WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
‘Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania’ sidles up to — but doesn’t quite reach — greatness
Launching phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the 31st entry in an ever-expanding franchise, the third ‘Ant-Man’ is a movie that, save for being the launchpad for what comes next, feels wholly unnecessary.
The Ant-Man films have always occupied an odd space in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). They have twice served as a palate-cleanser after the big Avengers team-up films, with 2015’s Ant-Man following Age of Ultron, and 2018’s Ant-Man and The Wasp set directly after Avengers: Infinity War.
Although that isn’t quite the same case here – we’ve had seven films since Avengers: Endgame – Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, the third Ant-Man outing, falls into a similar (ant)trap, and only serves as a bridge between bigger entries.
Post-Endgame, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is living his best life in San Francisco. Recognised as an Avenger and hailed as a hero, he’s touring with his tell-all book and generally loving being a celebrity.
Meanwhile, his teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) thinks the world still needs saving and has been tinkering with leftover technology and Pym particles. When her clandestine experimentation goes awry, it results in Scott, Cassie, Hope (Evangeline Lily), Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) being sucked back to the place none of them wanted to be – the Quantum Realm.
That’s a bare-bones outline of the first 15 minutes of the film, but from there you can guess exactly what’s going to happen, if not precisely how. Unfortunately, Quantumania exists solely as the launchpad for the next phase of the MCU and to properly introduce the overarching “Big Bad”, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). But more on him in a bit.
The Quantum Realm itself is a psychedelic, green-screened landscape reminiscent of pulp sci-fi book covers, filled with fantastical CGI beings such as walking spaceships, balls of lightning, humanoid broccoli, sentient ooze and Bill Murray.
Visually, it’s got a lot going on, which only serves to make the action feel less grounded. Considering we’re dealing with a size-changing superhero, something vital is lost when we don’t have a sense of scale or point of reference.
Likewise, having the whole film set in the Quantum Realm only serves to disassociate the actors from their surroundings, with the strained efforts at both humour and gravitas hamstrung by a phony backdrop.
The only character that doesn’t feel out of place is Kang – the sole reason for Quantumania to exist. So at least it’s a good reason. Majors is an excellent villain and sets up just how menacing and dangerous Marvel’s new onscreen foe will be.
He plays Kang with a quiet, barely constrained rage, delivering the silly, comic book dialogue with an austerity worthy of Shakespeare.
And it works.
With a minor inflection change and twitch of his fingers, Kang demonstrates without a doubt that he is a formidable enemy. It’s a very different version of Kang that fans might have encountered in the Disney+ Loki series; Quantumania’s Kang is very much the danger that He Who Remains warned about.
That’s not to say that Majors’ performance is the only good thing about Quantumania. If you were wanting more of Janet van Dyne, either as a fan of Michelle Pfeiffer or just wishing you knew more about the 30 years the character spent trapped in the Quantum Realm, Quantumania delivers.
Janet’s backstory is fleshed out a great deal, and Pfeiffer takes her role seriously, likewise delivering a convincingly traumatised portrayal of someone forced to return to a nightmarish place they lost so much time to.
There are other flashes of enjoyment: some admittedly funny dialogue (though the lack of Michael Peña is keenly felt), a few fist-pumping action beats (among the chaotic CGI), and a surprisingly interesting and well-rounded character in Cassie (though she’s essentially invulnerable).
Offbeat floating head villain M.O.D.O.K. is also a brief stand-out, even though he gets very little screen time.
And that, in short, sums up what is so disappointing about this film. With a few exceptions, everything comes with a caveat.
Over its two-hour run time, Quantumania sidles up next to greatness, but never quite reaches it. Even the overarching theme of missing time with loved ones and making up for absence is overshadowed by Kang, and quickly wrapped up with little to no fuss.
There’s enough to enjoy, but not quite enough to justify the whole experience. DM/ML
This story was first published by Pfangirl.com.
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is at cinemas from 17 February and on Disney+ from 5 April.