Ant-Man’s Biggest Mistake Was Leaving Out Michael Peña
Ant-Man, the shrink-powered alter-ego of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has just encountered his most destructive foe yet. No, not time-traveling menace Kang the Conqueror. We’re talking about all of the critics trashing Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, making it only the second Marvel movie (after The Eternals) to earn Rotten status on rottentomatoes.com. The consensus among people paid to write about this stuff?
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania mostly lacks the spark of fun that elevated earlier adventures
Oh right, about that spark of fun. See, there were a lot of elements that made the first two Ant-Man movies work as well as they did. One was the sheer ludicrousness of a pint-sized hero, especially one who had no idea how to control his shrinking powers. In the first movie, Lang wasn’t taking on the most powerful villains in the multiverse — he was trying to survive a flip-flop, a record player and a vacuum cleaner. The challenges were minor; the laughs were major.
In the latest film, the bad guys are giant (or microscopic, depending on your point of view) CGI creations, not nearly as fun or relatable as the everyday threats Ant-Man originally faced. But something even more crucial is missing, namely the character often ranked as the funniest in the entirety of the MCU. Of course, we’re talking about Luis, Lang’s former cellmate and current part-time criminal. Despite his record, Luis has a good heart and an overactive mouth, which he uses to steal not only superhero suits but comedy scenes from Rudd.
Instead of intergalactic battles, the first two Ant-Man films succeeded on the charms of Rudd and Michael Peña, the brilliant comic actor behind Luis. Peña was literally the “spark of fun” that critics are longing for — so why is he is AWOL in Quantumania? As director Peyton Reed explained to the Hollywood Reporter, there were just too many other characters. “We obviously have our Lang, van Dyne and Pym family, but then we also introduced Kang, MODOK and all of our Freedom Fighter characters,” he said. “As we got further and further into (development) and knew we wanted to bring the family into the Quantum Realm pretty early in the movie, it just didn’t make sense (to include Luis and co.).”
And isn’t that too damn bad? The temptation to make these movies bigger and bigger is understandable, but of all the Marvel heroes, it would have made sense to keep Ant-Man small. Loki managed to introduce the concept of the multiverse as well as Jonathan Major’s He Who Remains (the precursor to Kang) without becoming overwhelmed by computer-generated fireworks. If raising the MCU stakes means losing Michael Peña, then what good is saving the multiverse anyway?