An evil ruler with a legion of faceless soldiers at their disposal. A band of heroes, travelling across vast new worlds filled with evocative and wild creatures. Transports that look like giant stingrays. Enormous battles across towering technological wonders. A cantina. Yup, that all sounds like Star Wars, but it’s actually Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a massive sci-fi adventure that takes both Ant-Man, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to brand new places, with both good and bad results.
The good? Characters we know and love, like Scott Lang as Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne as Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) are forced into a fantastic new world filled with untold visual and storytelling wonders, all up against a game-changing new villain named Kang (Jonathan Majors). The bad? That world is so unbelievably monumental and needs so much explaining, it often comes at the expense of meaningful character development leaving the film with a fun, yet flat, feeling.
Look. It’s been 15 years at this point. If you love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll probably like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania more than you don’t. It’s an entertaining, epic exercise in world-building with huge set pieces and surprises a-plenty. The MCU sprinkled with Star Wars, Dune, and Heavy Metal Magazine. Conversely, if you don’t get goosebumps every time the “Marvel Studios” logo hits the screen, chances are it’s not going to work as well for you. It’s uneven in terms of pacing and character while relying heavily on the audience having a pre-existing connection with this franchise.
Once again directed by Peyton Reed, this time from a script by Jeff Loveness, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania starts similarly to the other Ant-Man movies. Since saving the galaxy in Avengers: Endgame, Scott Lang is enjoying a relatively chill life. Things are going well with, and for, his girlfriend Hope, and her parents Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer) are getting along well with Scott’s now 18-year-old daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton). In fact, Cassie has been working with Hank to study the Quantum Realm, the infinite micro universe Janet was trapped in for decades, and Scott time travels through to defeat Thanos. Once that’s revealed, the familiar pace and humour of the previous Ant-Man films quickly pivot as all the characters are sucked into the Quantum Realm.
The speed with which Quantumania gets started is commendable. It makes things very clear this story is going to be set in, and be about, the Quantum Realm. Plus, the Quantum Realm is a stunning place — a nearly indescribable combination of sci-fi landscapes, trippy art, and visuals inspired by actual microscopic biology. Throughout the film, Reed gives us the occasional moment to merely bask in this beautiful world and it’s a sight to be seen. You could argue the Quantum Realm itself is the main character of the film which, again, has positives and negatives.
Once down there, the basic spine of the movie is about Hank, Janet, and Hope being separated from, and trying to find, Scott and Cassie, while Kang looks for all of them. That sounds straightforward but, because the film is in this grand new world, it comes with a lot of exposition. And we do mean a lot. Not only does the film have to explain (or at least question) the very nature of each aspect world, all manner of new creatures and characters are introduced and explained along the way. It’s fascinating stuff, much of which you kind of wish you could pause and talk about in real-time, but it’s also a little overwhelming.
Characters like Lord Krylar (Bill Murray) as well as a group of Freedom Fighters including Jentorra (Katy M. O’Brian), Quaz (William Jackson Harper), and Veb (David Dastmalchian), pave the way for several of the film’s action sequences but more often than not slow down the film’s momentum because each character and faction needs to be given context. As a result, large sections of the film feel a little bloated as they’re more concerned with explaining this world and less concerned with the original characters. Characters who, for long stretches, feel like pawns being moved across a chess board. That too sort of becomes a Rorschach test for the film. Do you enjoy seeing wild creatures and landscapes even if they don’t ultimately add much? Is that enough to keep you satisfied as a filmgoer?
While those issues muddle the middle of the film, eventually, we learn more about Janet and Kang, everyone meets everyone, and things kick into gear. The third act then features a two-pronged climax (separated by another seismic exposition dump, of course) that’s presented almost like an appetizer and a main course. Both are hugely enjoyable, filled with big, cool payoffs, and provide just enough of Marvel magic to cover up some of the film’s bigger issues.
That satisfaction also comes from the fact that while the movie might be called Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, it more accurately could have been called “The Janet and Kang Show.” Big sections of the movie are led by Pfeiffer’s Janet and she plays the heroic lead with ease and confidence. Some of those scenes are then opposite Majors’ Kang, who delivers a dynamic, powerful, almost hypnotic performance. It’s not exactly clear what Kang’s powers are at various times, which can be frustrating, but his motivations are clear and anytime Majors is on screen, everything instantly gets better. That, of course, goes for Pfeiffer too, and when it’s both of them it’s just *chef’s kiss* wonderful.
On the flip side, with so much focus on Kang and Janet, Hank and Hope have significantly dialed-back roles. That makes sense for Hank as he’s always been a supporting character, but Hope’s character is in the title of the movie. So it’s a little odd that, for most of the film, she basically waits until Scott needs her, saves him, and then disappears off-screen again for a few minutes.
And while that’s disappointing, the Scott and Cassie relationship does its best to balance it. Most of the film’s emotional core derives from Scott’s love for his daughter who he missed so many years with due to the Blip. Now, she’s grown up, has a mind of her own, and his attempts to relate to her while also being proud of the woman she’s become is a constant struggle. That relationship isn’t always at the forefront, but in the crucial scenes where it is, Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania achieves the heights it almost certainly set out to do throughout.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention M.O.D.O.K. This fan-favourite Marvel character makes his MCU debut in the film and while getting into any specifics would give away some of the film’s biggest spoilers, the way the character is visualized and handled is another major highlight of the movie. Everything about the character achieves a very specific, weird, yet wonderful tonal balance that the rest of the movie only touches upon.
In the end, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has enough wild sci-fi adventure, family-driven emotion, and humour throughout to make it an enjoyable entry into the MCU. The introduction of the formidable, magnetic Kang is another bonus and the always excellent cast – highlighted by Pfeiffer – keeps things afloat. The problem is for a movie set in a neverending microscopic world, sometimes it gets buried under its possibilities. The visuals outshine the story. The story gets pushed aside to set up this new Marvel world. And this new Marvel world becomes the focal point while the main characters fade into the background. And so, Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumnaia doesn’t reach the heights of its previous two films in terms of overall cohesion, but what it lacks there, it more than makes up with in raw ambition.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens February 16.
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