Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Are You Not Ant-ertained?

As we all know, Quantumania did not sweep the nation, much less the world, when Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania was released in theaters this past February. After a record breaking opening weekend that set a new high for the franchise, it quickly dropped off and, while it wasn't exactly a box office failure, it was certainly a surprising box office disappointment in terms of the MCU.

While many wanted to ascribe its weak box office performance to "superhero fatigue," I think it's been proven time and again that "superhero fatigue" is an imaginary phenomenon. Audience respond to films on an individual basis, not on grounds of their genre. So why was Quantumania about as welcome as ants at a picnic? This wasn't just a movie that was tepidly received, it was vilified. 

Aside from the fact that the internet occasionally loves to dog pile on certain films, and that kind of hostility can take on a life of its own, I think the unhappiness with Quantumania mainly comes down to two different aspects. First and foremost, as much as some enjoyed the deliberate change of pace for the series and the ambitious attempt by director Peyton Reed to make Quantumania an entirely different type of Ant-Man film, I think that's exactly what most audiences didn't like about it. 

What sold the first Ant-Man was the shot in the trailer of Thomas the Train Engine bearing down on Yellowjacket. That specific shot, more than anything else, is what really got audiences on board with the whole Ant-Man concept. Having fun with the scale of ordinary objects was the primary hook of those first two films and taking the real world out of the equation in Quantumania removed the element that had drawn viewers to Ant-Man in the first place. Putting Scott and the rest of the Ant Family into a world where nothing is recognizable just isn't as appealing to viewers as, say, watching a car chase through city streets where the twist is that all the vehicles are shrinking and enlarging. 

It also didn't help that having the movie take place in the Quantum Realm meant Scott's crew had to sit this one out and an Ant-Man movie without Michael Pena's Luis just isn't the same. And although David Dastmalchain's vocal performance as Ved was a highlight, it wasn't the same as having him back as Kurt. The first two Ant-Mans boasted one of the most entertaining supporting casts in the MCU so having those characters not appear was just another thing working against it. 

The second aspect that I believe made it hard for Quantumania to win over audiences was the fact that it was the first big movie in theaters after Avatar: The Way of Water. Both films took place almost exclusively in a CGI created alien environment and the bottom line is that the Quantum Realm could not compete with the ground breaking spectacle of Pandora. Maybe if there'd been more of a buffer between the two movies it wouldn't have mattered but having Quantumania arrive directly on the heels of Way of Water made the comparisons inescapable. While the FX of Quantumania looked just fine by normal standards, I think with Way of the Water so fresh in viewer's minds, there was no way for Quantumania to not hit viewers as being a major downgrade. No shame in being owned by Cameron, though, I say.  

Personally I really enjoyed Quantimania. As a lighthearted, family friendly adventure, it gave me happy flashbacks to a specific style of fantasy/sci-fi film that were Saturday matinee staples of my '70s childhood, like The Land That Time Forgot, At The Earth's Core and The People That Time Forgot.

Like Quantumania, these were films with protagonists who found themselves thrust into strange and savage alien environments in which they had to be resourceful and find allies among the local tribes and battle the challenges of the weird worlds they find themselves in. Those '70s films were primarily silly affairs but they had an endearing, sweet natured sincerity to them, which Quantumania shares, along with their B-movie spirit. Quantumania may not have been what most audiences were looking for but I can say that right from the start, it kept me highly antertained.   

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