The verdict is in: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania stinks! That’s according to both the critics, who collectively gave it a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, and fans, who slapped the 31st MCU movie with a lowly B grade via Cinemascore (Marvel movies usually get grades in the “A” range, so a B for them is very bad).
But just how bad is the third Ant-Man movie? There aren’t a lot of genuinely awful Marvel movies, but after 15 years, it’s impossible for any studio to not lay a stinker now and then. Using Rotten Tomatoes as my guide, I rank the worst MCU movies to determine where Quantumania will end up and answer the question a lot of moviegoers have been asking since the movie premiered: is it the worst MCU movie ever?
Note: Sony’s Spider-Man spinoffs don’t count as they were made without the creative input of Marvel President Kevin Feige. Otherwise, this list would be nothing but Sony movies like Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
5. The Incredible Hulk (68%)
It says a lot about the high quality of Marvel’s output that the fifth-worst MCU movie isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s perfectly OK, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This second attempt at a Hulk movie after Ang Lee’s criminally underrated 2003 film Hulk sees a new Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, still better than Marc Ruffalo and Eric Bana) trying to find a cure for his Hulk rages. Along the way, he encounters a new menace, The Abomination (Tim Roth, so good at playing bad), whose similar gamma-powered abilities may hold the key to a cure.
While it doesn’t break new ground, The Incredible Hulk does make for an entertaining ride thanks to Norton’s charismatic performance and his, er, incredible chemistry with Liv Tyler, who plays Betty Banner. Yes, the CGI is somewhat wonky, and the climactic battle is just like any other final duel in a comic book movie, but The Incredible Hulk is a better movie than its initial critical reception suggests.
4. Thor: The Dark World (66%)
Thor: The Dark World doesn’t have a bad reputation so much as it has almost no reputation. It’s curse was that it was forgettable, and I can’t really disagree. Following the events of the first Thor, which relied heavily on its fish-out-of-water premise and Hemsworth’s charisma, the sequel sees the Thunder God take on an ancient race of elves in both Asgard and London. Instead of battling notable foes like the Enchantress or the Absorbing Man, Thor is tasked with defeating … Malekith, who looks like every other villain in every other comic book movie (seriously, he could be brothers with Justice League’s Steppenwolf, and that’s not a good thing).
I held The Dark World in low esteem for years, yet on a second rewatch, I discovered it was surprisingly not awful. It’s a low bar, and maybe Sony’s Spider-Man spinoffs like Morbius gave me a taste of how much a superhero movie can really stink, but The Dark World has it’s charms, chief among them Portman’s Jane Foster, who is smarter and savvier than your average damsel in distress; Rene Russo’s Freya, who gives the movie some dramatic weight; and Jamie Alexander’s Sif, who kicks serious butt. The women of The Dark World save it from becoming completely unwatchable, which make it better than most DCEU movies.
3. Thor: Love and Thunder (63%)
Wait, another Thor film? I thought Taika Waititi solved the Thunder God’s franchise problems with Ragnarok, which killed off most of Asgard, gave Thor an awesome haircut, and didn’t take itself too seriously? Well, he did, but that created another issue: directorial excess. Love and Thunder’s problems are representative of Phase Four’s central issue: directors had too much power to do whatever they wanted.
With Love and Thunder, Waititi didn’t just make one decent follow-up film, but three mediocre ones: Guardians of the Galaxy 2.5 with Thor as their de fact0 leader, a zany rom-com that pulled in the offbeat humor seen in the director’s earlier work, and a cancer storyline with Jane that takes itself very seriously. The result is a tonal mishmash that doesn’t work at all. What’s unforgivable about Love and Thunder is that if Waititi had just calmed down and picked one thing to focus on, this could have been a great MCU movie. Instead, Portman’s Jane Foster’s hero journey is wasted, and Christian Bale’s compelling villain Gorr the God Butcher is utterly wasted.
2. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (48%)
If Love and Thunder‘s cardinal sin was that it had too many ideas and not enough discipline to see any of them through, then Quantumania‘s chief flaw is that it tried to do too much with the wrong property. Forgoing the genial, low-stakes vibe of the first two Ant-Man movies, Quantumania thrusts the everyman hero and his family into a high-stakes plot that seems cribbed from an old Star Wars script that George Lucas tossed in the Marin County trash years ago.
I’ve written at length about the flaws of Quantumania, so I’ll just state that the movie shows how worldbuilding and franchise expansion can come at the expense of the audience’s enjoyment. It’s as if Marvel forgot to tell a story with the third Ant-man movie, or even why people liked the character to begin with. Instead, the focus is entirely on building up Kang as a Thanos-level big bad, and it doesn’t even get that right. How can anyone be intimated by someone who gets beaten by a horde of ants? Thanos would’ve whooped Kang’s ass in a heartbeat.
1. Marvel’s Eternals (47%)
Why on earth was Eternals even made? The characters were never popular, even with comic book fans. Most of them were forgettable copies of other, better heroes and villains, and their backstory was, at best, convoluted. Those who have followed Marvel Studios from its inception know that Feige originally wanted to make Inhumans as a feature film, but that property was taken and turned into an amusingly awful miniseries, and so he decided to make Eternals instead.
Big mistake? Well, it’s complicated. Even though Eternals received the poorest critical reception of any MCU movie, it isn’t the worst. It’s just the most boring Marvel movie ever made. It’s too long, the energy is barely there, and the characters all seem disconnected from themselves, each other, and their adopted home world. Director Chloe Zhao knows how to compose a striking shot, but she takes the material way too seriously. How many lingering shots of the cosmos can an audience take? The result is a Marvel movie that looks pretty, but feels empty. It’s a crime a cast this talented (Barry Keoghan! Angelina Jolie! Brian Tyree Henry!) is wasted.
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