Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

By now, the MCU has lost most of its capacity for surprise, so the most surprising aspect of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) may just be how enjoyable it is—despite poor reviews, the controversy surrounding key star Jonathan Majors, and the unavoidable weight of franchise burnout. If this is the last hurrah for Scott, Hope, and company, it’s a decent sendoff.

Having contributed to saving the world as an Avenger, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, is now happy to rest on his laurels, coasting on fame and notoreity. He does still have problems, of course, such as raising his troublemaking teenaged daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). A family gathering goes horribly wrong when Cassie shares a secret science project she’s been working on with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas): a means of safely researching the dangerous, strange quantum realm without having to actually go there. However, her idea involves sending transmissions into the microverse, a move that panics Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfiffer), who spent decades trapped there and knows plenty about it that the others do not. Sure enough, sending subatomic signals turns out to be a bad idea, for it draws the attention of the enigmatic Kang (Majors), who pulls Scott, Cassie, and the whole family into a secret universe outside of time and space. Exiled to that realm for past crimes by mysterious forces, Kang needs Pym particles to facilitate his escape from confinement. Can Scott save his family from a secret micro-universe and thwart the powerful Kang?

Er, probably? Sure! Whatever. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania doesn’t exactly show us anything we haven’t seen before in the MCU. Or, it would be more accurate to say it shows us the same things, differently: inventive new character designs, flashy visual effects, a somewhat soulless but diverting aesthetic, and high-stakes peril for multiple universes. It’s the usual stew of MCU ingredients, in other words, ably helmed by Peyton Reed and anchored by Rudd’s inimitable charms. Oh, there are tons of things wrong with the film: convenient, inexplicable plot beats, a pointlessly stunt cast Bill Murray, a tendency to waste the potential of most of its characters. Chief among these, of course, is Wasp (Evangeline Lilly). You’ll notice I didn’t mention her in the summary; it’s because she might as well not even be in the movie. It’s a shame; as enacted by Lilly, the Wasp was promisingly realized in the original Ant-Man, but nobody in Hollywood has ever quite figured out how to write the character. She hangs around here like an extra appendage, twiddling her thumbs; and unfortunate fate for an import Marvel figure. But it’s not just Lilly who’s wasted; Quantumania goes out of its way to introduce fun characters played by William Jackson Harper (especially good in a disappointingly small role) and Katy O’Brian, but neither get enough play; instead, the plot over-relies on Douglas and Pfeiffer, who have never been terribly convincing in this world. It’s safe to say that when it comes to personality, this series is nothing without Rudd—but that’s a huge missed opportunity, because it really should be.

So yes, Quantumania is flawed: overly road-tested, artificial, excessive, and saddled with many of the MCU’s usual pitfalls. But Rudd is dependably good, his rapport with Newton is solid, and there’s plenty of eye-popping action and timely humor, as usual. Corey Stoll makes a delightful, unexpected reappearance that is both disturbing and hilarious. Meanwhile, Majors, while evidently a truly terrible person, is a commanding presence; he does impressive work bringing the intimidating Kang to life, the style of formidable villainy the MCU needs. There are plenty of things I wish this film had done differently, but it’s an entertaining romp, and there are certainly worse things to be.

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