Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania Gets Conquered By Kang

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Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 31st film to be exact. It’s a film that might get the accolades that Marvel might be expecting, but that doesn’t mean that director Peyton Reed has concocted a dud. Taken on its own merits and considering what Marvel’s movie maestro Kevin Feige needed the film to do, it’s entertaining and sets up the next phase of the bigger MCU picture quite well. It also serves to underline just how incredible of an undertaking the MCU actually is and how even the grandest concepts can start to bow under their own weight.

The multigenerational superfolk from the previous Ant-Man films return once again in Quantumania. Paul Rudd plays the eminently likable Ant-Man (aka Scott Lang) once again, providing goofy charm, fatherly love and human fallacy in a role that too often leaves little room for any of those traits – saving the universe from extinction level threats like Thanos typically requires a more “forged in battle” type of skill set. Ant-Man’s better half and fellow superhero, the Wasp (aka Hope van Dyne), is once again played by Evangline Lilly, who on paper is probably the more natural superhero of the two. They are joined once again by Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfieffer, as the original Ant-Man and the Wasp, respectively. Douglas looks like he’s having a ball doing these Marvel films, and Pfieffer is a central figure in the plot this time around.

Joining the cast this time is Kathryn Newton, who plays Cassie Lang, Scott’s daughter. She’s the third actress to take on the role, following Abby Ryder Fortson in the first two Ant-Man films and Emma Fuhrmann in Avengers: Endgame. While she has a pretty impressive resume of film and television success at the still young age of 26, she’s someone I managed to have missed over her career. I thought she did great, bringing a sort of “rebellious youth” for her ex-con father to handle while also juggling Pym-like intellect and van Dyne-esque heroism. Other new cast members in the Ant-Man franchise include Katy O’Brian, whom fans might recall from smaller parts on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Madalorian. Here she plays Jentorra, a freedom fighter in the Quantum Realm. William Jackson Harper plays a telepathic freedom fighter named Quaz. Bill Murray – yes, that BIll Murray – takes on a decidedly different role as Lord Krylar, someone who Janet van Dyne had encountered during her 30-year accidental exile to the Quantum Realm, but who had taken a turn towards evil after facing Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors, who originated the role in the DIsney+ series Loki. Underrated actor Corey Stoll surprisingly returns to the franchise as M.O.D.O.K. If you’re familiar with the character, nothing more needs to be said, and if you’re not, nothing I say will adequately prepare you for it.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is, in fact, Kang’s movie. Heck, Ant-Man and the Wasp are somewhat overshadowed by their elder nañmesakes, with Janet providing unparalleled leadership and knowledge of the Quantum Realm and Hank providing logistical support. Scott is mostly relegated to “overprotective father” duty and Hope is unfortunately almost lost in the crowded cast. Taking a page (or even the whole book) from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, viewers are given a lot to process both visually and expositionally. The special effects are very well done, as you’d expect from Marvel. But even a viewer like myself, who is very comfortable with the multiverse of the Marvel Comics after a lifetime of reading the stories, might find keeping the various timelines and variants (to borrow the term from the Loki series) straight in their heads to be a Herculean task, not to mention too much to process while also trying to pay attention to the plot of the film itself. Unlike most movies, including many of the Marvel films, Reed doesn't take a long time to set up the plot. After a brief recap from Scott's point of view, the heroes get zapped into the Quantum Realm (I grew up calling it the Microverse, though that probably violates a trademark in Japan) and we're off to the races. Conversely, the climactic battle seems to stretch on a little too long, trying to squeeze a littl emore emotion or expositional history into a very large scale fight scene. It's a bold choice by Reed, but I'm sure there will be some who might consider it the wrong choice. I'm just glad he didn't drag the opening on forever -- did the Hobbits ever leave for their big adventure yet?

Oddly enough, all of the multiverse babble in the film does very little to further the characterization of Kang. Don’t get me wrong – I think Jonathan Majors is doing quality work here. He’s an interesting supervillain as he is aware of his multiversal variants and can multiple versions of himself as seen by the slightly different variant he played in Loke. That’s a rich well of material for Majors to draw inspiration from, matched in the MCU perhaps only by Benedict Cumberbatch and his multiple Doctor Stranges. However, after his Disney+ appearance and this film, we still know very little about his powers or what drives him to be so deadly. Majors certainly looks the part though, wearing some of the most comics-accurate costumes we’ve seen in the MCU, and he has a menacing physical stature to him that the comics seldom play up. His fisticuffs with Scott Lang looked rough for Marvel’s second favorite bug-themed superhero (sorry dude!). It reminded me a little of Apollo Creed vs Rocky Balboa, only with Rocky fighting at least two weight classes over his head.

Something feels different in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, and I think it’s the change in film style that will likely throw you off. The first Ant-Man was, at its core, a heist action flick with comedic overtones, neither of which had really been done up to that point in the MCU. Sure, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man always had a few good one-liners, but none of the Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, or Avengers films up to that point could be considered particularly lighthearted. The second film continued the trend, with another heist and plenty of laughs, many thanks to the happy fool Luis, played by Michael Peña. His absence from the film was disappointing, but we haven’t seen the cast since before Avengers/Endgame so it’s entirely possible that he disappeared during the Blip or has been displaced since the Blipped victims returned. So while there was a built-in excuse for Luis’ absence, the tone of the film might not feel quite like an Ant-Man movie. 

Looking at the MCU as a whole, one wonders if the Marvel Multiverse concept won’t hasten the often mentioned “superhero fatigue” of the movie going public? As a diehard Marvel fan, I’m still eagerly awaiting the next phase of the MCU, featuring the debuts of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men within the official cinematic universe. I can certainly understand if the average movie fan doesn’t care as much about Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night, or The Eternals when they were already emotionally invested in Marvel’s biggest icons: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, and Spider-Man. Without that core of “the best of the best,” how long can Marvel expect to hold the public’s interest? Feige has mapped out the MCU into 2028, but does anyone really expect it to come to an end by then? It will certainly be interesting to see how the new Avengers lineup will be composed without so many of the originals, and if the fans will support that second-string ensemble. 

My advice is to try to enjoy each film on its own merits. Worrying about the bigger picture is why Disney pays Mr. Feige so handsomely.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is rated PG-13 with a 124 minute runtime, give or take the two closing credit scenes – you knew there would be! It opens nationwide today, February 17, 2023.

4.0 / 5.0