‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Review: Threequel Goes Big, Busy and Sci-Fi Heavy, With Pros and Cons
Ant-Man and the Wasp may have the ability to get really small, but Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania goes really big.
This third film revolving around the characters (and the 31St film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, for those keeping count) represents a major departure from its two predecessors. While those were generally more lighthearted and relatively small-scaled as compared to the behemoth films featuring the other superheroes, this entry clearly aims higher, taking place almost entirely in the Quantum Realm and rivaling the Star Wars films in their exotic world-building. Imagine the cantina scene from Star Wars on steroids and expanded to feature length, and you’ll have some idea of what director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness are going for.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
The Bottom Line
Trades humor for scale and extravagance.
Mileage will vary in terms of fan reactions; Personally, I enjoyed the previous comically inclined Ant-Man movies as refreshing palate cleansers from the overblown histrionics of the Avengers films. It helped, of course, that the title character is played by Paul Rudd, an actor so endearing and naturally funny (not to mention apparently ageless) that watching him play a superhero feels like sharing a joke with an old friend.
Although this film features some laughs — many of them revolving around the visually hilarious, homicidal organism MODOK (more on that later) — humor is generally in shorter supply. Which is probably appropriate for a film featuring one of Marvel’s scariest-ever villains in the form of Kang the Conqueror (a truly fearsome Jonathan Majors, instantly establishing a career annuity) and a potential cataclysm involving … actually, I don’t know what, to be honest. I just know that it’s really, really, bad, and that between the Multiverse and the Quantum Realm, you practically need an advanced physics degree to figure out what the hell is going on in Marvel films these days.
The film begins in breezy fashion, with a smug Scott Lang (Rudd) enjoying the fruits of his celebrity, including performing readings of his memoir. Look Out for the Little Guy! and accepting free offerings from his local coffee shop, even if the proprietor mistakes him for Spider-Man. His relationships with girlfriend Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and his now teenage daughter Cassie (a terrific Kathryn Newton) are going swimmingly. Hope’s father, Hank (Michael Douglas), seems to have happily settled into retirement, although he’s still obsessed with ants, and her mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), is clearly enjoying having been freed from her decades-long confinement in the Quantum Realm. .
The extended family’s contentment is soon shattered when they all get accidentally sucked into the Quantum Realm as a result of unfortunate scientific tinkering by Cassie, who is obviously following in her father’s footsteps. While there, Janet gets reunited with some old friends, including the smarmy but menacing Lord Krylar (Bill Murray, doing the Bill Murray thing), with whom she apparently had some sort of fling, much to Hank’s consternation. Janet also has a history with Kang, whom she previously prevented from escaping the Realm and who really wants to get out now. Because, how else is he eventually going to go up against the Avengers?
For better or worse, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the most overtly sci-fi film in the series, and on that level, it succeeds very well. To ascribe credit for the Quantum Realm’s onscreen depiction would basically involve reprinting dozens of pages of credits, but suffice it to say that the visual design of the multi-faceted settings, imaginative costumes and outrageous creatures on display is truly outstanding on every level. A stunning climactic battle, involving a “probability storm” (don’t ask) that results in multitudes of Ant-Mans who at first don’t get along but eventually learn to collaborate for their survival, is the sort of mind-blowing sequence. that you don’t even need consciousness-altering substances to appreciate.
The film also works well on an emotional level, particularly with the loving relationship between Scott, desperate to be a good father, and his feisty teenage daughter, who more than proves herself when it comes to donning a size-altering suit and mixing it up. with the bad guys.
It’s frustrating to see the main characters separated into various groups for long stretches of the film, but Lilly’s Wasp has plenty of moments to shine and Douglas seems to be thoroughly enjoying playing bemused — as when Hank accurately observes about one particularly odd Quantum Realm creature, “Holy shit, that guy looks like broccoli!” (It’s not a line to rival Gordan Gekko’s “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” but it’s pretty funny.) And Pfeiffer is terrific in her expanded role, given the opportunity to be a badass heroine and making the most of it.
But it’s Majors who brings real gravitas to the proceedings. While it’s not surprising that the actor’s imposing physicality perfectly suits his iconic villainous character, he also invests his performance with such an arrestingly quiet stillness and ambivalence that you’re on edge every moment he’s onscreen.
Still, he’s not the villain who steals the picture. That would be MODOK, Kang’s “Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing,” who looks like a giant head in a tiny body and is played by a former Ant-Man Actor not listed in the film’s credits. The other characters’ reactions upon first encountering the bizarre creature are priceless, and so is the saying inspired by him, which ultimately serves as the film’s unofficial motto: “It’s never too late to stop being a dick.” Which, for Marvel, is as profound as it gets.
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