Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Great things no longer come in ‘Ant-Man’-sized packages in this ‘Star Wars’-leaning 31st entry in the ever-sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sarah Ward
Published on February 15, 2023


As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, so does the smallest of its superheroes: Ant-Man, the former thief born Scott Lang, who can shrink down to an insect's size when wearing the right technologically enhanced suit. Charmingly goofy and also plain-old charming because he's played by Paul Rudd (The Shrink Next Door), this petty criminal-turned-caped crusader scampers through his third self-titled film in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania — and the franchise-within-a-franchise ramps up its ambition as more flicks arrive. Ant-Man can expand as well as contract, of course, but that isn't new. What's different, and about as welcome as a sting on bare legs at a picnic, is that the Ant-Man movies are no longer happy being largely standalone jaunts. This threequel has a key series-building task first, foremost and at a giant cost: kicking off the MCU's phase five. The perhaps unofficial job, too: bringing more than a zap of Star Wars into this other Disney-owned behemoth.

It's lucky that the Mouse House does have both Marvel and Lucasfilm in its stable, otherwise the latter might be all abuzz about the former's latest release. Anyone who fears that too many blockbusters are becoming too similar won't feel fortunate while watching the new Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero, however, which doesn't ever saddle a character with saying "help me Ant-Man, you're my only hope", but still includes a scene that basically does the exact same thing. That moment is surrounded by shots of zap-heavy fighting in the corridors of an existence-threatening villain's stronghold that could easily be a Death Star, as even the most casual of visitors to a galaxy far, far away will spot. That said, Ant-Man's current escapades aren't happening in the space above, but in the minuscule realm that exists between atoms. At least it isn't called Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantum Battles.

Imagining a world — this very world — where Disney eventually decides to mashup two of its biggest screen properties, and the box office's heftiest hits, is easier than an ant spiriting away strewn food crumbs. It's also a cinch to see Quantumania's similarities to all things Star Wars as the first step in that direction, in fact. Filmmaker Peyton Reed, who directed 2015's Ant-Man and 2018's Ant-Man and the Wasp as well, did add two episodes of The Mandalorian to his resume in-between that last flick and Quantumania. But such a blockbuster team-up isn't where this MCU chapter itself heads in its dragging 125-minute running time. Instead, it has the rest of Marvel's phase five to set up, plus a nemesis that'll linger into phase six — so much so that it feels much less interested in Ant-Man than a movie called Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania really should be. That's it's hardly fussed at all about The Wasp, aka Scott's significant other and world-saving partner Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, Crisis), should come as no surprise, then.

In the 31st MCU film's opening beats, Ant-Man is indeed the star of the show. He's a celebrity basking in the fame of being among the Avengers and dealing with Thanos, and he's written a memoir about it — a book, Look Out for the Little Guy, that'll genuinely exist IRL come September. But the bliss of Scott's success gets cut down when he learns that his now 18-year-old daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton, Freaky) has been secretly tinkering with Hope and her ant-obsessed physicist father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method). The trio's project: sending signals down to the quantum realm. Hank's wife and Hope's mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit) is also unimpressed, given that rescuing her from that microscopic place, where she spent 30 years, was no minor part of the plot of the last Ant-Man entry.

Viewers should savour the precious time outside the quantum realm in Quantumania; there isn't much of it. No sooner are the Lang/van Dyne/Pym swarm talking about Cassie, Hope and Hank's experiments than they're all transported to said subatomic space, with working out how to get home far from their only worry. Janet had led the others to believe that all she found when she was gone was nothing upon nothing, but entire civilisations and species, akin to Star Wars' different planets, people and critters with a dash of Dune's and Mad Max: Fury Road's landscapes and themes, lurk below. So does the banished, trapped and genocidal Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, The Harder They Fall), the time-hopping, world-destroying new adversary who likes annihilating things just because he can — and he desperately and nefariously wants out as well.

Various past MCU stars have decried the green-screen acting that's burrowed into CGI-heavy pictures, including Oscar-winners — not for Marvel movies — Christian Bale and Anthony Hopkins. Their complaints haunt Quantumania, a film where almost everything around its cast is special effects, and little that cinematographer Bill Pope (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) could do could salvage the feature's murkiness. Marvel's reliance upon pixels can look stunning, as seen in the first Black Panther, but the quantum realm's got nothing on Wakanda's blandest detail. Any sense of visual marvel has been not only shrunk but dulled. Any sense of anything but dutiful interest shares the same fate. So does the personality that was so crucial to the first Ant-Man, with any signs that Reed once helmed Down with Love and Bring It On absent, and screenwriter Jeff Loveness (Rick and Morty) unsuccessfully attempting to balance comedy with a drudging innerspace-opera epic.

Marvel has an offbeat problem: maintaining its sillier, more playful side, which is its better side, has proven a struggle in the Thor franchise and the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks (the third of which immediately follows Quantumania, and looks to be nodding to The Fast and The Furious), too. Although Bill Murray cameos, The Good Place's William Jackson Harper reads minds and Rudd tries his hardest whenever the film dares focus on him, the third Ant-Man is as by-the-numbers and tonally flat as the MCU has ever been. Alongside ditching the upbeat vibes, plus all that open and derivative riffing on another screen saga, the scale-tinkering fight scenes that have been prior highlights make scant impression against surreal backdrops where getting larger and smaller barely seems to matter. Leaning heavily upon the likeable main quintet and a colony of smart ants is Reed and company's solution, but they're all squandered. The formidable Majors lives up to his name, though — one that perfectly fits the pint-sized titular character's big bad, and the figure who'll loom over seven more pictures in two years before 2025's Avengers: The Kang Dynasty arrives. The MCU is going massive on Kang, patently; if only it'd kept the Ant-Man pictures small.


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