Seems like just fifteen years ago that the first film of the first phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit theaters and changed the comic book movie landscape forever. Thirty films have come and gone since then with some ranking among the biggest blockbusters of all time, and now 2023 is kicking off with the beginning of phase five which has already been coined the Multiverse Saga. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania dives headfirst back into the quantum realm for nearly its entire two-hour running time, but while all the familiar faces return, this third Ant-Man film feels like anything but an Ant-Man film.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is living his best life. An Avenger recognized for his efforts to save the world, his daily walk brings smiles from strangers and photo ops with happy dogs. He’s written a best-selling autobiography and reconnected with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), the love of his life is by his side (Hope Van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly), and he even gets along with his in-laws, Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). It’s a good life, but everything changes when one of Cassie’s science projects sucks them all back into the quantum realm. It seems Janet has some secrets of her own from the thirty years she spent trapped in the microverse, and the biggest one goes by the name Kang (Jonathan Majors).
It’s telling that the best moments in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania are a few minutes at the start and a few minutes at the end. While everything in between takes place in the jacked-up alien landscape of the quantum realm, these minutes with Rudd walking jauntily down the street, interacting with passersby, and offering up a voiceover about how weird his life is remind viewers of what this particular MCU franchise does best. When they’re cooking, the first two films ride high on a combination of light-footed antics and low stakes breeziness — to put it simply, they’re fun.
Quantumania is so busy trying to be things it isn’t that it forgets to simply have fun.
Top of that imposter syndrome list is writer Jeff Loveness‘ clear affection for James Gunn and the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Forget everything you know about the quantum realm because Loveness’ script turns it into an alien community complete with skyscrapers, spaceships, and goofy lifeforms — look, a guy that looks like broccoli! There’s gravity, oxygen, and rebels living under the iron rule of a cruel dictator. Sure it’s colorful and looks like a “live action” reimagining of Disney’s own Strange World from earlier this year, but it’s also utterly lacking in personality and charm. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania takes what’s potentially interesting and unique, the chaos and wonder glimpsed in the previous film, and left it feeling like just another familiar pitstop for short-haired Thor or the Guardian crew.
The characters fare no better, and while director Peyton Reed moves them through the expected beats they land with little life or playfulness. Lilly, Pfeiffer, and Newton are somewhat flat, and not even Rudd can find the spark he usually shows with the character. He tries — they all try — but the successful banter of past films feels stifled beneath the weight of a heavier, world-ending narrative. All involved do far better letting their antics unfold alongside personal stakes and casual capers on city streets, but their jokes and smiles don’t work when you’re facing a villain in an alien landscape who’s wiping out entire timelines.
Well, allegedly wiping out entire timelines. There’s so much buildup in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania regarding Kang the conqueror (including a great line suggesting Kang has killed Avengers in other timelines), but by the time we meet him — and even by the time the end credits roll — we can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about. Yes, the comics give the character a rich history, but this big screen introduction leaves a lot to be desired as it’s wholly unclear what his motivations or powers are. “I don’t live in a straight line,” he says. Okay, so what. How did he build this city-like complex in the quantum realm? Who the hell are all these other “people” living down there? Why does Kang ultimately feel like just another dude in a powerful suit? Why does he say “it’s never over” one minute and “I’ve seen the end” the next? And just wait til you see what brings the mighty conqueror down…
Majors is mostly solid here, especially in his first few scenes where his loneliness and anger feel tangible, but there are some dicey choices made in the third act of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. There are a few other highlights, though — and no, I’m not referring to the cameo that everyone will be talking about. Instead, it’s the smaller newcomers who steal their scenes and breathe short bursts of life into the film. M.O.D.O.K. is a blast thanks in large part to Corey Stoll‘s delivery, William Jackson Harper finds some dry laughs as a psychic resident of the quantum realm, and Katy M. O’Brian gives a compelling and charismatic turn as a warrior out for blood. And Douglas, well, he’s having fun, and no one can take that away from him.
The core character beats regarding Scott’s attempts at bonding with his daughter and the flack everyone’s giving him for doing so little with his life these days — it’s a strange angle as the dude saved the world and his family and wrote a damn book, so why not let him take a break? — could have found legs in another breezy, San Francisco-set caper comedy. For whatever reason, though, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania kneecaps those moments by forcing itself on a path toward bigger (ie franchise, world-building) things by way of very, very small things, and it just doesn’t work. But hey, we already have a title for the next Avengers film scheduled for 2025… and there’s a dude who looks like broccoli!