‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Review: Jonathan Majors Towers Over a Tiny MCU Movie
14th February 2023

For those keeping track, Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” marks the 31st Marvel Cinematic Universe film, the third standalone “Ant-Man” feature, and the first film in what is billed as the MCU’s “Phase Five.” And those are just the movie stats: For Marvel fans to fully enjoy (or, really, to fully understand) what’s at play in Reed’s film, they also need to be caught up on the brand’s copious television offerings. If you’re walking into “Quantumania,” you’re likely arriving with a lot of knowledge and plenty of expectations for what’s to come.

Temper all of that.

While Reed and star Paul Rudd continue to mine plenty of laughs from the silliness of a superhero whose main powers include getting really big and really small and utilizing ants as his primary assistants (one thing to anticipate: plenty of “ants?” jokes), “Quantumania” suffers what’s become the classic MCU problem: It’s not content to focus on its eponymous superhero. As the first film in Phase Five, “Quantumania” is scarcely allowed to be its own thing, because it’s also tasked with introducing the big bad who will lord over the franchise for the foreseeable future. That’s a tough ask for a series that’s as lighthearted as the MCU gets. (Ants!)

Said big bad — rising star Jonathan Majors — doesn’t disappoint, towering over “Quantumania” and its little ant friends with genuine pathos, pain, and fear, even if the most studied MCU scholars will likely be confused by what exactly his Kang the Conquerer wants and, uh, is. But cramming Majors’ Kang against Rudd’s Scott Lang (AKA Ant-Man), his plucky kid (Kathryn Newton as Cassie), his iron-willed partner (Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne), and her parents (Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne) as they zip and zag through a tiny, “Star Wars”-influenced world doesn’t just feel confusing; it can feel outright mean.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Jay Maidment

We start small, literally. Reed’s film opens with a flashback that takes place before the action of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (yes, you read that correctly), landing us in the Quantum Realm (the subatomic level of our universe, a minuscule dimension) back when Janet was still stuck there. In our current timeline, Janet is back with her family after spending more than 30 years down in the QR, but she’s barely told them about her experience; this flashback fills in the blanks.

For one thing, the QR is, well, pretty cool? Janet painted it as a terrifying wasteland in the prior “Ant-Man,” and other MCU entries have suggested it’s a brain-breaking hellhole, but here it looks colorful and trippy. These opening scenes only provide a glimpse of the vibrant world “down below,” complete with eye-popping space creatures and Janet’s little homestead. Soon, she’s joined by an unexpected visitor: A nameless man (Majors) crash-lands on her patch of land.

Back in the “real” world in our “current” timeline (if your brain is smarting now, ohh, get ready), things are going Scott’s way, as Rudd gamely struts about his hometown of San Francisco and soaks in the accolades that come with being an Avenger (even if some people aren’t entirely sure which Avenger he is) and a newly minted bestselling author (his autobiography, of course). But while Scott is interested in the trappings of his heroic fame, Cassie is hellbent on actual heroism. Just like her dear old dad, she’s recently landed in jail (she was protecting some unhoused people from cops) and she’s got a deep interest in the possibilities of those damn super-powered Pym Particles.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

As the Langs settle into a cozy family dinner with the van Dyne and Pym clan, the full extent of Cassie’s passions becomes clear: With the help of Hank and Hope, she’s built a tiny machine that can communicate with the Quantum Realm. Hank couldn’t be more proud of this “subatomic Hubbell telescope,” but as a horrified Janet soon reveals, any connection with the QR is a dangerous one, as long as he is still there. Before we can glean any more information (an all-too-common problem in Jeff Loveness’ script) the five of them, plus Hank’s latest batch of super-smart ants, are shrunk down and sucked into the Quantum Realm via Cassie’s machine. Oops.

Loveness uses said QR-sucking to divide the group — Cassie and Scott find each other, the ants head out to See You in Third Act, and Hope, Hank, and Janet are swiftly reunited — a clever way to cover a lot of ground and give everyone plenty to do. While the first act is beset by choppy edits that flip between the groups with little rhyme or reason, this world is not enthralling or wacky enough to hold our attention. True, we’ve never seen the Quantum Realm quite like this! — but how much is there to see?

Scott and Cassie soon meet a band of QR refugees — how they exist is clearly a question for another time, or another movie — who include warrior Jentorra (Katy O’Brian), mindreader Quaz (William Jackson Harper), and jelly-bellied alien Veb (David Dastmalchian). Understandably, all are bothered by the arrival of tiny humans but they get really unhappy when they realize the kids know Janet. Elsewhere, Janet’s return to the Quantum Realm is met with joy (she seems very popular with some of those kooky creature pals) and outright fear (as a distracting Bill Murray tells us in a zany, bar-set sequence).

So, Janet: What’s the deal?

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

When Janet left the QR before, we’re told, she also exited a massive rebellion against the evil Kang that —maybe? — she accidentally helped start in the first place. After that, everything is all lurching exposition (although the film could do with a whole lot more informative exposition) as the groups battle their way into an all-star showdown with Kang that will determine what happens to not just the QR, but to the multiverse itself.

However inscrutable, Kang makes for a formidable villain: Majors delivers a powerhouse performance as the MCU’s scariest bad guy to date. (The actor has already signed on for at least two more MCU films, although we regret to tell you that they are not slated until two films into Phase Six. That means we’ve got seven more installments before we get the Kang movies.) To say that Kang is multifaceted is to put it mildly; his lust for victory, bloodshed, and ruling is unmatched (Thanos who?). It’s so pervasive that every iteration of Kang across the multiverse is bent on the same thing: conquering and cruelty.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Jay Maidment

This iteration of Kang? Well, he’s a bit heartbreaking. Flashbacks revealing his bond with Janet show a complicated character capable of great empathy and intelligence, but when past Janet discovers who he really is (thanks to his “neuro-kinetic” multiverse-traveling spaceship), it’s clear he can never be unleashed upon the properly sized world again. In relatively small film that works best when it leans into kicky humor and wondrous creature design, that’s pretty heavy. It’s also the kind of mismatched sensibility that’s inevitable when a franchise must take the next seven (seven!) films into consideration.

That’s a shame, because when Reed and Rudd and team lean into what makes Ant-Man so delightful, there’s plenty of small-scale entertainment to be had. Not every superheroic adventure needs to be about the fate of the universe — or, as this current run of MCU features tells us, the entire multiverse — but as long as this franchise demands everything everywhere all at once, the small, silly, sweet, and inventive film that “Quantumania” could have been won’t exist. Maybe the pictures should get small again; it might be the only way to save an MCU that seems dangerously close to getting too big to do anything but fail.

Grade: C+

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in theaters on Friday, February 17.

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