‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Is One Of The MCU’s Most Forgettable – Review
Now 31 films and five phases deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and we’ve seemingly reached a new franchise low with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Before that statement gets you all riled up, the film itself is still just fine, if barely. However, when you’re this far into Hollywood’s largest film series, something that’s barely decent can often be more offensive than an outright bad project. Aiming high and missing is more admirable than not even trying something fresh and still somehow fumbling the ball. Nonetheless, there’s some redemption to be found in director Peyton Reed’s third Ant-Man film. It’s quite easy to see where the strengths and weaknesses lie here. Like a lot of recent MCU fare, the main cast does most of the heavy lifting. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer are your main reasons to watch this film.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania kicks off with Scott Lang (Rudd) living his best life. His role in defeating Thanos as an Avenger has turned him into a local celebrity in his hometown of San Francisco. Since Endgame, he’s written and toured a book appropriately titled “Look Out For the Little Guy”, and spends most of his time taking photos for fans. His ego has created a rift within his family, especially between himself and his daughter Cassie (Newton). The young teen has been trying to escape her father’s shadow by taking on heroic deeds around the city, but is only thrown into jail for her amateur vigilantism. After Lang breaks her out, he calls for a family meeting, yet it’s clear that he can’t be taken seriously with his enlarged ego.
It’s during this meeting that we find out about Cassie’s secret project with her grandpa Hank Pym (Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Lilly). Since the trio went through great heartache when Janet (Pfeiffer) and Scott originally got stuck in the Quantum Realm, they’ve spent a lot of time studying the micro dimension. Cassie has practically built a Quantum beacon all on her own, sending signals down and recording the various responses. When this mysteriously triggers Janet, they shut down the machine, but of course, it malfunctions and ends up sucking them all in. The family must regroup in the Quantum Realm and find a way to go back home before he finds them. These bizarre lands are now overseen by Kang the Conqueror (Majors), and he’s got some unsettled business with Janet in particular. When face to face with Ant-Man, Kang presents two options: help me escape or die.
Many have been comparing this MCU film to Star Wars since it takes place in an alien-like world with colorful and abstract beings. This is merely a surface-level comparison. The thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is that it wants you to think it’s essentially Marvel’s new Star Wars without doing any of the necessary groundwork to get there. While James Gunn also utilizes outlandish and zany concepts in his Guardians of the Galaxy films (which critics have likened to Star Wars as well), the main difference is that he injects almost all these ideas with some kind of thematic or narrative purpose. The same goes for his humor; love or hate the comedy in those films but they’re hardly there to waste time and always reflect something new about the individual characters who tell the jokes to begin with. None of this can be said for Quantumania.
Perhaps it’s unfair to put Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania side to side with Guardians of the Galaxy, although it has to be said that the former feels like a cheap imitation of the latter, both tonally and aesthetically. The Quantum Realm is basically indistinguishable from the usual Marvel cosmic – this movie could have taken place in space and you wouldn’t know the difference. There’s nothing all that unique to the Quantum Realm except for a handful of oddball side characters and creatures that the Lang/Pym family come across, which mostly feel weird for the sake of being weird. When the environments do feel distinctive to the MCU, it’s only because of CGI backgrounds. Quantumania was the first MCU project to use the stagecraft or “volume” LED soundstage made famous by The Mandalorian. You wouldn’t know this from watching the movie though, as the visuals don’t even feel on that level.
Written by Jeff Loveness, the third former Rick & Morty writer to join Marvel Studios, this threequel is truly at its weakest in the first half. Aside from rushed pacing and overlong exposition, too much time is wasted on what could be some of the weakest worldbuilding and humor we’ve ever had in the franchise. Comedy is obviously subjective and the MCU has already established its brand of self-referential, often quippy humor. That is not the problem here. Not to dig on the writer’s resume, but Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania does often feel like Rick & Morty in the worst way possible. The kind of comedic storytelling that tries to be raunchy and “out there” only to get an instant reaction from you. You’ll find yourself eye-rolling over and over again, counting down the minutes until Kang finally shows up.
Thankfully, when Kang does enter the picture in all his glory, the film gets significantly better. Weak humor takes the backseat and the emotional core of the Ant-Man series is allowed to take the wheel at last. Rudd and Majors make for an exciting MCU rivalry, which is the film’s saving grace. Seeing the Ant family for that matter hold up against Kang the Conqueror in creative ways harkens back to the feeling we first got when Thanos fought the Avengers on Titan in Infinity War. Peyton Reed’s direction continues to be at its best when he focuses on the bond between Scott and Cassie. Newton does an honorable job in her MCU debut, bringing Cassie Lang to life with a genuine youthful spirit. As for Majors, he carries a commanding screen presence that ups the entire film to a whole new level whenever he walks in.
Are these performances enough to recommend this movie to someone who isn’t an avid Marvel fan? That’s debatable. Pfeiffer and Douglas are always great, Pfeiffer getting way more to do this time around. Still, outside of two action beats, the pair are mainly here to explain things when they aren’t simply reacting to what’s going on around them. Many viewers were looking forward to William Jackson Harper in the MCU, but it’s ill-advised to get your hopes up as he is ultimately wasted. We have to mention the character assassination of M.O.D.O.K. (played by Corey Stoll), who’s only here to serve as the butt end of a recurring joke. It’s arguably a complete waste of a notable Marvel villain, and just one example of when Loveness goes for that instant, cheap gag instead of doing something more valuable. Even fans who’ve stood by this series through thick and thin will have their patience tested here. And that’s really saying something when you have the always funny Rudd front and center.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of interesting ideas in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on a conceptual level. Specifically, what they do with Kang and how it sets up the future of the MCU while still making this it’s own movie is fascinating. Too bad it’s only half of an idea in the end. At least composer Christoph Beck’s still got the goods! If you’re more interested in where the MCU is going, there might be enough for you to enjoy in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Although, I would argue that you deserve a good movie for the price of admission as well, not just a franchise commercial. Otherwise, Phase 5 is off to a questionable start as Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige’s methods are proving to wear thin. This isn’t the worst Marvel movie, but it is one of the more forgettable. Paul Rudd innocent.