‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Review: Marvel’s Strange World

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a direct steer into mythology territory for the MCU, taking away some of the charm this Avenger has had to offer previously.
User Rating: 6

It’s interesting to recall when George Lucas began going completely digital, with behind-the-scenes images of large, empty, green rooms serving as some of the filming stages for the Star Wars prequels. Robert Rodriguez was on a similar path early on with Sin City. Mocked by some at the time, at the very least, the worlds created in the prequels have stood the test of time when referencing Coruscant or Mustafar. Nowadays, so many of these huge films rely on completely digital worlds. I wonder how well people will remember the cities in the Quantum Realm years from now. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is aggressively fine as a whole, trading in something closer to reality for a vast digital space, but as a start to Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one wonders if Scott Lang was the right man to call in for the job.

Paul Rudd returns as Lang, the one-time petty criminal who is now credited as one of the Avengers who helped save the world from Thanos. He’s taking this badge of honor well as he struts through the streets of San Francisco with an extra pep in his step (and a memoir he’s happy to promote). Things are going well all around, it would seem. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is using her father’s technology for humanitarian efforts. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michaelle Pfeiffer) are back together again following Janet’s rescue from the Quantum Realm. We don’t get to see the ex-con-turned-security crew played by Michael Peña, T.I., and David Dastmalchian this time around, but let’s assume they’re doing great as well.

Part of the appeal of the Ant-Man films has been how low-stakes they are compared to the rest of what’s happening in a world full of superheroes. Director Peyton Reed returns here, and while the early minutes bring the familiar feel of a loose adventure-comedy set in the Bay Area once again, that’s not where things will stay. As it turns out, Scott’s daughter Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton) has been conducting some Quantum-related experiments. Sending a signal into the mysterious world, however, turns out to be a bad idea. Faster than you can say, “Honey, I shrunk the Pyms,” Scott and his makeshift family have found themselves stranded inside the Quantum Realm, and there’s a lot more to this world than everyone but Janet has realized.

On the one hand, the past two Ant-Man films have set up and expanded on the potential to be had regarding this minuscule dimension. However, on the other hand, the audience must now contend with losing the somewhat grounded, somewhat relatable capers delivered in the previous films in favor of a fantastic voyage at subatomic levels as the plan going forward for Quantumania. Making that work for the better means offering a location full of memorable imagery and intriguing ideas, and that’s what I wish this film could have settled on more.

Make no mistake, Quantumania is never lacking in visual spectacle, as Rudd, Lilly, Newton, Douglas, and Pfeiffer are practically starring in an animated feature. With that in mind, I wish Reed and writer Jeff Loveness allowed these characters to dive even deeper into all the weird stuff being presented. Early on, during our time in the Quantum realm, we’re introduced to a creature obsessed with the number of holes in humans, a telepath played by William Jackson Harper, sentient buildings with rocket arms, and whatever Bill Murray is supposed to be. That’s all well and good, but it never goes much further, even if the CG is mostly up to par for this franchise.

Much of this portion of the Quantum Realm exists in its current form because of Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror, a villain whom we will be contending with in one form or another for a while (the next Avengers film is sub-titled “The Kang Dynasty”). Learning about Kang means dealing with a lot of dialogue surrounding his backstory, which is both clunky and weirdly vague, given how much of the movie he’s in. Much of that has to do with Pfeiffer’s Janet playing coy about how much she knows based on her past experiences, but that only makes me wonder how much mystery was required and how much was reliant on convenient plot devices to prolong these explanations. Regardless, as good as Majors is in the role (and let’s be clear, he’s a terrific actor going just above neutral to match what’s needed in this script), the Kang stuff is far less interesting than seeing a creature with a laser gun for a face.

Perhaps the biggest concern comes down to how much shrinking and growing is happening here, in addition to the comedic beats that come at a far higher frequency in the Ant-Man films than most of the other MCU features. The good news is that Quantumania continues to deliver fun ideas for how Scott, Hope, and others can play around with their size alterations. Those Pym Particles sure do come in handy, and what the effort going into that superpower may lack in stakes (the suits are never even close to malfunctioning this time around), the film gains in once again delving into trippy visuals akin to what’s been seen on the cosmic side of the MCU.

As far as the comedy goes, well, this is more of a serious affair by comparison. Without the ex-cons or the Elmore Leonard-adjacent plotting that made Ant-Man and the Wasp a relief following the dusting that concluded Avengers: Infinity War, this third entry is more typical MCU stuff. There’s plenty of humor to go around as far as delivering a four-quadrant blockbuster, but nothing that’s rising to any real subversive level or clever in a way that stands out (but several one-liners did hit great). Rudd is still certainly down to clown, and that’s preferred to seeing him attempt to fight Kang (being played by Majors in Creed III shape underneath all that armor). Still, even with one notable inclusion involving everyone’s favorite Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing, it’s a tamer effort as far as all the laughs are concerned.

However, audiences looking for a good time are still going to get it. This is the 31st of these movies, so it’s not as though all involved are unaware of what works to accomplish what’s needed. Perhaps the film could have made up for some issues were it not stuck with having to provide some setup for several movies to come. With that said, this is not exactly the most complicated plot to work out. Quantumania stands on its own well enough, delivers the goods as far as spectacle and entertainment, allows a number of good actors to work as well as needed (Douglas still seems to be having fun with all this nonsense), and comes in at merely two hours (which is strangely a relief these days). The story is pretty familiar, but at this point, was Ant-Man really the character you needed to satisfy your complex narrative needs? If so, well, as Ant-Man would point out, there’s always room to grow.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens in theaters on February 17, 2023.

6
Fair
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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