Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
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Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, Jonathan Majors, Bill Murray
Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here, and it’s starting not with a bang, but with a Kang.
The villain is undoubtedly the main draw to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), which sees Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang don the super suit once again to head back to the Quantum Realm, alongside the Wasp/ Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) and daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton).
Also along for the ride is Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the latter of whom has some significant unresolved business in the ‘universe below our universe’.
And Janet isn’t confronting it by choice: they are there because Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), an exiled time-tyrant, identifies a signal from an invention of Cassie’s and yanks the family down to the wild subatomic world.
What follows is a relatively convoluted plot that is at once overstuffed but also, underserved by the tonally erratic antics that unfold. It’s a story that swings from the goofball humor you may have come to expect from the diminutive hero, to complex backstory about multiverses, variants, futuristic energy devices and the nature of time itself.
Majors, it should be said, grapples with that as best anyone could: his Kang does have gravitas, a sense of melancholy, rage and sometimes confusion (the latter of which we can empathize with). It’s a good job, as Quantumania would suggest we may be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
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Another standout among the cast is Pfeiffer. There’s a small stretch of the movie where she essentially becomes the lead character, and her commitment to the part carries it easily. The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. The nature of the Quantum Realm as this fantastical, mind-boggling place makes the use of extensive blue screen work understandable. But the cast are sometimes lost within it, and the likes of Michael Douglas seem adrift in the lack of tactility.
There’s a character arc in there somewhere about Lang gaining some humility; the film’s opening sequence establishes his hero as having capitalized on the fame resulting from his Avengers-status, having written his own book ‘Look Out For The Little Guy‘ but let the actual heroism take a back seat.
It’s an unfortunate simile for Quantumania, which seems to have had it’s eye on introducing the next Avengers-level threat without actually letting the heroes do a great deal in their own story. There’s some great character design, with fantastical creatures and entities dotted throughout the story. But in terms of stakes, of the ‘mania’ of this Quantum Realm actually having any real heft, on this one the eye has firmly been taken off the ant.
Quantumania has strong turns from Jonathan Majors and Michelle Pfeiffer, but for a story that is setting the bar for Phase Five, it’s less of a mountain and more of an ant-hill.