Review: “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

There’s a scene during the climax of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania in which Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his 18-year-old daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who now has a similar suit to his that allows her to change size, have both grown to a gigantic size to fight off the bad guys in the Quantum Realm. They catch a glimpse of each other, both enormous, for the first time, run to each other, and embrace, Scott exclaiming, “You’re so big!” But while the characters are telling us this, there’s virtually nothing in the film’s visuals to indicate a moment that ought to strike awe into lookers-on. Scott and Cassie aren’t surrounded by any objects or other characters to help point to their scale, while the flat surrounding environment only consists of some mountains in the far background. Almost all of Quantumania, the third installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s series of Ant-Man films, is set in the Quantum Realm, a sort of spacey other dimension populated by a weird assortment of creatures and alien environments. While the Ant-Man movies have always been less effective pieces of the MCU, a franchise whose quality on the whole has experienced increasingly diminishing returns, part of what made them diverting was how they played with scale, Ant-Man shrinking and growing around real world environments, objects, and landmarks, from toy train sets to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. That playfulness surrounding the staging of the action set-pieces and effects has been sucked out of Quantumania, an over-reliance on Stagecraft technology (which can be a incredibly innovative tool when utilized in conjuction with location shots and green screen, a crutch when used too heavily as a substitute for those things) even worse than what we saw in last year’s Thor: Love and Thunder resulting in one of the ugliest movies I have ever seen in my life. While Quantumania boasts a colorful palette that is a welcome reprieve from the gray tones that dominate so many superhero movies of late while also feeling more like it is ripped from an actual comic book, the backgrounds are flat, the lighting unnatural. The live-action actors may be appearing in a place that is for all intents and purposes fake, but it never looks like they are actually there. The inclusion of a lot of strange little guys and funky alien technology may give the characters something new to do, and frequently feel like they owe a debt to sci-fi and space opera landmarks (there’s a scene where some of the characters enter a bar in the Quantum Realm that pulls directly from the iconic cantina scene in Star Wars), but the accompanying sense of wonder that makes those movies so memorable is never present here.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Of course, Quantumania has a lot more issues besides its shoddy visuals. Apparently the kick-off to the MCU’s Phase 5, after an aimless post-Endgame Phase 4, Quantumania sets up the series’ next over-arching big bad, the time-and-space traveler/world conqueror Kang (Jonathan Majors, who was introduced as an alternate version of the character in the season finale of the Disney+ show Loki; fear not, his role in Quantumania still makes as much sense as it can if you haven’t seen that series, or, like me, have all but forgotten it in the intervening two years). At the end of the day, that’s mainly what Quantumania feels like: set-up, a big ol’ two hour long tease of what’s to come. The start of the film does at least attempt to set up some goal for its protagonists, to its credit. The movie opens jauntily, with Scott, high off helping the Avengers and the success of his recent memoir, skipping down the street to the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song. But later, at a family dinner consisting of Cassie, Scott’s girlfriend/fellow hero Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her scientist parents Janet (recently returned from spending 30 years trapped in the Quantum Realm and played by Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Cassie—who we first meet getting bailed out of jail after being arrested at a political protest—challenges her dad to do something more with his life. It’s directly after this that an experiment Cassie and Hank have been working on goes haywire and sends them all into the Quantum Realm, and while half of the film’s conflict later on involves residents of the Quantum Realm rising up against Kang and his soldiers, the personal angle for Scott is quickly dropped. Hope, his co-lead in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, has barely any presence or more than a few lines of dialogue throughout the film, despite her name still being in the title.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Kang (Jonathan Majors) in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

The family is split up early on in their adventure, and the most intriguing storyline ends up going to Pfeiffer’s Janet and Major’s Kang, Janet’s knowledge of the Quantum Realm and her connection to some of the people there being established early on thanks to all the time she spent there previously, and her relationship with Kang being revealed through flashbacks. It’s partly the most effective because it’s the most clearly fleshed out piece of writer Jeff Loveness’ screenplay, in which the heroes come off as more of an afterthought (confounding seeing as how Peyton Reed returns to the director’s chair for round three and must know and love these characters by now, although Loveness is also working on the next Avengers movie, The Kang Dynasty, slated for a 2025 release, so it does make some sense that Kang would be his focus here). But Pfeiffer and Majors are also the most compelling actors in the film, delivering seriously committed performances in a movie where everyone else is behaves like a cartoon (don’t even get me started on Corey Stoll, who appeared in the first Ant-Man as antagonist Darren and is back in this movie in quite a different form). Majors, who is so expressive he can either play gentle or vicious and convincingly make those switches on a dime, turns dialogue and scenes that may have been dull with another actor into electrifying pieces of theater. But while that may be enough to drum up some excitement for his upcoming appearance in the MCU, it isn’t even to salvage Quantumania, an illogical, bafflingly boring mess that lacks even the minimum amount of fun and humor that were trademarks of the previous Ant-Man movies. The MCU may still be driving folks out to the theaters in droves—Quantumania debuted to the tune of over $100 million in its opening weekend domestically—but the increasingly lazy construction of both story and visuals is only going to sustain audience interest (Quantumania also earned a rare-for-the-MCU B Cinemascore from audiences) for so long. At least there are still ants in it.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 125 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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