OPINION: Jonathan Majors shines in the third “Ant-Man” film, which does a pretty decent imitation of another movie set in a galaxy far, far away.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Have you seen “Star Wars” lately? The movies, TV shows, literally any “Star Wars”? If not and you want to see “Star Wars,” then “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is here for you. It has literally everything from the iconic series: a fascist overlord, a Nazi stormtrooper-looking army and Muppet-like space creatures in a bar ripped straight from the cantina scene in 1977’s “A New Hope,” complete with a rebellion against the evil empire.
But if you’re going to crib plot, set design and costuming, might as well keep it in the Disney-owned family.
That said, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a good time. With the lovable Paul Rudd as the formerly incarcerated Robin Hood-turned-Avenger Scott Lang at the center, the “Ant-Man” trilogy has always been the most lighthearted fun of the MCU — and, for my abolitionist heart, the one that at least toys with being anti-cop, sometimes. Considering that the vast majority of superhero films are just copaganda, and the vast majority of superheroes are just cops, it’s nice to see Lang’s daughter Cassie (grown up and recast with Kathryn Newton) challenging Lang to fight back against systems of oppression instead of being their agents.
In “Quantumania,” Cassie graduates from merely lying to the cops to get them off her dad’s back as she did in the “Ant-Man & the Wasp” film, to actively fighting against them at a protest in support of unhoused people that lands her in jail for the second time. Using Pym Particles, she shrinks one of their cop cars and gives it back to them as a diminutive, harmless toy. Yes, Cassie, F*ck 12!
Her abolitionist leanings are no doubt rooted in the pain of having her dad be absent for most of her childhood because he was incarcerated. The “Ant-Man” trilogy has consistently showcased the impact of incarceration not only on those incarcerated but on their families and communities as well. I’m a system-impacted person so this theme is what makes the “Ant-Man” films some of my favorites in the MCU.
Lang’s guilt over his absence from Cassie’s life also makes for compelling leverage to be used by the absolute best part of “Quantumania”: Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror. If you’re going to reheat “Star Wars,” why not invoke a Shakespearean villain with the gravitas of James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader? Fortunately for us, Kang doesn’t hide his gorgeous face behind a mask, and we get to see every dimension that Majors added to what could’ve been a thin, run-of-the-mill Marvel baddie.
Kang laughs, Kang cries, Kang simmers and explodes. When I tell you Majors was act-ing! throughout that movie. Several times during his performance, I yelled out, “Come on, Yale!” With this level of commitment, it’s clear why Majors and his devious character Kang (and all of his variants) are the future of the MCU’s next phase.
Top it off with the delightful William Jackson Harper just popping up out of nowhere being delightful, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet kicking ass as a warrior woman in her 60s and Michael Douglas’ Pym defending socialism and organizing an army of ants, and you have a film that’s fun for the whole family. Woke-ish Disney is the better Disney.
But speaking of “woke,” my only beef isn’t so much with the movie itself, but with MCU head honcho Kevin Feige. To quote the prophet Cleotrapa, “I was gonna keep it to myself, but actually, I think I’m a little bothered now!” Because why is it that the girls in “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Loki,” and now “Quantumania” get to have a revolution against their oppressors but Black people in the MCU can’t? A pink blob with teeth gets to devour its oppressors, but the “Black Panther” franchise is filled to the brim with Black respectability politics and an outright rebuke of anything politically radical. The best the “Black Panther” franchise can offer Black oppressed folk against their oppressors is a STEM community center in the ‘hood, a charter school in Haiti and a mild rebuke of the French. I’m tired.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing us as onscreen villains, and Majors is masterful at conveying the complexities of the character bad enough to overthrow Thanos as the worst in the MCU thus far. But I want to see liberated Black folks in the MCU, too, and all “Wakanda Forever” gave us was a ship’s deck full of dead Black people, a whole royal Black family assassinated and two Indigenous nations at war with each other. Enough is enough. After yet another revolution for everybody but Black people in “Quantumania,” “Black Panther 3” better be the most radical thing y’all have ever done. Get it together, Feige!
Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”
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