Up until now, the Ant-Man films have been a charmingly inconsequential corner of the MCU, offering family-friendly adventures and low stakes stories that work as a kind of pressure valve for the bigger, more centralized stories responsible for carrying the interconnected narrative forward.
Well, that’s all gone now, as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a full-blown MCU narrative push toward the “Multiverse Saga”, the next block of stories featuring second and third-generation superheroes as the original Marvel stars phase out their contracts. If that sounds like businessy business stuff and not thrilling cinematic storytelling, well, it fits Quantumania, which feels more like an exercise in corporate synchrony than a story anyone was excited to tell.
Paul Rudd returns as reformed criminal Scott Lang, now a famous superhero thanks to his role in the time heist and the “Battle of Earth” depicted in Avengers: Endgame. He has settled down with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, given very little to do and doing even less with it), and is attempting to make up for lost time with his now-teenaged daughter, Cassie (this time played by Kathryn Newton).
Between his time in jail and his five-year stint in the Quantum Realm, Scott has missed about half of Cassie’s life, and this should be fertile ground for a family-friendly story about parents and kids reconnecting, and even the idea of a super-powered “road trip” film isn’t a bad idea, but Quantumania does not let Scott and his quirky friends, accomplices, and family live in their fun little corner, it pushes them fully into the MCU spotlight and none of these characters can carry it off.
For the first time, Rudd seems off his game as Scott, maybe due to a combination of boredom and frustration, as he tries to bring the dorky dad energy of Scott Lang to a big, bloated story that really needs bigger superhero shoulders—like Captain Marvel, or maybe the Guardians of the Galaxy—to carry it off. Rudd just never feels in synch in Quantumania, not that he can’t be a leading man, but Scott, as a character, was never designed for that. He’s meant to be the normal guy in a roomful of gods, the dude who sort of fell into superheroing by accident and never got removed from the premises. In the film’s best moments, Rudd can tap into his everyman appeal to play a parent floundering under the weight of regret, but as a superhero, he never finds the right level for Scott, underplaying moments that need square-jawed sincerity and a believable power capability.
Michelle Pfeiffer fares better as Janet Van Dyne, and she capably carries a chunk of the film as she leads her family through the Quantum Realm, her home-away-from-home. She actually could be the believable hero(ine) taking down the big bad, but in the third act, the film shifts back to Scott, much to its detriment. (There is an intriguing trilogy trajectory if these films went Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Wasp, with the third film solidly centered on Janet, an OG Avenger from the comics, finally getting her moment in the sun.) No one is doing a bad job, you can just feel how awkward the story-character match is, and therefore, Quantumania never really works.
There are elements to enjoy, such as the creature design in the Quantum Realm, which is legitimately neat, and some of the visuals are cool. And Jonathan Majors makes a good impression as Kang the Conqueror, or at least one variant of Kang, who has successfully conquered the Quantum Realm. Majors makes interesting choices, Kang is almost seductive when bargaining with Scott, the way he knows exactly what lure to cast and how to reel Scott in, it’s both creepy and effective.
Quantumania works best as bait for more Kang stories, which, of course, we are getting, but this has long been one of Marvel’s besetting storytelling sins, that over relying on “the next thing” means they don’t always nail the thing they’re doing right now. They definitely don’t nail the third entry in the Ant-Man trilogy, this isn’t a satisfying conclusion for Scott, who is essentially unchanged by this adventure, nor a good enough introduction to Cassie Lang as a heroine in her own right.
The Marvel machine is competent enough that Quantumania isn’t outright bad, but like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, it is frustratingly mediocre, plagued with too much exposition, a story the protagonist cannot carry, and a villain that should have met a stronger, more grand superhero in his proper introduction.
That Ant-Man—ANT-MAN—defeats Kang, any Kang, sort of robs Kang of his inherent threat. Like, how are we supposed to take him seriously, if ANT-MAN can beat him? And yeah, Ant-Man had help, but let’s not pretend like Ant-Man, either version of the Wasp, or the “Ant family” has been built up to the point that we buy they are difficult heroes to confront. Ant-Man is for wacky capers and comic relief in Avengers movies, not exposition-heavy narrative centerpieces responsible for setting up the next three years of cinematic storytelling. It really feels like the wheels are coming off at Marvel HQ.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is now in theaters everywhere.
Attached: The cast at the UK Gala Screening of "Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania" at the BFI IMAX Waterloo on February 16, 2023 in London, England.