Phase Fatigue | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Phase Fatigue

Marvel and Ant-Man expand and contract without growing

Here's a random fact for you: counting this article, I've written 997 stories for the Source Weekly, going all the way back to Sept. 29, 2010. The first superhero movie I reviewed for this paper was Marvel's "Captain America: The First Avenger," released July 22, 2011. Ironically, the article focuses on how I was starting to get superhero fatigue, and I was afraid I was growing out of the demographic for comic book movies.

click to enlarge Phase Fatigue
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Michelle Pfeiffer is the secret main character in “Quantumania.”

Between then and now, around 60 of those articles were about comic book movies, with a May 2017 review of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" saying that there is still art inside the commerce of the superhero genre and a Nov. 2017 review of Joss Whedon's "Justice League" complaining about feeling dead inside while watching a bunch of CG superheroes smash into each other. Imagine how many more I've seen in the years since then.

With last weekend's release of "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," there are now 31 films and 20 shows all with varying levels of connectivity to each other. Those first three phases ("Iron Man" through "Avengers: Endgame") are still, to me, a breathtaking tightrope walk of tentpole commercial filmmaking and genuinely heartfelt character stories. Those 23 movies (collectively known as the "Infinity Saga") never grow old to me, and I can still watch them over and over again. From the paranoid spy thriller vibes of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to the Jack-Kirby-influenced insanity of "Thor: Ragnarok," the MCU took a lot of chances across the 23 films of the "Infinity Saga," most of which paid off beautifully for me as a lifelong comic book collector.

In fact, "Endgame" ended so beautifully that it was hard for a lot of people to even imagine how the MCU would keep going without Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. In a perfect world where massive corporate overlords don't love money, the MCU would have ended there and called it a pretty amazing 23-film run. But as we know now, the MCU (like the James Bond series) is a forever franchise. The superhero bubble hasn't burst yet, even as so many box office pundits have predicted over and over that it would. They'll stop making them when we stop going to them.

So now we're deep into what Marvel (and head honcho Kevin Feige) call "The Multiverse Saga," comprising Phases Four through Six of the MCU and leading us all the way onto 2026. Years ago, that would have excited me to my core, but Marvel is starting to get sloppy, and it has me worried. Phase Four didn't feel like part of a larger story being told. So many of the movies (while entertaining at the time) were ultimately forgettable. There were still some bright spots like "Shang-Chi" and "Spider-Man: No Way Home," but Phase Four was the first (possibly second or third) time I felt my enthusiasm waning for the larger storytelling experiment of the MCU.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" is the first film of Phase Five, and while it still has some fun stuff in it, the movie is also a bit lifeless. Much of it was shot during strict COVID protocols, meaning almost the entire film feels like the actors are running around in front of green screens (in safety-controlled studios), reacting to CG explosions. The main reason for the film's existence is the introduction of Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror, "The Multiverse Sagas" attempt to create a villain as memorable as Thanos.

Majors is fantastic, and Kang will probably be one hell of a villain, but "Quantumania" is so derivative of a thousand better movies (they rip off the Mos Eisley cantina from "Star Wars" with both hands) that it isn't a great introduction. Considering Phase Six and the entire "Multiverse Saga" ends with another two-part "Avengers" film, respectively called "Avengers: The King Dynasty" and "Avengers: Secret Wars," they're betting a lot on the star power of Majors to prop up any weak storytelling.

I know there are a lot of people who hope the weakness of Phase Four will be the first nail in the coffin of the MCU, but Feige and Marvel have a ton of things on the horizon that people are genuinely still excited for, like the conclusion to James Gunn's "Guardians of the Galaxy" trilogy coming in May, the much hyped "Deadpool 3" and the upcoming relaunch of the "Fantastic Four."

I'm not sure anybody feels mildly toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seems like a love-it-or-hate-it situation now. I know I'm not as enthralled with the MCU as I once was, but it would only take a few great entries in a row to revive my enthusiasm (I need that excitement in order to review another decade's worth of them). When Marvel remembers that what's really important about the MCU are the characters we love going on adventures we're invested in, they will be unstoppable. Or are they just too big not to fail now? Stay tuned for Phase Nine: "The No One Cares Anymore Saga," brought to you by cynicism, indifference and green screens.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania"
Dir. Peyton Reed
Grade: C+
Regal Old Mill, Sisters Movie House

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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