Directed by: Peyton Reed
Distributed by: Disney
Written by Anna Harrison
Marvel Studios has been in a state of crisis. You could excuse some of their missteps as of late, claiming that perhaps the movies were just trying to find their feet after the monstrous “Avengers: Endgame,” or that the failures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Disney+ shows were just growing pains as they adjusted to a new format, but seven movies and eight television shows after “Spider-Man: Far From Home” wrapped up Phase Three and the new, post-“Endgame” Marvel has yet to prove that it should exist. Is it the lingering effects of Covid? Creative burnout? Audience tastes changing? Something else or maybe everything? “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is arguably no worse than something like “Iron Man 2” (although only one has Sam Rockwell), but standards have evolved. Our most beloved characters have, for the most part, come and gone. If Kevin Feige wants to keep his audience’s attention, he’s going to have to find a better way—“decent enough” can no longer cut it, and that’s exactly what “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is: decent enough, at best.
Neither the original “Ant-Man” nor its sequel “Ant-Man and the Wasp” attempted to be highbrow art, and they purposely avoided any paradigm-shifting shenanigans (save for one post-credits stinger); like the names suggested, the scales were small. Our heroes, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), would get into life-and-death tussles on a Thomas the Tank Engine track, or get stuck halfway between sizes and spend a day looking like a mismatched toddler. The Quantum Realm was nebulously defined; you could look, but don’t touch.
Not so with “Quantumania.” Here we are plunged headfirst into the Quantum Realm when a science experiment from Scott’s daughter, Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton), goes awry, and it is here that things start to go downhill. Before getting sucked into the Quantum Realm, we are treated to the delights of Paul Rudd, who is as charming as ever, and even if Michael Peña’s presence is missed, the supporting cast of Lilly—who, unfortunately, despite a co-billing, is definitely a supporting player—plus Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfieffer as Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne can (almost) make up for that. Even Kathryn Newton, whom I have a documented dislike for, is decent here. Once we venture into the Quantum Realm, however, we lose the charm that has defined the “Ant-Man” movies, which gets casually tossed aside in favor of the drudgery of apocalypse.
This time, the apocalypse is coming at the hands of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, reprising his role—sort of—from “Loki”), who has been exiled to the Quantum Realm for a bit too much genocide. Our intrepid adventurers get caught in his crosshairs, and the rest is history, yadda yadda, et cetera et cetera. Majors is a force to be reckoned with, and his Kang promises to be one good bad guy, but there are too many issues bogging down the rest of the movie to give him the villain vehicle he deserves. Number one, the movie looks like mud—there are some interesting creatures and production design in the Quantum Realm, but these are all offset by the bad visual effects and horribly bland colors. We find ourselves in an entirely new world with limitless possibilities, and no one does a damn thing about it.
Number two, the Quantum Realm is, put simply, a poor place to showcase Ant-Man and the Wasp’s powers. Getting big and getting small is a fun exercise when you are firmly on Earth and we have points of reference—Scott gets as small as an ant or as big as a boat. Here, the powers are rendered near meaningless: the Quantum Realm is full of all sorts of trickery where things aren’t what they seem, and what’s big to us might be small to one of the Realm’s denizens, and so we lose the sense of fun that comes with all this size-swapping back on our home plane. Fights lose their intrigue when it’s just Paul Rudd punching someone, and growing big or small is rendered pointless.
Number three: Cassie. Remember that adorable kid from the first two “Ant-Man” movies? The kid you loved, the kid whom you believed Scott Lang would sacrifice everything for? Say your goodbyes. Even if Newton were a better performer, Cassie is a paper-thin character, and it’s hard to believe that Scott would lay it all on the line for a girl whose most frequent line is a half-hearted yell of, “Dad!” (Emma Fuhrmann, who played Cassie for about a minute total in “Avengers: Endgame,” had more chemistry in fifteen seconds with Paul Rudd than Newton does in an entire movie.) When your movie hinges on a girl that no one cares about… not great.
And, of course, there is the avoidance of lasting consequences and the shallow one-liners designed to signal Disney’s fake progressivism, but that’s just par for the course at this point.
When the movie gets to be as silly as a movie about a guy who can control ants should be, then it begins to work—MODOK, a Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing and whose actor would be a spoiler, is a so-stupid-it’s-good addition and embraces the goofiness inherent to the “Ant-Man” concept, but he’s stranded amidst too much world-ending gloom and doom. Majors and Pfeiffer, whose minimal role in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” becomes key here, do some heavy lifting and almost manage to bring the movie out of the sludge, and there is exactly one inspired set piece where hundreds of Scott Langs form their own ant colony that reminds us how cool his powers can be when utilized properly. If only that creativity lasted for the entire movie.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” Trailer
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