After two smaller-scale outings, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s favourite ant-sized thief/superhero to a whole new universe. Trapped in the Quantum Realm (established in the previous two films), the Ant-family: Scott Lang (Ant-Man), his daughter Cassie, Hope van Dyne (AKA The Wasp), former Ant-Man Hank Pym and former Wasp Janet van Dyne must find a means of escape – but not before encountering a shadowy figure from Janet’s past in the form of Kang the Conqueror.
Jonathan Majors is a magnetic screen presence as Kang (a ‘variant’ of his character from the Disney+ series Loki). What could easily be a one-note villain is portrayed with a unique combination of menace, eccentricity, and charisma by Majors, who proves to be the MVP of the entire movie. In much the same way that Avengers: Infinity War was Thanos’ film, Quantumania is Kang’s.
Inevitably though, this story feels very much like a re-introduction to the character, setting up Kang as the main antagonist for this phase of films and shows – the next Avengers film has already been announced as The Kang Dynasty. Quantumania is less a standalone film and more of a steppingstone in the broader narrative of the MCU, continuing established storylines and setting up key characters and plot points for subsequent instalments to expand upon. This is the start of Marvel Studios’ Phase 5 of stories, the third entry in the Ant-Man film series, the second appearance of Kang (after Loki), a sequel to Avengers: Endgame and a prequel to the upcoming Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. For Marvel fans, it will be exciting to see the next chapter in this ever-expanding multiverse; for more casual fans, it does feel like homework is required.
Nevertheless, Paul Rudd is as charming and entertaining as ever as Scott Lang / Ant-Man, while Kathryn Newton makes her MCU debut as his now grown-up daughter Cassie; the two have strong chemistry, even if Cassie as a character has developed considerably off-screen (on top of the five-year time-jump in Avengers: Endgame, Quantumania implies another time-jump since that film’s conclusion). Michael Douglas is given some fun gags as a more easy-going Hank Pym, although Evangeline Lilly has very little to do (it’s ironic that the co-titular character is so underdeveloped across the three films). In her expanded role, Michelle Pfeiffer is provided some interesting scenes with Kang (the two have an intriguing dynamic) but still feels like a mystery box throughout.
With the ensemble cast separated across the Quantum Realm, the story is able to showcase this strange new universe introduced in the first Ant-Man. The Realm itself is less other-dimensional and more akin to a Star Wars-esque space opera (complete with an alien bar, not unlike the famous cantina scene), featuring a collection of alien creatures including broccoli people, goo creatures, and rather disappointingly, suspiciously human-looking characters. Despite being shot by acclaimed cinematographer Bill Pope, the visuals often look rather flat and grey, with some admittedly obvious blue screen work throughout. Peyton Reed’s direction is fine, although it lacks the dynamism of Sam Raimi’s Marvel filmography or the character of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films. It’s already a curious creative decision to take the superhero whose visual gimmick is looking either incredibly small or big in everyday settings and drop him in an alien landscape, but even then, Reed’s direction never quite manages to showcase the scale of the characters or their surroundings.
Quantumania is also a little uneven tonally: despite losing a number of the comic supporting characters from the previous films, some of the humour does carry over, albeit balancing against a more serious and threatening antagonist. On top of this, the film also tries to incorporate some of the weirder and more ridiculous aspects of the Marvel universe. Despite a promising introduction, supporting villain M.O.D.O.K. is laughable – in concept, in execution, and not helped by some rather weak exposition. It’s hard not to admire the creative team for attempting to realise such a strange character in live action, but it’s very telling that he’s taken less seriously by the audience than the giant pink starfish in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
Overall, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is a fairly average entry in the MCU in almost every respect: the story is rather clichéd, the visuals oftentimes flat and the pacing and editing a bit clunky in places, although this is all bolstered by a charismatic villainous performance from Jonathan Majors as Kang. As a piece of escapist blockbuster entertainment, it certainly does its job, but with the MCU’s popularity starting to diminish, it’s disappointing for Marvel Studios to play it so safe. In short: less Quantumania, more like Quantumgenerica.