By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Peyton Reed
- Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania feels like it should be better then it actually is. It’s filled to the brim with cool ideas and wicked imagery, fully taking advantage of the “Tales to Astonish” serial origins of it’s character and Steve Ditko’s playful yet completely earnest designs. Sure, it moves away from the prior films small heist approaches, but there is already comic precedent for that and anything that dives into the stranger parts of these things is immediately higher up in my interest rate.
But right from the get go, after a quick cold open that introduces us to our new big bad, Quantumania is so jumpy that it never once bothers to try and tell an actual story with it’s cast. The measly 10 minutes of setup this premise does get – which is mostly “hey character builds thing and it breaks, oops!” – is only there to service the purpose to get our cast to the Quantum Realm as quickly as humanly possible. And once we are there, we are thrust into what is essentially a Star Wars-esqe storyline involving a multiversal threat, rebellions, past secrets being revealed, old partnerships being broken, and a whole wide universe of creatures that range from the bizarre to the even more bizarre.
I’ll give it this, it never stops being weird. Jeff Loveness has had experience writing for Marvel Comics before, and when this movie is able to shine in brief pockets you can see that influence shine through just barely. But only that, just barely, as Loveness seems more interested in setting up rather then following up. And once our villain is revealed, the dangerous Kang the Conqueror, he’s a show stealer yes but it’s at the cost of the rest of the cast. Jonathan Majors brings it all to the role and makes you yearn for him to show up again, and if that was the purpose of this film (which it very much is) then it’s for certain a rousing success from Marvel. But this really should have been the third Ant-Man film, not the first Kang film, especially as this is a film that places itself as a clear trilogy ender in it’s themes and ideas, as murky as they are.
It’s lucky Paul Rudd and company remain as charismatic as ever. Rudd in particular has been a bright spot in the MCU ever since his debut and he’s no exception here, and while given very little to do unfournately Evangeline Lilly does solid work here as well. Michael Douglas is a little checked out – you can tell that he likely preferred the smaller stakes of the prior two films compared to the green screen extravaganza of this one but he’s still entertaining enough. He even gets a couple of action sequences to himself! Michelle Pfeiffer, on the other hand, is actually an improvement over her work in Ant-Man and the Wasp, mainly thanks to a beefed up role that places her directly in contrast to the previously stated Majors. And then there is Corey Stoll, who returns as MODOK, giant face and all. While his CGI is certainly easy meme material – Sharkboy and Lavagirl comparisons inbound – he’s one of the few things from the film that remains solid throughout and a better movie should have had him as the lead antagonist.
Less successful are the exclusions and new inclusions outside of Majors. Pena is nowhere to be found, and his presence is sorely missed, and Dastmalchian does return but as a new character with very little overall impression. In fact, most of the new Quantum Realm characters are mostly disposable, only really there to serve as fodder for Kang to attack while our cast move in for the final bout. And then there is Kathryn Newton, who is unfournately saddled with a weak portrayal that loses much of the father-daughter dynamic that made the first two movies so enduring and entertaining.
In fact, the loss of that dynamic might be the greatest sin of Quantumania, which lacks any clear stakes to invest in. By the end of the movie, the status quo hasn’t changed for our heroes – in fact, they haven’t changed at all. For all of the mixed givings of the MCU, they have at least been consistent in delivering solid consequences for our protagonists in their trilogy enders and Quantumania can’t even manage that. And once the final 5 minutes happen and you realize that isn’t building up to anything you really start to question what the hell even was the point in the end.
People can rant all day about whether or not Quantumania‘s clearly sloppy filmmaking and production are emblematic of a downward decline for Marvel – I personally could not care less, that’s for the pundits, I’m just here for the movies – but what it does show is that the people at Marvel viewed Quantumania as nothing more then a table setter. I would say it’s insulting the Ant-Man movies, but the Ant-Man movies were never top tier Marvel to begin with so that’s possibly putting them on too high of a pedestal. Nevertheless, it’s the first time in a while I walked away from one of these genuinely mostly confused and lacking any sort of emotion, and that my friends is not a good sign of things to come.