ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA Review: Talented Cast Salvages Another Mid-Tier MCU Entry
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas star in a special-effects laden action-adventure, directed by Peyton Reed.
After 30 — scratch that, 31, with the addition of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to the never-ending list — big-screen entries in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), not to mention a handful of straight-to-Disney+ limited series in just 15 years, superhero/Marvel fatigue is real.
Superhero stories can go through only so many iterations, so many permutations, and so many variations before repetition, indifference, and boredom begin to set in. And that’s not even considering the tangled storylines, backstories, and connectedness between and among entries, with practically each entry serving as a springboard for the next one in a seemingly unbroken chain to eternity.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania comes close, maybe too close, to hitting way too many familiar superhero beats, dousing those beats in underlit CGI murk, and ultimately serving as an appetizer for the next, big Avengers event.
When we catch up to Scott Lang / Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), he’s living a life of ease, comfort, and constant self-congratulation. After all, he helped save not just the world, but the universe too and he sees nothing wrong in resting on his laurels, enjoying the adulation and accolades that have come his way, and becoming a best-selling author. It’s almost as if being a superhero and everything that generally comes with becoming a superhero (i.e., power, great responsibility) don’t matter or matter less than they ever did for Scott.
Scott also has it made romantically, settling into domestic bliss with Hope Van Dyne / Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and becoming part of a makeshift family that includes his daughter, Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Hope’s biological parents and Cassie’s honorary grandparents. Even as Hope tries to do some good with the “Pym particles" her father discovered and exploited for his Ant-Man suit back in the day, Scott can’t see beyond Cassie getting into the good trouble that’s landed her in jail for protesting the city’s anti-homeless policy. Politics, apparently, end at the door of Scott and Hope’s home.
Cassie, though, hews closer in outlook to Hope and Hank, not-so-idly tinkering in the basement with super-advanced tech because that's what burgeoning STEM students do. Moments after Cassie excitedly demonstrates a newfound portal into the subatomic quantum realm where Janet inadvertently spent three decades, a reverse beam of some kind sucks the entire Lang-Van Dyne family into the Quantum Realm itself. Scott and Cassie end up separated from Hope, Hank, and Janet, necessitating some much-needed father-daughter bonding while they try to find each other and get back home.
With the exception of the opening and closing scenes, the entirety of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania unfolds in the Quantum Realm, a micro-verse somehow beyond space and time where all manner of flora, fauna, and bipedal humanoids of varying colors, heights, and transparency live, breathe, and presumably, die (eventually). Borrowing ideas as old as Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth’s Core (both, it turns out, inspirations for last year’s underappreciated Strange World) and as relatively new as Star Wars and the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania certainly deserves, if nothing else, points or props for production/alien design.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania also doubles as an introduction to the MCU’s next, hopefully great super-villain, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), an exiled time- and multiverse-traveling foe set up here as Phase 5’s overarching threat. Exiled by person or persons unknown, Kang has spent the last 30 years — a not coincidental overlap with Janet — preparing for an inevitable escape back into the multiverse, complete with standing armies, high-tech weaponry, and a practice run as the Quantum Realm’s Big Bad, oppressing the realm’s inhabitants not because he should, but because he can.
Despite an intriguing, layered, anguished performance by Majors (Creed III, Magazine Dreams) as Kang, his motivation for all the conquering never really comes into focus. He’s been exiled, sure, undeservedly (also, sure), but what he wants to do, outside of cleansing the multiverse of universes that somehow don’t conform to his ideals, feels like placeholder dialogue, meant to be filled in later by Rick & Morty writer Jeff Loveness in a subsequent draft.
Unfortunately, neither Loveness nor returning director Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Down With Love, Bring It On) found the time or the energy to give the screenplay another polish. Instead, we’re left with a barely motivated super-villain, set up for said super-villain’s return in future entries, and a family drama involving wayward father Scott learning to live in the present for his daughter while Janet and Hank, still getting to know each other after 30 years apart, come face-to-face with some unpleasant truths about that time apart.
For all its deficiencies story-wise, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania still benefits from a supremely watchable cast, including the Most Likable Man in All Of Film, Paul Rudd, veteran thespians in Douglas and Pfeiffer giving their all and, if nothing else, looking like they’re having a good time as they exchange semi-witty banter during a two-hour CGI light-show, and newcomer Kathryn Newton, sliding into the spunky, spontaneous, willful daughter finding herself in and out of the superhero game.
Sometimes a game cast giving their level best, a rarely stagnant script, and a few CGI awe- and wonder-filled baubles are enough to pass the time until the next, inevitable entry in the MCU. This is one of those times.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens in movie theaters throughout the earthly realm on Friday, February 17.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
- Peyton Reed
- Jack Kirby
- Jeff Loveness
- Paul Rudd
- Evangeline Lilly
- Jonathan Majors