Marvel - Ant-Man and the Wasp - Quantumania - Paul Rudd
Credit: Marvel Studios
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania — Peyton Reed

February 17, 2023

The 31st (!) film in the never-ending Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the kickoff to its Phase Five (whatever that means), Quantumania is also the third entry in the Ant-Man series. But if you approach this latest effort hoping to recover the previous Ant-Man movies’ simple comic charms, relatively more grounded action sequences, and earnest goofball characters, well, you may be in for somewhat of a disappointment. But given this installment’s placeholder status as both a wrap-up to a sorta-trilogy and a jumping-off point for a whole new run of these conveyor-belt blockbusters, at least Quantumania is also the first MCU film in a little while that manages to realize some idiosyncrasy and affable silliness.

Ant-Man, AKA Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has settled in nicely to post-Thanos celebrity. He’s written a cash-in tell-all autobiography about his time as an Avenger, he’s got a lovely thing going with Hope Van Dyne, AKA The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and he’s repaired his relationship with his formerly estranged daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Meanwhile, Hope’s dad, original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), has been happily reunited with his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Janet spent thirty years trapped in the Quantum Realm, a subatomic world where time and space do weird movie stuff and which allowed the Avengers to save everyone in Endgame.

Anyway, uh-oh: turns out Hank and Cassie have been doing some science stuff tinkering in the tiny dimension. Janet seems immediately upset, but before anything can be done about that, everyone gets sucked into the aforementioned Realm. There they find that it isn’t quite the desolate landscape Janet previously claimed, but instead a bustling civilization all its own. There’s weird monsters, sentient buildings with cannons for arms, psychics, warrior women, and Bill Murray. On paper, the easy comparison (and one a lot of folks have already been making) would, of course, be a sort of mega Star Wars cantina scene, but in practice the intrinsic goofiness, deliberately stupid humor, and ludicrous designs have more in common with Douglas Adams. Also down here is Kang (Jonathan Majors), a very powerful being of some kind who has seized power and built an empire in order to escape the Quantum Realm for… well, for reasons that aren’t particularly clear. He seems to be a cruel tyrant, though, and Janet apparently has some history with him and is adamant that he can’t be allowed into our dimension. In any case, setting this guy up as the newest big bad guy in the MCU doesn’t really land, although Majors does at least bring a curious sadness to the character that lends a little intrigue.

The humor in Quantumania is probably its strongest feature. Rudd remains an MCU secret weapon, making Scott the kind of guy whose aw-shucks sarcasm betrays a hint of narcissism that sits nicely alongside his earnestness. A scene in which a being made of goo interrogates him about how many holes his body has features Rudd taking a beat to count silently in his head; it’s a genuinely hilarious moment, and the movie consistently hits at that level of funny. Also hilarious: a recurring sight gag involving the legacy comics character M.O.D.O.K. and the digitally smooshed face of the actor who plays him. Mileages will vary with this bit, but it may just be the funniest thing to ever grace an MCU film.

On the other hand, the rest of the digital work — which it will not surprise you to learn is a significant amount of the movie — is mostly abysmal. Certainly the green screen of it all has become a hallmark of the Marvel oeuvre, but aside from the human actors there seems to be barely a real physical element in the entire movie. It’s not that the design is bad — far from it — but there doesn’t seem to be any real weight to anything. Plus, the rusty red/brown color palette becomes pretty monotonous after a while, and that’s long before the traditional gigantic CGI conflagration that always constitutes the third acts of these things arrives. Director Peyton Reed brought a lot of creative action and formal economy to the previous two Ant-Man movies, but there’s nothing to do with most of the plot fodder here, and there’s a serious dearth of the big-stuff-gets-small-and-small-stuff-gets-big gags that drove those previous entries. 

Ultimately, what viewers will get out of Quantumania probably depends on what they’re willing to put in. It seems likely the film will land better for those who don’t particularly care about these damn Marvel movies, but are instead happy to have a good time with an amusing and deeply silly goof. For those who have any kind of stake in MCU products for any reason, this one might fall flat. And for anyone actively sick of them, avoid this at all costs. Qunatumania will do nothing to convert you.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 7.