Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a lot of flash with little substance
After roughly 30 films, the grand centralized experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels fractured and confused. Where characters once stood on their own, since the leadup to Avengers: Infinity War, every new movie is now in service of the next “team-up” adventure, even if it’s several years down the road.
While that’s always been the long-term goal of the films, mimicking the comic book reading experience in cinema form has proven tiresome and is evident in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. For all the good fun and action-packed splendor that the latest Scott Lang outing has going for it, there’s a metric ton of outside forces conspiring to turn it into a mess, even if that mess is, admittedly, entertaining.
Since the events of “The Blip” and the defeat of Thanos, Scott (Paul Rudd) finds himself at a crossroads. Everyone around him is expanding their reach, save for him. Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) has taken over her father Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) business, allowing Hank time with his long-lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is a budding activist, spending her downtime futzing with the family’s superhero tech.
But of course, none of this can stay stable for long. Quicker than you can say “Ant-Thony,” the Lang/Pym/Van Dyne clan are whisked away to the Quantum Realm, where the future of the subatomic universe underneath our own world hangs is at risk. What follows is a cookie-cutter plot that sees the characters separated from each other, forging shaky alliances, pursuing a questionable McGuffin, then getting saved at the last minute. Rinse and repeat for acts two and three.
The Quantum Realm itself holds all the issues of Quantumania in the palm of its hand. Its plethora of colorful aliens have more in common with Guardians of the Galaxy than the average Ant-Man film. The heist-y vibe of the earlier outings has been replaced by something more akin to 2015’s Jupiter Ascending. It works to a point, but when you’re continually racing headlong from scene to scene to scene, there aren’t many opportunities to appreciate the surroundings.
All the plotty complications and flash might come off as tedious than if the film didn’t feature some solid performances. In an unexpected but welcome move, Pfeiffer, whose character Janet was long-trapped in the Quantum Realm, gets the meatiest role of the returning characters. The same goes for new additions Jentorra (Katy O’Brian) and Quaz (William Jackson Harper), whose badass and comedic contributions should earn them their own spin-off.
The real star of the show, however, is Kang (Jonathan Majors), making his big-screen MCU debut as the film’s next major “baddie,” following an introduction on the Disney+ Loki series. Prior phases dragged their feet when introducing a central villain (coughs in Thanos), but Kang immediately lets everyone know he isn’t just another foe. Casting Majors in such a difficult and expansive role may have seemed like a gamble, but it’s already paying off. His ability to garner sympathy through innate charm, shifting slowly into quiet menace before fully switching over to tyrannical despot, is a joy to behold.
All these clashing factors make for one of the most thrilling-yet-baffling MCU films to date, and that’s not necessarily a compliment. The overall experience is more exhausting than elating, with so much happening over the two-hour runtime that you may be left scratching your head. On one hand, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the most “comic book” movie the studio has attempted yet, complete with stunning full-on panel recreations and surprise cameos. On the other, the whole thing comes off as airless. For a film that several times over says to keep an eye out for the little guy, Marvel appears to be doing exactly the opposite.