Review

Ant-Man and the Wasp Lose Their Buzz in Quantumania

Quantumania is not a movie, it’s a building block.

Ant-Man has always been about the little guy. That was Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) charm: the underrated, underseen superhero who disarmed the audience with humor and disarmed his enemies by suddenly growing and shrinking at lightning speeds.

Ant-Man’s whole conceit is a little silly to begin with (he shrinks! And he talks to ants!), and the Ant-Man movies wisely leaned into that, telling hijinks-filled one-off adventures that felt small in comparison to the larger MCU. But they were a refreshing — and often visually exciting — change of pace from the big battles and civil wars. The first Ant-Man was the offbeat coda to Marvel’s Phase Two, and Ant-Man and the Wasp was a light caper that gave us Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer in one movie. Scott Lang might have played a key part in the conclusion of the Infinity Saga, but even he seemed surprised that he was there. At their best, the Ant-Man movies were light diversions — the closest thing that Marvel could get to old-fashioned star-driven vehicles, with Rudd, Douglas, and Pfeiffer’s shared charisma doing a lot of the heavy lifting on mostly fine movies.

So it’s with a strange finality that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania arrives, having the difficult job of wrapping up an already scattershot MCU and introducing the new franchise Big Bad in Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors).

Ultimately, Quantumania does a middling job of both. But in the process, it commits the worst sin a movie can make: it’s boring.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) feel the mania.

Marvel Studios

Quantumania didn’t have to be boring. There are a lot of interesting conflicts simmering beneath the surface: Scott’s aimlessness after saving the world, his pain over having lost all that time with his daughter, and the fact that everyone keeps confusing him for Spider-Man. But Quantumania doesn’t have time for Ant-Man’s various crises because it has lore to build, and a whole new world to introduce.

The plot picks up shortly after the events of Endgame. Scott is basking in his newly earned celebrity, happily doing book tours and photo ops, while struggling to reconnect with his daughter Cassie (recast as Kathryn Newton). Cassie has inherited the passion for justice that Scott seems to have lost, which is what gets her thrown in jail multiple times. But Cassie’s eagerness to prove herself extends beyond protecting the less fortunate, she’s also thrown herself into a quantum experiment — one that goes horribly wrong and sends the Lang and Pym families hurtling into the Quantum Realm.

Turns out, the Quantum Realm isn’t the void that everyone thought it was. It’s actually a thriving alien underworld full of strange humanoid creatures, breathing buildings, and bioluminescent monsters. Scott and Cassie, separated from the others, are quickly captured by a group of Freedom Fighters led by the Xena-like warrior Jentorra (Katy O'Brian, chewing up her handful of scenes). Jentorra and her colorful band of misfits — including David Dastmalchian (returning to Ant-Man in a new role) as the sentient blob Veb and William Jackson Harper as a beleaguered telepath — are one of the few bright spots in Quantum Realm. Sadly, only so much screen time can be dedicated to them.

Meanwhile, Hank and Hope (Evangeline Lilly, given absolutely nothing to do apart from rock a new haircut) are led on an illuminating tour through the Quantum Realm by Janet van Dyne, who appears to be terrified of returning to the realm she was stuck in for so long — and even more terrified of the tyrant who now rules it.

Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the few saving graces of Quantumania.

Marvel Studios

Quantumania’s overstuffed plot could be forgiven if it could have lived up to the absurd humor of the first two films. One of the joys of the Ant-Man movies was how they were willing to be silly. Like the very dumb, wonderfully absurd ad in which Rudd and Douglas yell “Ants!” with increasing intensity, there was a go-for-broke humor in the first two movies that made them breezy to watch. That appears to have been completely lost by the time Quantumania rolls around. The same quips and self-aware banter are there, but they’re excruciatingly creaky — as if they’re remnants of a 10-year-old script that was never punched up. Whereas other recent Marvel films had moved on from the Joss Whedon-style witticisms, Quantumania’s comedy seems to be stuck squarely in 2013, except that the jokes are delivered by dead-eyed actors tired of working opposite a blue screen.

Jeff Loveness’ script moves efficiently at least, dutifully taking the characters from plot point A to point B, but everyone feels less like human beings than they do action figures moved around to fulfill various plot contrivances. The exceptions are Pfeiffer, whose PTSD-suffering Janet has the closest thing to a character arc in the film, and Majors, who makes arguably the most ludicrous performance choices ever seen in a Marvel film. Sporting two facial scars (mimicking the lines on the comic book character’s helmet) and a permanently quivering lip, Majors’ Kang may not yet feel like the kind of looming, intimidating threat that Thanos was, but he certainly feels the most absurd. Majors’ turn may best be described as “Eddie Redmayne’s whisper-talk in Jupiter Ascending” — absolutely bizarre and by far the most interesting thing in this gray slog of a movie.

Jonathan Majors is a standout as Kang the Conqueror.

Marvel Studios

It shouldn’t have to be this way. The Ant-Man movies made their mark with their visual dynamism — all smash cuts and whip pans, which originated in Edgar Wright’s original vision and in director Peyton Reed’s comedy roots — so it stands to reason that Marvel’s most visually rich new world should be done justice by Quantumania. Combine that with a Star Wars-esque narrative and the pulpy cosmic stylings of the Quantum Realm’s various creatures, and it seems like a recipe for success. Instead, the Quantum Realm is mildly interesting-looking at best and a bunch of CGI muck at worst, as if Marvel ran “pulpy space opera” through an algorithm and slapped a gray filter on it. When the movie tries to lean into its goofiness, like the appearance of Corey Stoll’s giant deformed head as M.O.D.O.K., it just comes off as sad. Even Disney’s Strange Worlds, a mostly fine animated film playing in the same pulp space as Quantumania, looks better.

The problem with Quantumania is that it’s not a movie, it’s a building block. There are three movies jostling for screentime within Quantumania — Scott and Cassie’s father-daughter story, Janet van Dyne’s repressed guilt over Kang’s origins, the Quantum Realm’s long fight to overthrow the tyrannical Kang — but they’re all overshadowed by the MCU of it all. Marvel movies have long become less like movies and more like feature-length commercials for the next thing, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is sadly the greatest embodiment of that. The result is an undercooked, overstuffed action movie that feels like a shadow of better pulpy adventure sendups before it.

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