Hey, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, Enough With The Retractable Helmets

This post contains spoilers for "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania."

The bulk of Peyton Reed's new film "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" – the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — takes place in a microscopic fantasy dimension called the Quantum Realm. Said realm is populated by all manner of strange species and non-humanoid creatures who, in true MCU fashion, speak in a flip, jokey jargon now very familiar to the franchise's many fans. Despite being impossibly small, the Quantum Realm possesses common Earth-like gravity, and perhaps galling breathable oxygen. Reed's first "Ant-Man" film from 2015 very clearly noted that its title hero must wear a helmet when he shrinks or grows, as his lungs would not be able to absorb air molecules of a different size. If one can shrink so small that one can ride on top of an oxygen atom, one cannot very well breathe it. 

Sometime along the way in the many MCU films, costume-based nanotechnology was introduced, and characters were now able to flip a switch — or merely will it — and their superhero costumes would magically appear around their bodies. The days of changing costumes in a phone booth are long, long past. This has made for several movies wherein over-the-head superhero masks or helmets could appear and disappear at will, allowing the filmmakers to reveal an actor's face at whatever rate they pleased. I suppose in a universe where none of the superheroes have secret identities — they refer to each other by their first names on the battlefield — the need to keep one's face covered at all is sort of gone. 

This "lightswitch" approach to masks reaches an annoying peak in "Quantumania," where Paul Rudd's smooth, gorgeous visage flashes on the screen as readily as his smirk. 

To mask or not to mask

The helmets in the "Ant-Man" movies served a clearly stated function. They weren't mere tools to obfuscate one's identity in public, but complex sci-fi devices that allowed the heroes to breathe. That element is not even given lip service in "Quantumania," which allows humans to walk around in their street clothes on a planet many times smaller than gluons and bosons. While the dismissal of the helmets is annoying to continuity-obsessed weirdos like myself, one can see the practical filmmaking reasons for it: actors can more easily emote and act when their faces aren't covered, and scenes can be staged more easily when a necessary oxygen source isn't mentioned. The Quantum Realm clearly allowed for the evolution of hundreds of weird species anyway, so an oxygen-rich environment clearly exists here regardless. 

More annoying, however, is the constant flipping on and off of the helmets. Several times within a scene — even within a shot — Paul Rudd's face is alternately covered. He looks up, it's obscured, he levels his head, it's exposed. He wears it, or not, throughout a tense battle scene. 

The masks come and go so easily, it begins to mess with the mere visual continuity of normal filmmaking. If the helmet vanished between shots, it looks like editors Adam Gerstel and Laura Jennings made some sort of error. Was there supposed to be a moment when the helmet disappeared, or did Ant-Man instantly remove it for no reason? Honestly, it could be either. 

Quantum editing

The same could even be said of the character of M.O.D.O.K. Audiences will indeed see what that character looks like under his metal mask, which seems to flip up and down at a whim. The rapidity of it seems to denote only the times when the film's animators felt too busy to reveal the face in question. 

The same "errors" present with the masks seem to have been made with the film's superpowers in general. Ant-Man and the Wasp can shrink and grow in a split second, and their signature fight moves seem to be shrinking as they jump into the air and deliver an ultra-hard punch when hardly visible, only to grow back to normal size to land back on the ground. For a single punch, the sudden scale alteration is fun, but when they use their powers to, say, exit a vehicle, it looks like the filmmakers merely left out a vital piece of visual continuity. There is a scene halfway through the movie when the Wasp does indeed shrink down to fly out of a spacecraft, but the way the scene is filmed, it looks like she merely passed through solid matter.

My brain understands what happened, of course — I know the title characters can shrink — but my eye doesn't. The strobing masks and powers leave "Quantumania" feeling choppy and visually cluttered. It's already busy with the CGI skies and bizarre creatures. Perhaps it would have been wise to let the heroes retain one costume throughout a scene.