Ant Man And The Wasp: Quantumania wastes no time. This is a movie that gives us all of six minutes to ease back into Scott Lang’s (an enjoyable enough Paul Rudd) world and get up to speed on the last few years of his life before throwing him into the Quantum Realm to kick off the MCU’s latest adventure. With him on his latest interdimensional adventure are daughter Cassie (a squeaky Kathryn Newton), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfieffer) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly).
Team Ant-Man spends the entirety of the proceedings in said Quantum Realm which they find out is being ruled by evil dictator Kang The Conqueror (a commanding, movie-carrying Jonathan Majors). And Janet Van Dyne has something of a history with Kang. Turns out she’s been keeping a lot of secrets about her activities in the 30 years she spent in the Quantum Realm before getting rescued in 2018’s Ant-Man And The Wasp. (Like this review, this movie doubles as a drinking game – do a shot every time they say Quantum Realm and you’ll be catatonic before the post-credits scene).
But as to the aforementioned rushed six minutes – what’s Scott been up to since Avengers: Endgame you ask? He’s been riding the fame of being an Avenger, living off of free coffees, regularly getting asked for selfies and being mistaken for Spiderman. He even wrote a book about his Avenger-ing. (No mention of his podcast Big Me Little Me though, which we saw a glimpse of in Ms. Marvel). In short, Scott traded in the superhero life for the small-time celebrity life, much to the disappointment of his daughter Cassie. His girlfriend and superhero partner Hope, on the other hand, has taken over her dad’s company and has been using the Pym Particle to save the world with science. (I almost laughed out loud. To have a rumoured anti-vaxxer play a science-led saviour? Smooth move Marvel PR team, smooth move).
Quantumania packs in a whole lot of plot in its two hours – the world-building of introducing us to the Quantum Realm (shots! shots! shots!); an ensemble adventure for team Ant-Man; an introduction to the villain that will define the next phase of the MCU and even a Star-Wars-style resistance-dictatorship story. And Quantamania is the least bland bland MCU film in a while. Despite being a superhero nerd, I had to rely on Google to remind myself what the recent ones even were. There have been 8 movies since the triumph of Avengers: Endgame. Amidst the tiresome blur of disappointment, a handful have either been promising (Shang Chi, Wakanda Forever) or too “epic” to discount (Spiderman: No Way Home). While it’s hardly a film anyone will look back on fondly years from now Quantumania at least gets its basics of good vs evil stakes right, largely down to Jonathan Major’s movie-salvaging Kang (more on him later).
But it takes a while for said forgettable fun to kick in. The patience-testing first leg of Quantumania is its weakest and most irritating as various elements of the movie seem to compete with each other to see which one can take us out of it the most. Whether it’s writer Jeff Loveness’ more-miss-than-hit dialogue (Quantumania is a far cry from the zany, imaginative irreverence that made the first Ant-Man one of the MCU’s most underrated films).
Or even how the Quantum Realm is brought to life through the film’s indistinct throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks visual aesthetic which can only be described as the lovechild of Spy Kids 3D and crayons on crack. What’s particularly off-putting are certain sequences where I could see through the filmmaking. Take the sequence where Scott and Cassie first land in the Quantum Realm. I couldn’t help but see the actors standing on a sand-filled set with what looked like a giant static backdrop behind them. Not exactly what you’d expect from the studio that makes a bajillion dollars each year. With his creation and exploration of this strange new subatomic universe, director Peyton Reed – who, at this point, appears to be competing with Spiderman director Jon Watts for the title of ‘MCU director with the most zero-personality films’ – tries to create a James Gunn/Taika Waititi-esque vibrant world full of oddball characters. But all we get is a blurry acid trip of colour upheld by underpaid, overworked VFX artists.
Once in said Quantum Realm (I may just be doing it intentionally at this point) Team Ant-Man split in two. Scott and Cassie are off meeting the resistance, led by their near-impossible to take seriously leader Jentorra (Katy O’Brian) who can only be described as decaff Xena: The Quantum Realm princess. Elsewhere, Hank, Hope and Janet are off meeting Janet’s old accomplices and learning about her mysterious past. It’s clear she was a big shot here and knows a great deal about the origins of Kang and his conquering. And yet, in a truly insufferable narrative decision, for some reason, for what feels like over an hour, we get repeated scenes of Hope and Hank asking Janet what the hell is going on, what she knows and what she isn’t telling them. Yet all she does is refuse to divulge anything to them till the plot requires her to. In short, most of the first half of this movie could’ve been avoided with an email.
But somewhere along the way in its substandard world-building, I found myself falling into the film (as much as you can with a big, goofy popcorn adventure of empty movie calories). The narrative starts to engage when Kang takes centre stage. Following his introduction in the final episode of Loki, we know he spends his days alongside versions of himself from parallel universes, conquering and destroying entire timelines. It’s the MCU’s version of upping the grand villain stakes – Thanos was the destroyer of worlds, Kang is the destroyer of entire timelines and realities.
More than the character, it’s how Jonathan Majors plays him that makes him enticing. Majors imbues him with a tragic vulnerability, balancing a creepy calm with an emotionally-charged unpredictability. As if he’s never more than a moment away from seething, scorching rage or breaking down entirely. As Tony Leung did so beautifully in Shang-Chi, Majors out-acts the movie around him. A testament to what great actors can bring to funky fantastical franchises. Kang may be the conqueror of timelines, but he’s the saviour of this movie. Though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what his abilities are or how powerful he is.
As Ant-Man, Paul Rudd and seems to be doing the most any returning Avenger can seem to muster these days – turn up and be watchable. Kathryn Newton’s Cassie, however, comes off particularly whiny as the superhero equivalent of a whiny social media activist. Instead, Quantumania belongs to the dignity and grace of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer who do much to make the proceedings credible and enjoyable. I continue to be impressed with what Marvel has done for stars above a certain age and the significance it awards them.
In the end, does Quantumania have me more excited for the next phase of the MCU and its exhausting interconnectedness? Almost slightly. Does it make for a fun standalone superhero adventure? Partially. Now excuse me while I inspire a final shot by thinking of an effective way to end this sentence with the words Quantum Realm. Believe me, it’ll help you enjoy this movie more.