Anti-colonial Antman, or Maniacal Techno-spectacle? Antman Wasp Quantumania Reviewed

There are so many things to celebrate about this movie. The cast is pure magic. Paul Rudd absolutely crushes it as Antman. He’s equally heroic and emotive from one moment to the next, and he is thoroughly believable as a comic book character and dad. The feelings of regret, care, and fatherly love he summons up are high caliber acting. There’s nothing but praise deserved on his part.

Evangeline Lilly is supremely badass. She embodies the hurt-daughter/ protective-mother duality of her character with style and gravity. And, Catherine Newton absolutely slays as the idealistic teenager superhero savant. She is bold and convicted in all the right ways and even manages a bit of vulnerability as well.

Michelle Pfieffer also delivers a stellar performance as Janet, the sexy grandmother with a whole world of secrets and she translates that tension masterfully. Michael Douglas is charming as her husband, a scientist who doesn’t demand too much attention but pulls through in the clutch.

Then, there’s the cameo by Bill Murray who is uncharacteristically creepy. He shines in a short but impactful scene as a lecherous villain.

The show is made by complete by some seriously evil energy emitted by Jonathon Majors as Kang the Conqueror. He is one compelling figure on the screen.

If you like acting, then this movie will not disappoint. It has its share of action, too. Maybe too much action. That would be my only criticism. This is a superhero movie, though, so what can be expected? With all that great acting, though, it felt a little bit like putting ketchup on a steak.

It also distracted from the storyline, which had some compelling elements. We are being asked to juggle concepts of the quantum world and the metaverse with some traces of commentary on the historical San Francisco present. It is a bit much to fit into one two-hour film.

This would be my critical response to the movie: too much digital art and special effects to let the story and acting breathe. Maybe I have it backwards and I should be happy for any story at all. I’m sure that they could have sold enough tickets to make this movie a winner just based on the rollercoaster ride alone.

Let’s look at some of the story elements, though. The movie begins with the Antman reading from his book at City Lights in SF. This historic bookstore owned by the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti was where the Beat Generation emerged as a forceful literary movement. It is where Allen Ginsberg read Howl and was met with charges of obscenity. It was a hub for radical forward-thinking writers. In this movie, it has become pedestrian to say the least. The reading would have been more appropriately set in a Barnes and Nobles or some other larger chain that puts pressure on small bookstores and threatens their survival. That moment almost seemed like a deliberate jab at the Left and literary progressives.

Then, there is the daughter’s naïve idealism, which is the only point in the movie where substantial critique makes an appearance. Antman ends his reading with a phone call from the county jail where his daughter has been arrested for interfering with police who were clearing out a homeless encampment. She rightfully objects to his fatherly disdain and states that the homeless needed protection after so many had lost reliable housing with the price of rent being so high. This critique is accepted as valid, but the rest of the movie proves her to be a dangerous idealist who doesn’t understand how Life works.

Life it would seem has a bizarre Hegelian logic all its own. That makes sense for a superhero movie. History in this movie is a process of important figures acting out moments that give shape to an unformed chunk of time. This logic is taken to the extreme with the multiverse, where all timelines are under this same logic. For this reason, you can read the movie as a reactive spectacle that ultimately distracts from historical problems. Then, it romanticizes anti-colonial struggle.

Still, the Right in this country will probably read the film as “woke” due to moments like when Michelle Pfieffer states that she was either a freedom fighter or a terrorist depending on who you ask. When we learn the extent of the problems in the quantum world it becomes clear that she could only have been a freedom fighter. That ambiguity in her statement seems like a leftist argument, a postmodern admission of the perspectival quality of truth, but it is a redundant obfuscation. She could have just said she was fighting against a tyrannical maniac on behalf of the natives.

The right will also likely condemn the daughter’s apology to the colonized peoples, and her decision to fight for and with them. It comes across on the surface as woke, but again it is more complicated than that. It is both anti-colonial and pandering to an anti-colonial audience. The neo-fascist world built by Kang the Conqueror is easy to hate. Still, there is nothing inherently wrong with appealing to the anti-colonial spirit, even if done for emotional effect.

The final point I wanted to make about the movie has to do with when Antman and Wasp enter the realm of probability to steal the power source for Kang’s multiverse ship. They split into every possible version of themselves in that situation becoming a confusing army of clones. It is the love for their daughter that eventually unifies them and gives them the direction to make it to their goal. Love conquers indecision and matters more than the potential of other worlds. It might seem a little cheesy, but like a good pizza I’ll take it!

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