This post contains spoilers for "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania."
One of the central appeals of 1960s Marvel Comics was that they took place in, more or less, the "real" world. Unlike DC's Superman, for instance, who lived in an abstract urban amalgam called Metropolis, Marvel's Spider-Man lived in New York City, using Manhattan skyscrapers as means of swinging around down. The character was clearly designed by people who lived in New York and could easily imagine themselves swinging above the frustrating traffic on the ground. Spider-Man dealt with fantastical supervillains, yes, and might occasionally be whisked off to other planets, but also had to worry about making money, holding down a job, keeping his wife happy, and making sure his costume was clean.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began all those years ago, it too took place in the real world. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) became concerned that weapons manufactured by his company were falling into the hands of criminals, and sought to undo the damage by becoming Iron Man. Captain America (Chris Evans) saw his origins in the very real battlefields of World War II. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was the outlier in that he came from a fantasy universe, although his debut film was set largely in a small American town here on Earth. That film would have been stronger had Asgard never been seen.
After 15 years, 31 films, and (arguably) 20 different TV shows, the real world has been left far, far behind. Too many world-altering events have taken place throughout the MCU timeline. Half the universe is absent for five years before being dramatically restored, Earth is now host to any number of alien refugees, and miracle metals are powering Earth's technology. Everyday life as a modern human might recognize it has been irretrievably altered.
Farewell, Driving Around In Vans
Peyton Reed's new film "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" — MCU film number 31 — takes place largely in a microscopic fantasy world called the Quantum Realm, and it may as well take place inside "Star Wars" or Middle-Earth for all its sense of weight, reality, and relatability. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and their family (Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton) are sucked into the Quantum Realm where they meet bizarre, paramecium-like fantasy creatures, speak with several weird humanoids, and have to face off against a teeny tiny tyrant named Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Oh yes, and M.O.D.O.K. is there.
While it might be fun to occasionally flee the real world and explore a bizarre dimension of fantasy creatures, it seems that's all the MCU knows how to do now. Ant-Man and the Wasp are in their element here, able to use their shrinking/growing powers to fight evil interdimensional monsters. The days of the characters driving around in vans, chasing petty crime lords are clearly at an end. Exploring the streets of San Francisco is no longer of interest to this series. It's all green screen effects, CGI killers, and gooey spacecraft. Indeed, Ant-Man is scolded early in the film for his desire to stay home, to protect his teen daughter, and to not go galavanting about with quantum hooey. This film series berates the characters who long for normalcy.
Of course, "Quantumania" was hardly the turning point. Indeed, the first "Avengers" team-up film in 2012 had already sort of broken the seal. That film featured an invading alien force attacking New York and the Avengers doing the job that would have been ordinarily handled by helicopters and harrier jets.
At that point, the world now had memories of a major incident in New York, but life was still more or less sane. Eventually, however, too many extraordinary things began happening on Earth to ignore, and humanity seemingly needed to make peace with the fact that they live in a comic book world where space tyrants will occasionally kill them and unregulated superhumans will stand as a freelance military against them. With Vibranium in the world, and Iron Man's efforts to disarm all nations, shouldn't the MCU look like a technological utopia?
The MCU, of course, has chosen to ignore Earth. The widespread ramifications of constant superhero-ing are not addressed apart from a few tossed-off lines of dialogue about "the blip," the world's nickname for the five-year span when half the universe was dead. One might think more could be explored in terms of what long-term effects a "blip" might have had on the entire planet's ecosystem, but it's not something the Avengers are going to spend much time addressing. They're too busy in the multiverse, in the Quantum Realm, or in Wakanda, to really pay attention to the world at large. Physics no longer has any meaning to the Avengers themselves, and they fight to save a world they never visit.
Here's a fun idea for a future installment of the MCU: After a months-long interdimensional battle with a new evil death lord — in a pocket dimension where time has no meaning — the Avengers return to Earth triumphant, only to learn that humankind has actually been extinct for some time. Not through the machinations of a villain, but by natural causes. They were so busy fighting, they didn't notice us real-life people on the ground.
That's certainly what the MCU is beginning to feel like.
Read this next: Everything You Need To Know Before Watching Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania
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