Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania 100.1: The Problem is Not the Problem

They call it “Marvel Fatigue”, which is apparently a thing that happens to people who like something so much that they watch a lot of it.

Is the world starting to get Marvel fatigue?” Gamerant asked in December 2021, one week before the debut of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which made $805 million domestic.

Marvel Fatigue Is More Obvious Than Ever After San Diego Comic Con,” asserted in July 2022, halfway between Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($411 million) and Thor: Love and Thunder ($343 million).

Marvel Fatigue Is Setting in with MCU Fans,” Screenrant declared in November 2022, a week after the premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($453 million).

Marvel’s Kevin Feige has a plan to combat superhero fatigue. Will it work?” AV Club gasped in February 2023, two days before Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania had a $118 million opening weekend.

I swear, my greatest dream in life is that someday people will be as tired of me as they are of Marvel movies. Just imagine how much money I would make.

This is my weekend popcorn post about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the latest superhero blockbuster to prove once again that people do not actually want what people say that people want.

I suppose the first thing that I need to get out of the way is the question of whether Quantumania is a dramatically satisfying piece of cinema. It is not.

Quantumania is the story of a rich white family who get transported to an exotic location, where a group of oppressed indigneous people are struggling against a rapacious dictator. The dictator threatens the family, so they organize a native uprising to distract him, long enough for them to scamper back home to their lives of unending privilege.

The movie features a cast of five barely likeable protagonists, who do not engage in any noticeable character development over the course of the film. It quickly splits those five into groups of two and three, so that each group can spend the entire movie worrying about how the other group is doing.

The core emotional throughline is that Scott loves his daughter Cassie, and worries that she might be harmed. He feels that way at the beginning of the movie, and continues to feel that way for the next two hours. When she’s in danger, he is determined to save her at all costs; when she takes action to resolve the situation, he is proud and relieved. Their relationship is exactly the same at the end of the movie as it is at the start, and the same is true for every other character.

The movie begins with a group meal and ends with the same people having another group meal, and nobody learns anything except that the quantum realm is just as scary as they figured it probably was.

Of course, last July at Comic-Con, everybody found out exactly how much Marvel fatigue they didn’t have. Kevin Feige laid out the plan for everything we would be watching from now until May 2024, and everybody who cares about this stuff was about as happy as you could hope for.

Loki is getting a second season, and Daredevil is coming back, and Agatha: Coven of Chaos picks up on a fan-favorite character from a fan-favorite show.

There’s also an impressive number of people of color in lead roles: Nick Fury in Secret Invasion, Riri Williams in Ironheart, Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau in The Marvels, Sam Wilson in Captain America, Mahershala Ali playing Blade, and also Echo, starring the Native American lady from Hawkeye who I can’t remember who she is. And of course there’s Jonathan Majors as Kang, who’s in Loki and Ant-Man and probably everything else, one way or another.

So there’s basically three kinds of people at this point. People who like the MCU are looking forward to maybe two-thirds of these projects. People who don’t like the MCU couldn’t care less and are happy doing whatever they’re interested in. And then there’s the furious people who are angry that the MCU is woke, because they’re having a hard time with the idea that they’re not “everybody” anymore.

Quantumania is mostly about scenery; it takes place in a series of weird landscapes that don’t really connect to each other in any kind of understandable way. It’s a series of virtual sets that people stand around and talk in, and sometimes it’s daytime over here and nighttime over there at the same time.

It’s basically every piece of concept art in every Art of the Movie coffee table book come to life; it feels like they told a bunch of people to go make interesting landscapes and then said yes to everything they came up with.

The problem is that it’s currently February 2023, and all of the big tech and entertainment corporations have decided they need to downsize. The COVID lockdown was huge for all of the web platforms and streaming services, because we all needed stuff to do that didn’t involve other people. So tech and entertainment companies experienced a lot of growth, and they really liked that feeling, and now they’re disappointed that you can’t have explosive growth every single quarter forever.

At Disney, Bob Iger announced at the earnings call on February 8th that revenue was up 8%, but they were going to lay off 7,000 people anyway, and cut $5.5 billion in costs.

They announced that Disney+ lost 2.4 million subscribers in the last quarter, which everyone assumed was because they kept making Marvel shows and we’ve all got Marvel fatigue. In fact, it turns out that Disney+ subscriptions went up by about 200,000 in the US; the big loss happened in India, where Disney+ Hotstar lost the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League cricket matches.

But Iger wants to slow down on the streaming content, which I will grudgingly admit is probably fair. All of the streaming services went content-crazy during the lockdown, producing as many expensive premium shows as they could manage, and in reality, people don’t change their streaming subscriptions often enough to justify it.

Personally, I’m going to keep my Disney+ subscription exactly the way it is no matter how many Marvel shows they make. They could make ten shows this year, or five, or three, and even if they didn’t make any, I would probably keep my Disney+ subscription anyway, because I’m a Disney+ subscription kind of person, and there’s not much that they could do to at this point to alter my basic identity.

Quantumania alerted me to the existence of “a Star Wars” as a unit of measure, as in: This location has a Star Wars worth of aliens in it, and then they go to another location, which has another Star Wars worth of aliens.

Some of them are cool-looking, like the one who has an orange spotlight for a head that shoots ray guns out of it. Some of them are Pixar-y, like the gooey one who’s clearly an extra from Monsters University who must have won a contest or something. One of them is the standard lesbian-coded female warrior chief, and one of them is Chidi from The Good Place.

Many of them die, but you can’t tell which ones or how many, and it doesn’t matter, because they’re poor people and there are always more of them, somewhere.

So now it’s Kevin Feige’s job to go out in front of the world and explain that they’re not actually doing all of the things that he announced at Comic-Con last summer, and he’s totally okay with that.

Here’s what he told Entertainment Weekly on February 14th, a week after Iger’s earnings call:

“It is harder to hit the zeitgeist when there’s so much product out there — and so much “content,” as they say, which is a word that I hate. [Laughs] But we want Marvel Studios and the MCU projects to really stand out and stand above. So, people will see that as we get further into Phase 5 and 6. The pace at which we’re putting out the Disney+ shows will change so they can each get a chance to shine.”

That means we’re definitely getting Loki season 2 this year, because it’s got Kang in it and they need to move that plot forward, and we’ll get Secret Invasion because it’s already done and there’s no use sitting on it, but Echo and Ironheart and Agatha are probably getting bumped to 2024, Daredevil might get pushed out to 2025, and we’re probably not going to get any more random Halloween specials featuring characters that nobody’s ever heard of.

Obviously, Kevin’s not happy, because he loved burning Disney’s money on luxury TV shows and he wanted to keep doing that forever, but Iger said he can’t do it and therefore it’s Marvel fatigue.

So Quantumania isn’t really that good of a movie, but we went to see it anyway because it has Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror, in his first big role after his debut appearance at the end of Loki season 1. This is a big deal because the next Avengers movie is called The Kang Dynasty, so obviously we’re going to need to watch this at some point, and we might as well get it over with. Also, Loki season 1 was really good.

And the good news is that Jonathan Majors is persistently entertaining, no matter what he does. He wears a silly purple and green armored warsuit like the one that they made Lex Luthor wear when they wanted to sell more action figures, and he pulls it off through sheer charisma.

Basically, he can register any emotion in a plausible way, so they give him every possible mood over the course of the movie, and he nails it every time. We don’t even get to see his shirtless torso, which according to the trailer for Creed III is unbelievable, and you hardly notice.

Majors is so key to the future of the franchise that he gets two different mid-credits scenes, and both of them are more interesting than anything in the movie, especially the second one, where they promise us that he’ll be in Loki season 2. And everyone perks up and cheers when they see that, because that’s why we showed up.

So this idea that the audience is tired of superheroes in general and Marvel in particular is clearly not the case; it’s just that Bob Iger wants to cut costs to make the shareholders happy. There’s no such thing as an audience that will like something more if there’s less of it.

The most fatiguing idea of all, which you will hear from every critic for the rest of your life, is that the audience is tired of “the MCU machine”, which makes everything into an ad for the next thing. According to this view, people don’t like being forced to watch a movie just because they want to see what happens in it. What the audience really wants is stand-alone stories that don’t link to each other, because I guess long-form serialized storytelling isn’t popular, except in the real world where it’s obviously the most popular thing that ever existed.

And so we look at this unbroken string of 31 motion pictures that continue to earn at least half a billion dollars apiece, and we shake our heads. The Marvel Cinematic Universe: how did it go so terribly wrong?

We talk Superman IV on a new podcast episode!
Superman IV 7.1: A Stake in the Ground


— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania 100.1: The Problem is Not the Problem

  1. You gotta warn us before you go linking to Bounding Into Comics!

    As for fatigue… I’m still seeing these movies, but I’m starting to feel a sense of obligation creeping up to match actual desire. There’s always the chance that a new one will be as good as the best ones, though this one was not great.

    The “just a commercial for the next one” complaint has never made much sense to me. I’m pretty sure that every member of the audience — at least going back to The Avengers in 2012 — understands that these movies are all part of a connected franchise. There are always going to be references to the past and teases for the future. And none of them have failed to tell a self-contained story. Even Infinity War has a definitive ending.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. One of my Google suggestions was a Bounding Into Comics link the other day, which was the first time I had ever seen that website.

      I won’t be going back!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, it’s the worst. I just saw it yesterday for the first time, while I was writing this post.

        The crazy thing about the right wing culture war narrative is that it’s completely immune to evidence. Imagine thinking that making movies and TV shows featuring Black people is doomed to failure, two months after everybody went to a Black Panther sequel that doesn’t even have Black Panther in it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I mean, I want to see the Black Panther sequel but I haven’t gotten around to it? Mainly because while I actually enjoy the majority of these films once I’m watching them, I can’t shake the “checklist” feeling of okay, got that one done.

      I mean, I truly enjoyed the last couple Spiderman movies, in the main because A) I was astonished at how well they used age appropriate teen Peter and his friends and B) how well they used recognizable human nature and motivations in these giant, ridiculous stories.

      When you find out one of the guys helping the fishbowl wearing villain is doing it because Stane yelled at him, and then Tony Stark was a total jerkface who really hurt his feelings, you totally get it. Sure, some people are Thanos, but a lot more are that guy–fed up with being belittled and finally finding one little door marked “Revenge: You’ll Regret It, But Not For A While.”

      Liked by 3 people

  2. It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney+ actually does more one-hour specials and fewer TV shows going forward. Most everyone liked the two they did last year, and they’ve got to be cheaper to make than a whole series.

    One episode was the perfect amount of Werewolf By Night, and it would also have been the perfect amount of Falcon & the Winter Soldier.

    I haven’t seen this one yet. I’ll watch it on Disney+, I’m sure!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think the Guardians Christmas special may have been one of the problems for Iger. They used expensive movie stars and expensive movie crew to make a special that probably got them zero additional Disney+ subscriptions.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I’m sure that the films are more profitable than the Disney+ series/one-shots, at least obviously so to the accountants, so that’s why they’re slowing down the latter. I don’t really understand the economics of streaming services and the expensive shows they produce. Does Netflix really pay the millions of dollars for, say, Rings of Power just based on subscription fees? Or is there outside funding coming from somewhere? I’m sure Disney has lots of money to throw around, but how do they distribute it across their many enterprises (while still answering to shareholders)? Maybe if I had lasted more than a couple of semesters as an accounting major in college I might have a better chance of understanding the economics of it all.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nobody knows how to make the current streaming model make sense. Making original content available by subscription only made sense during covid lockdown, when everyone was suddenly home and eager to subscribe to streaming services. So the studios made tons of high priced premium content, basically as a flex to look as cool as all the other streamers. Now they’re all trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. “They used expensive movie stars and expensive movie crew to make a special that probably got them zero additional Disney+ subscriptions.”
        True, but consider the good will generated by making it so much easier to play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” now.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I was just meh about the movie despite loving Paul Rudd generally, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why. Danny’s analysis helps me nail it down a little more. I liked all of the individual performances (except for Bill Murray, the point of whom here I just didn’t see), but there just wasn’t much emotional core for me to really latch onto.

    There were parts I liked, parts I didn’t like. But it’s trouble for a movie when the thing that wowed me the most was the realization that the hero’s name was embedded in the subtitle: QuANTuMANia.

    I’m certainly not fatigued by the MCU even though I’ve found a couple of the recent films to be so-so. I found some of the Phase 1 and 2 movies to be so-so as well, and that didn’t diminish my overall excitement. I do note, though, that I seem to be enjoying the long-form storytelling of the recent series more than the movies, so I kinda wish they were scaling back the film plans rather than the Disney+ series. But I’m still along for the ride.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. The deal with streaming is that they’re still running on the cable model, in which you pay for all the channels you’re not watching as well as the few you do. There’s always been a lot of loose money in movies and TV, because they have to pay for all the duds too. The cable era is coming to an end.

    Say what you like about Stan Lee, he came up with some epic characters. Sixty years on, there’s a gold mine of plots and settings and character arcs. They can keep making these movies as long as we are willing to watch them.

    The media tear down anything successful because they need a narrative too. If only we’d get tired of them.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I will watch this when it arrives on Disney+ (even though the reviews have not been great) because I like the actors. I have a backlog of Phase 4 movies and TV shows I haven’t watched or haven’t completed because we are no longer locked down and I have things to do and less free time. Is it fatigue? No, it’s life. If they slow down I might catch up, though to be honest, there are some I’m just not interested in.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I watch most of these MCU shows. I even say I like most of them. However, I remember very little of them.

    Even with Loki, which I like more than most, I don’t remember enough about the plot to discuss it coherently. Hopefully when I see it again it will come back a little. WandaVision is the only one I could probably write down and get the plot details mostly correct.

    I don’t think that’s MCU fatigue, but it might be ME fatigue as I have most of my brain shut off when I watch these things. They are visually interesting but generally I don’t care much about the people or even the situations they are in. At home, I often find myself dozing during the movies. I tell myself I could watch what I missed later, but I don’t care enough to see it later… nor do I care enough to see most of these during the first run in the theater. Our theaters are an hour away and it’s just not worth the effort for most movies anymore. We saw the new Jurassic Park and unsurprisingly we got covid soon after. Next movie we plan to see is 65. There’s an 80% probability we will actually go.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “And so we look at this unbroken string of 31 motion pictures that continue to earn at least half a billion dollars apiece, and we shake our heads. The Marvel Cinematic Universe: how did it go so terribly wrong?”

    …Well, now that it looks like this is going to be the first Marvel film since 2011 not to gross half a billion, outside of the three that didn’t during the pandemic… I think this punchline might be a bit of an own-goal!

    Not that I think Marvel is in any way doomed, of course. But there’s a point where the MCU franchise becomes like “The Simpsons” or “Law & Order” — still ticking over nicely, but people recognise that it’s a fraction as big as it was at its peak.

    Liked by 1 person

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