG 3.
Hey Louie! It’s a sad thing to commiserate over, but it is kind of cathartic to talk about this stuff.
I really do think this could work as an Ant-Man movie. It would just need Scott to have an actual story beyond “I want to protect my daughter.” But, yeah, the parts with Janet and Kang were much more interesting than anything else.