Synopsis – Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne, along with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, explore the Quantum Realm, where they interact with strange creatures and embark on an adventure that goes beyond the limits of what they thought was possible.
My Take – Since his first appearance in Ant-Man (2015), solo adventures of Marvel‘s tiniest hero, including Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), have been always considered as something fairly entertaining, but mostly disposable in comparison to the standards the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) sets.
However, with Thanos (Josh Brolin) and the Infinity Saga behind us, this third installment of the shrinking superhero series raises the stakes by sending the heroes deep into the quantum realm and by presenting the viewer with a first real taste of the next big bad of the franchise, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), following his small but effective appearance in the season one finale of the Disney+ series, Loki.
But while Kang is appropriately intimidating, powerful and compelling, he is also muzzled and restrained by a screenplay that lacks the necessary courage and risk to stand out.
Though returning director Peyton Reed and writer Jeff Loveness (the writer and producer behind the Rick and Morty animated series) try their best to turn what has thus far been MCU‘s smallest franchise into a big-scale blockbuster, complete with bigger stakes, intense drama, and important lore tied to the overarching Multiverse Saga, yet in haste to do so much, most of it feels falls flat, vague and underdeveloped, with inconsistent CGI throughout, something which has become the new norm for Marvel as of late.
Sure, the film is often times charming, engaging and genuinely funny with Paul Rudd’s portrayal of Scott Lang continuing to be endearing, but the film just lacks any weight to be memorable or revolutionary, missing out on some great potential. The biggest saving grace is Jonathan Majors’ show-stopping performance as the chilling new villain Kang, and I can’t wait to see him develop this character and other variants further.
Despite Marvel’s track record of providing fun, easily digestible entertainment, the Peyton Reed directorial kicks off Phase Five with a whimper, providing an overstuffed superhero extravaganza that mainly exists to set up more in the future.
Set some time after the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), the film once again follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who has been riding the fame of being an Avenger, living off of free coffees, regularly getting asked for selfies and being mistaken for Spider-Man. He even wrote a successful memoir and has a podcast. In short, Scott traded in the superhero life for the small-time celebrity life, much to the disappointment of his now teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who has become an activist.
On the other hand, his Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Scott’s girlfriend and superhero partner, has taken over her dad’s company and has been using the Pym particles to help the world. However, when Cassie experiments with the device that connects to the Quantum Realm, the family, including Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are dragged into this parallel universe by an unknown force.
Scattered into two separate groups, the family has to make their way towards each other while battling a secret, it turns out to be one of many that Janet has been hiding, especially about her time in this realm. What she doesn’t tell them is that Kang (Jonathan Majors), a mysterious, all-powerful being bent on destroying the universe, is her nemesis. And now that she has returned to his kingdom, which he rules with a leather-gloved iron fist, he’s hell-bent on revenge.
For 124 minutes, the film packs in a whole lot of plot, from the world-building of introducing us to the Quantum Realm, an ensemble adventure for the team, an introduction to a villain that will define the next phase of the MCU and even a Star-Wars-style resistance-dictatorship story. Nearly the entire story takes place in the Quantum Realm, a bizarre place where beings have broccoli for heads and they use flying mitochondria for transportation.
And while there’s plenty of never-before-seen sci-fi stuff to enjoy, and some noteworthy set-pieces such as the ‘probability storm’ sequence, easily one of the best moments of the film, there is seemingly no rhyme or reason behind any of it, so it all feels like computer-generated window dressing that has no bearing on events taking place.
Though the opening few scenes retain a few of the comedic elements the Ant-Man films are well-known for, we are quickly thrown into a large-scale, high-stakes adventure that throws all character development out of the window.
The film is so filled with visual spectacle that, at some point, it all begins to feel like noise. Although both writer Jeff Loveness and director Peyton Reed find ways for Ant-Man to actually stand a chance, and those ideas make for some creative action scenes, it feels like such a jarring departure from the first two installments that it loses sight of what made them work. By putting an Avengers-level threat into an Ant-Man film, the charm is just lost, and we are left with is an emotionally empty barrage of special effects with less of the humor and joy that allowed these films to shine in the first place.
We also have to talk about M.O.D.O.K. (Corey Stoll), the fan-favorite murderous giant floating head has finally found his way into the live-action MCU, and his translation from comic book drawings to live-action is hilariously awful. He looks like a joke, acts like a joke, and is often treated like the miscalculation of a character design that he is. M.O.D.O.K.is such a goofy villain that every time he is paired with Kang, it creates a jarring tonal contrast, as we have the MCU’s most terrifying villain matched with their most idiotic. Makes matter worse is how MCU hallmark of jokes continues to undercut serious moments and sadly the humor really doesn’t land as well as the first two films.
Performance wise, Paul Rudd remains as endearing as ever and his comedic charm remains one of the main reasons that made Scott Lang/Ant-Man uniquely his own in the first place. Evangeline Lilly is strangely reduced to a role that doesn’t have much to do than turning up and being watchable. Kathryn Newton is decent and showcases a glowing, magnetic charm that will probably further expand in future films. Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer do everything possible to keep the proceedings credible and enjoyable.
However, the film belongs to Jonathan Majors whose performance as Kang is praise worthy. More than the character, it’s how Majors plays him that makes him enticing. Imbuing him with a tragic vulnerability, balancing a creepy calm with an emotionally-charged unpredictability. As if he’s never more than a moment away from seething, scorching rage or breaking down entirely.
In supporting roles, William Jackson Harper, David Dastmalchian and Katy O’Brian are effective, while Randall Park appears in a pointless cameo and Bill Murray is wasted. Corey Stoll‘s return as M.O.D.O.K. too turned out to be incompetent. On the whole, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ is a passable start to Phase 5 of the MCU, let down particularly by its underdeveloped aspects.
Directed – Peyton Reed
Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 124 minutes