Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicks off with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, setting the stage for the next generation of films in the wildly successful franchise of films that began with 2008’s Iron Man. This is the third Ant-Man solo film, with Paul Rudd (Clueless, Knocked Up) and Evangeline Lily (The Hobbit, TV’s Lost) returning as the title characters. Where the first Ant-Man was a pleasant introduction, and the second a much-needed palette cleanser between Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019), Quantumania is poised to springboard the next slate of Marvel adventures.
For fans still on a high from the epic ambition and emotion of Wakanda Forever, how will Quantumania stack up?
Having soared to fame through his exploits with the Avengers, Scott Lang aka Ant-Man is on top of the world. Unfortunately, becoming popular has left him with little time for his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton, Freaky, TV’s Big Little Lies). When she isn’t out getting arrested as a social activist, Cassie has been working with the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, Basic Intinct, TV’s The Kominski Method), to analyze the Quantum Realm. When one of Cassie’s experiments goes awry, Scott enters the sub-microscopic world to save the people he loves. What Scott doesn’t know is that something far deadlier than Thanos is awaiting them, and he’s already conquered the Quantum Realm.
The father-daughter duo
The best thing about Quantumania is Ant-Man himself, played once again with aw-shucks charm by Paul Rudd as the Avenger most likely to accept an invitation for drinks. This time, Scott’s struggle with being a loving father — who isn’t necessarily a good dad — is kicked up a notch by Cassie’s desire to save the world in her own way. The only trouble is, in the filmmakers’ quest to turn Cassie into an angsty teen with a tendency to get arrested, they forgot to actually show what it took to get there.
Thankfully, Newton, being the third actress to play Cassie, has a genuine onscreen rapport with Rudd that belies their characters’ contrived conflict. It’s a pity, as there would have been no end of pathos to be mined from a father’s quest to regain his daughter’s respect – here, the pair just sort of forget to be mad at each other halfway through the movie.
Superheroes young and old
Meanwhile, the original Ant-Man and The Wasp get more room to play here, but even they can’t escape the script’s shortcomings. Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns), for instance, is shown making multiple decisions that do nothing but generate a false sense of drama to prolong the runtime. Nevertheless, Pfeiffer is always a solid presence, and it is genuinely delightful to see her and Douglas as action heroes.
Indeed, the two come across so well that one almost forgets how rarely we see seniors — aside from Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford — play active roles in this sort of adventure. Surprisingly, the pair get more to do than their daughter, Hope (Lily) who, despite having her name in the title, is relegated to a glorified side character in her own movie.
It looks like Spy Kids
It takes a certain kind of filmmaker to yield compelling content from actors shot almost entirely on green/bluescreen, and Quantumania makes it clear that returning director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) isn’t one of them. Despite the talented cast at his disposal, Quantumania’s characters hardly feel like they’re anywhere real, rarely making eye or physical contact with each other or the CGI characters they’re interacting with. Worse still, the characters and environs on display here are so uninspired and derivative of other, better productions, that it’s inconceivable how any of it got approved.
This isn’t to say that good storytelling, acting, and CGI are mutually exclusive. Since Iron Man first took off in 2008, it’s no secret that Marvel films have increasingly relied on computer-generated imagery (CGI) to bring their characters’ adventures to life. While it hasn’t always been the most consistent or convincing, the filmmakers generally grounded the visuals with some aspect of humanity or emotionality that let one (somewhat) forgive the CGI’s failings – whether it was the cartoonish T’Challa vs Killmonger fight that closed Black Panther, or Bruce Banner’s floating head on the Hulkbuster armor in Infinity War, we could (sometimes) let those slide because we cared about the characters and what was happening to them.
In Quantumania, the CGI is so all-encompassing and relentlessly generic that it’s impossible to get invested. At least Love and Thunder’s (terrible) visuals were good for a laugh – here, all we get is numbness.
Marvel’s new menace
In theory, the introduction of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, Creed III, TV’s Lovecraft County) is a huge deal; just as the threat of Thanos and the Infinity Stones hung over the MCU’s first 23 films, the specter of Kang could potentially power everything that came after, while providing a narrative anchor for the (seemingly-unrelated) multiverse-breaking scenarios of No Way Home, Shang-Chi, and Multiverse of Madness (as well as those of the Loki, Wandavision, and What If TV series).
In execution, however, the Kang we’re given here is underwhelming, edging out his aloof Loki counterpart only slightly on account of actually being able to fight. Majors is a tremendous actor, and does well enough upon being introduced, but when his true nature is revealed, one doesn’t get any real sense that his character could be a multiversal threat. While it’s entirely possible that the truly evil Kang we’re meant to fear will be introduced later on, it seems like a missed opportunity in a film series where the stakes have become so reduced as to be negligible.
Plot armor and ice cream cake
The inconsequential nature of what we’re witnessing is at its most blatant when the energy beams Kang uses to vaporize rebel forces (don’t ask) merely knock down our heroes. For an ageless being who’s spent eons murdering countless civilizations (and Avengers!), it’s hilarious that he would suddenly forget how to do either of those things when he’s about to get everything he ever wanted. In any case, it’s hard to be afraid of a villain that a lower-tier Avenger can brush off with a jaunty stroll and a gag about ice-cream cake.
Janet’s big (but pointless) secret
By far, the film’s most exasperating aspect is that the entire storyline hinges on what Roger Ebert once referred to as an “idiot plot”, ie. a plot that requires everyone to be an idiot in order for it to happen. Case in point: nearly everything in Quantumania only happens because Janet never revealed to anyone what she did or how she survived during her Quantum Realm exile, much less how who (or what) was hiding in it.
Unlike Scott, who only previously five hours in the Quantum Realm (while the outside world experienced 5 post-Infinity War years), Janet had clearly been through decades of Hell. Expecting us to believe that nobody asked her about her experiences is one thing, but for a scientist (and former superhero) to keep such information to herself — in light of the MCU’s multiple world-ending threats — is a notion so creatively lazy as to be insulting. Sure, we’re shown a bit where Janet deflects Hope’s inquiries (at a family dinner, of all places), but it’s just too little, too late: In Quantumania, everyone’s an idiot.
The bottom line
The script, by Rick and Morty veteran Jeff Loveness packs a lot of great, wild ideas into the 2-hour runtime, but does frustratingly little to flesh them out. How did Cassie go from being relieved to see Scott alive in Endgame to a resentful juvenile delinquent? If she’s so good with Pym’s tech, how in the world was she ever arrested? How does the Quantum Realm work? Why haven’t we seen anybody living and/or conquering in it before? Why are Bill Murray and MODOK in this movie? It’s a rare sort of film that can come across as simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked, but Quantumania accomplishes both with aplomb.
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