Is there any movie franchise bigger than the Marvel franchise? After a quick Google search, I received my answer: a resounding no. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has, according to CNBC, grossed over 22 billion dollars at the global box office. For reference, the second-highest-grossing franchise, Star Wars, only grossed 10.2 billion, and it started roughly 30 years before Iron Man was released in 2008.
So, what makes the MCU so successful? What enables it to keep churning out popular and successful films seemingly every few months? It seems like everything Marvel touches is golden as it expands, pulling from a never-ending pool of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s source material. It seems to never stop peppering a dizzying number of characters across overlapping worlds and timelines.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Marvel’s latest release to theaters on Feb. 17, isn’t exactly basking in praise. It received a mere 47% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.6 on IMDb. Most critical reviews are lackluster at best. Yet, somehow, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the film managed to reel in 240 million dollars globally on its opening weekend. The flash and pizzazz of a Marvel film is irresistible.
But what exactly is irresistible? Certainly not the latest Ant-Man’s plot. Along with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hope’s parents, Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Ant-Man’s alter ego, is pulled into the Quantum Realm, an alternate dimension beneath our reality. The five attempt to find their way back home while not letting any lurking villains loose in the process. So, basically, fight the bad guys and make it home in one piece. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff.
As I watched the film, I was struck by three possibilities for its draw: star power, visual appeal and humor. This is the trifecta, the ultimate power trio present in almost every successful Marvel film (with perhaps the notable exception of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which leaned more heavily into darker, somber themes in lieu of comedy).
First: star power. It seems like Marvel has recruited almost every top name and face in Hollywood for their films, and this Ant-Man film is no exception. Rudd and Lilly reprise their roles in the ensemble cast as the two titular characters, Ant-Man and the Wasp respectively. Pfeiffer and Douglas return as Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, and even Bill Murray makes a brief cameo as the corrupt Lord Krylar.
Honestly, the existence of a multiverse on top of a subatomic Quantum Realm is a tough sell for most audiences. This movie benefits from the foundation the other Marvel movies have constructed around the idea of parallel realities, but recognizable names and familiar faces definitely help ground it.
Second: visual appeal. This film is pretty. The visual effects used to build the Quantum Realm are breathtaking and imaginative. It’s hard to visualize what a reality removed from space and time might look like, but this movie did not shy away from making it really beautiful. The colors and globular structures are almost dream-like in their loveliness.
Third: humor. Here, I lump in all of the charm and charisma of Marvel’s characters that result in hilarious quips, bits and exchanges. Scott Lang was ready and equipped with dad jokes throughout the film to keep it flowing and to make his relationship with Cassie convincing. However, I must say, this film was carried by the physical comedy provided by MODOK — a misshapen, egg-like quasi-villain. The appearance of his floating form never failed to elicit a chuckle or snort.
So, yes, this film contained all the necessary components to make it a success. It was goofy, yet also had its more emotional moments, however fleeting. It was fun, fast, sensational and silly, and it was an all-around entertaining film. It even managed to touch on more charged topics, like colonialism and imperialism, through the inclusion of the film’s major villain, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors).
However, I do wish that the film had taken more time with Kang. Part of the draw of villains like Thanos or Killmonger from previous MCU films was that they were flawed characters that were also justified in their own sense. If Kang had a point, it seemed like it was swallowed up by the characters’ quick dismissal of him as an evil, tyrannical monster.
Overall, I would recommend this movie. Is it award-worthy? Probably not. But it delivered as what it was: a fun, superhero adventure that will keep you smiling for the entirety of its over two-hour runtime. It may not be the best movie ever, but I found myself genuinely enjoying it, and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for these characters.
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