Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man makes a flashy return in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania which also introduces us properly to Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror.
Although Paul Rudd’s bite-sized hero Ant-Man has been part of the bigger Avengers films, his own solo adventures have been relatively low-key. Director Peyton Reed chose small-scale heist thrillers over big superhero spectacle and this has always been the franchise’s strength.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the third Ant-Man film, changes all that. It officially kickstarts Marvel’s Phase V of films and gives us its next big bad: Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror.
At the beginning of the film, life is good for Scott Lang. He’s universally loved as Ant-Man and he has somewhat mended his relationship with his daughter Cassie (superb Kathryn Newton). But the Quantum Realm, the dangerous realm from where the gang rescued Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), still poses a significant threat, especially after the entire gang gets sucked into it after Cassie builds a device that sends a signal into the time void.
Once there, Scott, Cassie, Janet, Hank Pym (wonderfully grumpy Michael Douglas) and the titular Wasp, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) must face Kang, who has some unfinished business with Janet and has become the unofficial emperor of the Quantum Realm.
Quantumania is big, loud and often quite confusing. While the narrative is pretty straight-forward and Jeff Loveness’ script constantly reminds you what each character is trying to do at any given moment, the frame itself is jam-packed with funky creatures, bright lights and of course, ants.
Reed has clearly sought inspiration from Star Wars and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but by abandoning seemingly everything that made the first two Ant-Man films so charming, Quantumania rings hollow. Nothing about the film feels organic, genuine or original.
Although we briefly visited the Quantum Realm in both Ant-Man films and in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Hank travelled there to retrieve Janet, who had been trapped there for 30 years. The Quantum Realm has always been presented to us as a hugely dangerous, abstract space that should be avoided at all costs and that no life could exist there.
In Quantumania, by making it a place where laws of physics seem to apply and where several different tribes live, it just feels pretty safe. In the first film, Hank warns Scott that if stuck there, one would just float and shrink endlessly. It turns out, one could just go to a bar for a cocktail and play some blackjack.
Quantumania is clearly designed to set up bigger storylines in Phase V, but the cost of that is that Reed’s film lacks an identity or purpose of its own. Although emotional arcs are set up, they’re never followed through on. Visually, the film is messy and flat; the CGI is shockingly poor and the action looks muddled.
At least Quantumania has one of the best casts in a Marvel film. Rudd is reliably good as Scott, who seems to lack personality. Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas are both in fine form and clearly enjoying playing characters they rarely are given an opportunity to play.
Newton is a smart casting choice and we can only assume Cassie, who has her own superhero suit already, will be a huge part of the MCU in the future. Unfortunately, although the film bares her name, Lilly’s character of the Wasp doesn’t really get to do anything. This may or may not be related to her comments on vaccines but she feels like deadweight in a film where there’s already too much going on.
But it’s Jonathan Majors who leaves the biggest impression. Kang was first teased at the end of Loki season 1 and set up as a Thanos-like threat. While we didn’t find out much, there’s an even stronger feeling that you really need to have seen both Loki and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to really understand what’s happening here as Marvel gets even more ambitious with its mind-boggling narratives.
Majors crafts an intriguing, layered villain here. While it’s still not entirely clear what he wants, except to conquer everything, which is far too vague at this point, or what his powers are, Majors’ Kang is calm and calculated, but we see glimpses of his cruelty and ruthlessness.
Quantumania feels like a lacklustre way to begin Phase V. A film completely void of any personality or a sense of fun, this is far from Marvel at its best. We can only hope better things are coming.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in cinemas 17 February.