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Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania Needs To Nail One Aspect To Keep Us Caring About Phase 5 And Beyond

"The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if they could become something more." Those were the iconic words uttered by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in 2012's "The Avengers." It's a remarkable line of dialogue because, in addition to addressing the thematic tension of the movie, it encapsulates the entire, unprecedented idea for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios had taken a massive risk in creating a string of films starring individual superheroes with hopes to bring them together for a massive crossover. No one, not even Kevin Feige, knew if the experiment would work.

Eleven years later, it seems impossible to imagine a world where the MCU failed. "The Avengers" soared to quickly pass the billion-dollar mark at the box office. Seven years later, the story of Earth's mightiest heroes culminated with "Avengers: Endgame," which became the highest-grossing movie of all time. But heavy is the head that wears the crown. Where is there to go once you've reached the top? You do what any empire does: you expand.

The years since "Endgame," dubbed Phase 4, have seen more MCU projects than ever before, totaling seven movies and eight Disney+ series. Amid the glut of content, fans are beginning to ask what the real endgame is. Unlike Phase 1, Phase 4 did not culminate in a giant crossover movie, leaving characters new and old scattered across the universe. We know Kang (Jonathan Majors) is the new big bad coming in Thanos' (Josh Brolin) wake, but the direction of the MCU is otherwise inscrutable. Phase 5 starts off with another solo entry, "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," and it may be Marvel's last chance to assemble some of those puzzle pieces and give fans a clearer sense of what's to come.

Phase 4 pushed the limits with new characters and concepts

Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the new things and people introduced to the MCU during Phase 4: Magic rings owned by an ancient warrior, a magic bangle owned by beings from another dimension, the Darkhold, the general concept of the multiverse, the Time Variance Authority, the pantheon of Egyptian gods, witches, the Eternals, Arishem, Eros, Black Knight, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Sylvie, John Walker, four young heroes in Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), two children parented by Thor and Nakia respectively, a robot named K.E.V.I.N, and Tom Hardy as Venom.

It's a lot to absorb. Take a deep breath. Then ask yourself how these things will factor into future MCU projects. Actually, don't do that. As much fun as Easter eggs and comic book lore can be, it's not the fans' responsibility to fit the jigsaw together. That's Marvel's task as the architect of an interconnected film and television franchise.

That's the entire point of this 15-year-long experiment in storytelling, right? Marvel spent a decade setting fans up to expect payoffs from previous films with each new one, then spent two years giving us a series of standalone projects that, with a few exceptions, don't hold much truck with anything else in-universe. "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" is the studio's last chance to make sense of enough of it that we can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Speaking of which, let's address the way Marvel sets up fan expectations in the first place.

Marvel's phases give us a sense of what's to come

As the MCU grew in size and scope, Marvel began segmenting it into "phases." Each phase is a bit like a section of a book, with each movie or show acting like a chapter. But aside from helping fans parse through the vast buffet of content, Marvel's phases serve as a way of setting expectations for fans.

Each phase of the MCU follows a pattern. In Phase 1, we were introduced to the original Avengers lineup. Phase 2 then further developed the plot and introduced a few more characters. In Phase 3, everything finally came together, culminating in the duology of "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame." Collectively, these phases were retroactively titled "The Infinity Saga."

With Phases 4 through 6, which Marvel calls "The Multiverse Saga," a similar structure appears to be developing. We got a bunch of new characters in Phase 4, so presumably, Phase 5 will build out more of the overarching plotline while Phase 6 will lead into the final confrontation with Kang in "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty" and "Avengers: Secret Wars."

With that formula in mind, "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" appears to be a transition point. Its position as the first movie in Phase 5 suggests that it will begin to bring together the disparate pieces of Phase 4. That is the expectation Marvel has created for fans, and if it turns out any differently, fans will rightly feel like they've been misled. It's once burned, twice shy, and many will ask why they should come back to theaters for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" or "The Marvels" later this year if "Quantumania" doesn't do enough to progress the Multiverse Saga.

Which areas of the MCU should Quantumania focus on?

It's clear that the MCU needs to put a lot of weight on the interconnectivity of "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," but not everything can be tied into a single movie. So which aspects of this cinematic universe should the movie focus on?

A couple of things are certain to be addressed, most importantly the threat Kang poses to the multiverse. The variant of Kang first seen in "Loki" could be categorized as the most benevolent Kang, but the version we'll see in "Quantumania" is not nearly as restrained and will give us a clearer picture of his variants' plans leading into Phase 6. Additionally, the movie is likely to give us a better understanding of the multiverse itself, as the Quantum Realm seems to be the tissue connecting different worlds and dimensions. Simply addressing these two things may be enough to satisfy fans, given that they are the most central elements of the Multiverse Saga.

On top of all that, there are some less essential things that would be nice to know. For one thing, clues regarding who will end up on the next Avengers team. There are so many characters in the MCU that it will help to know who's being added to that roster, but those questions can also wait a few months for "The Marvels" as long as "Quantumania" addresses the core stakes of the multiversal battle against Kang.

The good news is that early reactions to "Quantumania" seem overwhelmingly positive. Let's just pray the good folks at Marvel Studios have made a movie with more to offer than cheap thrills. A great man once said, "You hope for the best and make do with what you get," but that same man also reminded us that the last time he trusted someone, he lost an eye.