The new film, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ is the first entry of Phase 5 in the ongoing saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This an important factor as it’s also supposed to be the third entry in the ‘Ant-Man’ subfranchise. When it works, it’s successful at being both, but when it doesn’t (and there are stretches that really don’t), it actually fails at both. All this makes the experience a somewhat jarring one.
From its earliest conception under original filmmaker Edgar Wright, ‘Ant-Man’ was meant to be a comedic romp of a heist movie in the comic book milieu, starring the reliably charming Paul Rudd. Director Peyton Reed gamely took over the reins, directing all three of the entries, maintaining a steady hand and keeping a genial tone. The first two movies had a cadre of writers (including Rudd himself) contributing to their free-flowing and grounded tone (sure there is a sci-fi element to the “Pym Particle” and its size-changing effect, but the movies always treated it in a playful way). ‘Quantumania’, similarly to ‘Loki’, brings in another ‘Rick and Morty’ writer (Jeff Loveness) to continue the humor as well as introduce some truly bizarre concepts, including Johnathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror, the MCU’s new big bad.
This highly anticipated turn was broadcast right from the start when ‘Quantumania’ was first announced. The title pronounces that the Quantum Realm, the sub-atomic dimension that plays a key emotional factor in the first two ‘Ant-Man’ movies and the key factor that unlocks the time-traveling narrative of ‘Avengers: Endgame’, would be the focus. There is a ten minute opening that gets the audience up to speed with what Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been doing since the events of ‘Endgame’, basically trading his fame for profit with appearances and a hilarious autobiography. He has a functioning family unit with the Pyms, girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly with a sadly limited amount to do here), mentor Hank (Michael Douglas) and his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), as well as a slightly challenging relationship with his daughter Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton) due to his five year absence from her life after Thanos’ snap.
Unbeknownst to the others, Cassie and Hank have been messing around with mapping the Quantum Realm, sending a signal down there which catalyzes this particular story. The entire group gets sucked into this strange world where Pfeiffer’s Janet was stuck for thirty years, a time period she is loathe to elaborate on due to her actions and misguided relationships, in particular with Majors’ Kang. This development provides the setting where the entire movie takes place. It allows for equal parts inspired but also droll designs and character introductions. For every fun living building or funny goopy creature like Rez, there are indescript landscapes and boring revolutionaries like Jentorra. Even a Bill Murray cameo here falls mostly flat. But then comes Kang.
While the electric introduction of Johnathan Majors’ Kang provides a true burst of energy, it also seems like he’s in a different movie. It’s inspired to bring on the time-traveling despot within a sub-franchise as silly and low stakes as ‘Ant-Man’, but also somewhat jarring. Majors is pure menace, just dripping with malice in his quest for multiversal domination. When he’s superimposed onto a goofy backdrop, replete with a more traditional ‘Ant-Man’ style henchman in M.O.D.O.K. (an absolute bonkers joy!), it’s hard to truly feel the gravitas of an all powerful villain. In the end, ‘Quantumania’ is another fun hang with Paul Rudd at the movies that tries to be something this sub-series has never been – BIG . . .
Directed By: Peyton Reed
Written By: Jeff Loveness
Running Time: 125 min.
* * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- B-