Super Heroes Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) return to continue their adventures as Ant-Man and The Wasp. Together, with Hope’s parents Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Scott’s daughter Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), the family finds themselves exploring the Quantum Realm, interacting with strange new creatures and embarking on an adventure that will push them beyond the limits of what they thought possible.
In a recent interview Marvel’s Kevin Feige discussed the decision to put Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in the opening gambit of Phase 5 of the MCU. In that interview he described how, across two solo movies, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame, the character had earned his place. But the sad reality is that Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania doesn’t exist to continue Scott’s adventures. It exists as a vehicle to further the narrative of what comes next.
Plenty of words have been written about so-called “post Endgame slog” and “Marvel fatigue” but in reality neither of those things really impact on Quantumania.
For me, the film is solidly mid-Marvel. A film of high highs and low lows. The opening 20 minutes set up an intriguing sci-fi adventure with influences which call back to Star Wars and other huge scale films. But Jeff Loveness’ script quickly side-steps to toe the company line. The techno-babble and emotional nuance gives way to jokes about bodily functions. Not that there’s a problem with humour in MCU movies. But in a film like Love & Thunder which leans in to a lighter tone the comedy runs in parallel. In Quantumania it stands out like a sore thumb against a more dramatic backdrop.
The irony is that despite the trippy, VFX-constructed surroundings, Quantumania is actually at its best when it focusses on its characters. An early scene which brings together the Ant-Family typifies why fans took so quickly to the Ant-Man franchise. As Scott (Rudd), Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) sit down to a family dinner we see glimpses of the first films levity. There’s breathing space to show the connections between the characters and the kooky sci-fi elements. It’s as close as we get to the car chase of Ant-Man & The Wasp or the train sequence in the original Ant-Man.
Newton slips in to the role of Cassie easily. Her beefed up character is really at the centre of Quantumania’s heart despite a relative lack of an arc within the narrative. Loveness’ script quickly defines the adult Cassie as a hero of the people. Also creating enough conflict with her father to power their relationship through the rest of the film. Newton has a strong presence on screen which helps elevate some of the more flat moments in the script. Her rapport with Rudd is also pretty convincing right from the outset.
Of the rest of the cast, it’s Pfeiffer who deserves the lions share of the credit. Intrinsically linked to the also brilliant Jonathan Majors, Janet is key to all of the sci-fi action. Pfeiffer elevates all of that material with a palpable conviction. Recounting her lost years in the Quantum Realm is some of the most effective moments in all of Quantumania. It also exposes some of its biggest flaws.
I hate to compare any movie to Endgame but it’s clear that recent Marvel Studios releases have a technology issue. Endgame tried its best to explain the notion of time travel. Yes, it made jokes about the rules of time travel. But it also had a satisfying level of science. When Janet is able to expose Kang (Majors) for his evil machinations it isn’t through complex means. We don’t see the pair, now trapped together, slowly learning each other’s true intentions. There’s no coaxing Kang’s life story out of him. Janet simply touches his ship and it tells her he’s a bad guy. At best it’s convenient storytelling. At worst it’s incredibly lazy writing.
As for Kang himself, Majors absolutely elevates the material he has been given. Frustratingly the first half of Quantumania is obsessed telling the audience Kang is a big deal. Endless mentions of “him” portent his arrival. “You never told them about him?”, “he is coming”, “we’re running from him”. It’s all a laborious trudge towards his eventual introduction. By the closing moments, and certainly during the mid-credit scene, he is presented as a formidable threat.
At the other end of the scale is M.O.D.O.K., a character who most likely should have not been translated in to live action. Though much of his personality remains intact, he exists purely to be the butt of several jokes. His appearance is disturbing for all the wrong reasons and in the end he is simply another wasted opportunity and yet another MCU one-and-done villain.
Visually, Quantumania is striking. The design of the Quantum Realm is truly unique. It’s also populated with an incredible mix of practical and visual effects. Some scenes are spectacular in their depth and detail. Others threaten to come apart at the seams as the cast struggles against endless volumes of green screen. It’s case in point of how Quantumania constantly lurches between good and bad.
Despite some truly inspired production design, Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania seemingly forgets everything which made the first two movies great. In service of setting up Kang the flimsy script gets lost in its ambitions leaving Rudd’s unfaltering charisma to keep the ship afloat.