It’s time for another Marvel movie, and I guess it’s Ant-Man’s turn. Let’s welcome back the little superhero whose main superpower is Paul Rudd’s immense charm and whose main weakness is that everyone always belittles him – even the makers of his own movie.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is now in theaters. It’s a cool, quirky sci-fi adventure in the mold of Thor: Ragnarok, as familiar faces from the Marvel roster descend on an alien realm for fun and battle before inspiring the locals to rise up and overthrow a hated dictator. It also has more meaning for dedicated fans, introducing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest new villain, Kang, played by Jonathan Majors.
After rescuing Janet van Dyne from the quantum realm in the previous film Ant-Man and the Wasp (and you’d be forgiven if you remember next to nothing about that film), the Ant-gang is sucked back into the tiny universe layered beneath the atoms of our full-sized world. Returning director Peyton Reed once again casts Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas as her parents Hank and Janet. Kathryn Newton plays the now-teenage Cassie Lang, Scott’s daughter, and in the quantum realm they meet William Jackson Harper, Katie O’Brien and Bill Murray (yes, that Bill Murray).
It’s funny to think that the Ant-Man story started back in 2015 with a movie that was basically a heist with a final showdown in a kid’s bedroom. With this third film, the action expands to the microscopic yet larger-than-life Quantum Realm, a subatomic CG realm of impossible heavens populated by insect-inspired creatures, talking tinnies, and dudes with light bulbs for heads. The weirdness of the micro-Mad Max setting makes for some hilarious gags, captivating visuals, and a jaw-dropping set piece or two. It’s all very John Carter of Mars by way of sci-fi comics like Heavy Metal and Saga (or if those references mean nothing to you, Star Wars).
Cassie’s signal to the microscopic quantum realm kicks off the story as the ant family is sucked into this strange realm, like another planet on the head of a pin. This is particularly bad news for Janet, who spent 30 years trapped in a microscopic form. Old enemies come looking for her and her family, forcing her to face what she did while in exile.
Cassie (Newton) is the heart of the film, Hank (Douglas) does the science, and Janet (Pfeiffer) is the force behind the plot whose worst nightmare catches up with her. Meanwhile, Rudd Scott Lang’s character is… also there, I guess, although he’s far from the most interesting character. It takes Scott ages to do anything meaningful, and Rudd moves around looking confused but always on the edge of a hilarious joke. Even MODOK, a comic book character too ridiculous for any other movie, has a more emotional journey than the supposed hero.
If Quantumania doesn’t know what to do with Ant-Man, that’s it really doesn’t know what to do with the other title character. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp, is cast as a world-changing scientist — which is mentioned as a tangent in a voiceover about Lang’s coffee trips and selfie requests. Hope spends the film either trailing behind her mother or charging in to save the day (never seeming to get any credit for it). I’d be surprised if Lily has more than 30 lines in Quantumania (most of which are along the lines of “Go on!” and “Scott, I can’t hold them in!”).
Much more attention is given to the villain of the piece, Kang, another miniaturized exile in the quantum realm, played by Jonathan Majors. He’s easily the best thing about the movie, a melancholic dictator with a mild magnetism who casually mentions how many Avengers he’s killed in the multiverse.
Since Quantumania is the start of a new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting Phase 5, that means Kang is the MCU’s new bad guy who will be causing trouble for our heroes for years to come (check out these post-credits scenes).
Fans have been primed for the arrival of Kang, who was first seen in the Disney Plus series Loki, and the film does a great job introducing the villainous characters to new viewers. Still, the number of times characters refuse to reveal important information in order to string together the supposed tension (“No time to explain!”, “First we eat…” and “I’m trying to protect you!”) gets pretty tiresome.
Quantumania sets up the future of the MCU and also manages to pack in some other larger themes. The film opens with Scott marveling at how big he’s gotten—in terms of fame, anyway. But he struggles with his status as an Avenger, enjoying the perks without thinking about the real problems of the world. Meanwhile, his daughter Cassie shakes his complacency as she grows into a political firebrand. And despite only featuring a few lines of dialogue here and there, Quantumania espouses some of the most charged political views ever to sneak into a Marvel blockbuster. The film opens with a fairly clear critique of the incompetent police dealing with homeless people in San Francisco, for example. The larger, more general theme is the power of the little man, even in the face of overwhelming force.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a lot of fun, led by a lovable band of goofy heroes who find themselves in a weird and wonderful world to face off against a villain big enough to change the entire franchise. The plot may not be anything groundbreaking, but the great visuals and interesting themes prove that bigger isn’t always better.
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