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The Avengers Name Means Nothing In The MCU (& Quantumania Makes It Worse)

There was an idea, back in 2008, to bring together a remarkable group of solo superhero films. So that when we needed them, they could come together and make the blockbuster crossover that we never could. For three phases and just over a decade, the Avengers Initiative thrived, saving the Earth from numerous threats and earning billions of dollars at the box office. But where are they now? Where are Earth's mightiest heroes?

For a few years now, that question has had no real answer. Phase 4 of the MCU came and went without a proper "Avengers" film, and with many of the franchise's original stars stepping away, the series has lacked direction. There's a new Captain America, a new Hulk, and a new Hawkeye, but very little that connects them all. "A lot of Phase Four was about introducing the next generation and introducing new characters," "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" producer Stephen Broussard recently told Inverse. It was also about experimenting, and about building out the franchise's streaming presence on Disney+.

That's all well and good, but the MCU has only gotten more disjointed with ever passing year since "Avengers: Endgame." That issue has never been more apparent than in "Quantumania," which was meant to kick off Phase 5 with a bang. Instead, it suffers from the same big problem that plagued Phase 4 — a failure to connect to the larger Marvel world.

The Avengers are heard but not seen in Quantumania

"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" references the Avengers constantly. From the very start, the movie tries to develop a tension between Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) based on his membership with the superhero team. She repeatedly chastises him for claiming to be a hero while at the same time ignoring all the people in the world who need his help. Later on, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) references all the Avengers he's killed in alternate timelines. The title is thrown around often, and with a clear intended weight behind it. Unfortunately, it's hard to know what the word even means at this point.

Who are the Avengers at the start of Phase 5? Is it Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who's off sipping mojitos with his cousin? Or maybe Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who spend the duration of Phase 4 trying to heal the world post-blip without any help from their supposed friends? Crossovers with huge stars are obviously expensive and difficult to schedule, but that's hardly an excuse for a company as massive as Disney. 

Every time "Quantumania" references the Avengers, it feels more like a reference for us, as if to say, "Remember those better movies?" The sad fact is, it's hard to conjure a complete picture of what the world of the MCU even looks like at this point, let alone the Avengers themselves.

The MCU needs a new, clear roadmap

As the first chapter in Phase 5, "Quantumania" definitely tries to plant seeds for a new overarching storyline in the MCU. That's something we haven't had since the end of Phase 3. Jonathan Majors is spectacular as Kang, and he could make a for a great new lead villain. However, the film doesn't do nearly enough to organize the mess of Phase 4, leaving the future of the franchise still somewhat in the dark.

When Kang attacks again in 2025's "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty," who will face him? A random assemblage of fresh faces from Disney+ and older stars who renewed their Marvel contracts? In "Infinity War," it was exciting to see Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy all fighting together because they'd been on a clear collision course for years. Even still, other character relationships were built up more gradually. Remember when Loki and Hawkeye popped up in "Thor," or when Black Widow debuted in "Iron Man 2?" There was a clear rhyme and reason to these cameos, and they laid the groundwork for what came later.

Now, it's all a big mess. What does Moon Knight have to say to Ms. Marvel? Why would Kate Bishop team up with Shang-Chi? With the title of "Avenger" now lacking a clear meaning, there's no gravity pulling these disparate characters together. There's no roadmap for fans to put together in their heads — no reason to look forward to the next big team-up. Maybe Cassie Lang is right. Maybe her dad really isn't an Avenger anymore. Right now, it looks like no one is.