Cinema Dispatch: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Peyton Reed

Hey, it may take me a minute but I usually get around to what I say I’m gonna do, and in this case, that’s reviewing the latest Marvel movie which, if I wait much longer, won’t be the latest Marvel movie.  Now I’ve always had a soft spot for the Ant-Man films which have intentionally scaled things down to a more human level which has given us some of the best characters in the Marvel canon.  This latest film however seems to be more than just another wacky heist adventure and is serving as the stepping stone for what will be the main thrust of the MCU narrative going into Phase Five which seems like an odd choice for such a breezy series.  Do the wider scope and heavier conflicts elevate the series to a new level of greatness, or have we lost something while paving the way to the next Avengers film?  Let’s find out!!

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has it pretty good, all things considered!  He’s the most recognizable Avenger that’s both not dead and not emotionally crushed by the events of Endgame, he’s got a book coming out that’s getting all sorts of attention, and he even has a loving family to go home to each night; his wife Hope (Evangeline Lilly), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and even his in-laws Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer).  Okay, so they seem to be working on their own thing and Scott is feeling more and more distant from them, especially since Cassie spent the Snap becoming a science genius and is not as entertained by up-close magic as she used to be, but that’s all small stuff which Scott isn’t about to sweat over!  That is until one of Cassie’s experiments with the Quantum Realm ends up sucking the whole family down to a hereto unknown world of infinite possibilities at a microscopic scale and they all have to find a way back out.  This isn’t as easy as it would seem however as the Quantum Realm is no longer just a vaguely defined world of microbes and far-out imagery; it’s a thriving society full of itty-bitty people and creatures who are all under the authoritarian thumb of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) and the appearance of the Ant-Family along with their powerful Pym Particle technology may be just what he needs to expand his kingdom.  Will our heroes be able to escape from the clutches of Kang’s army, including his top warrior MODOK, without giving Kang the tools he needs to escape?  With Janet having spent so much time in the Quantum Realm before being rescued in the last movie, is it possible she knows more about what’s going on here than she’s been letting on?  Seriously, I know he’s actually a hero at heart and can prove himself in dire circumstances, but what exactly is Ant-Man gonna do to a guy who calls himself The Conqueror?  Get really small and pull his nose hairs!?

“Fine!  You may have me on size, strength, intelligence, and you have better superpowers, but… LOOK OVER THERE!”     “Not falling for that.”     “DANG IT!!”

I’ve been a strong proponent of the MCU since it began, but I’ve also been more than willing to point out where they’ve misstepped and how some of the choices to make this a big expansive universe have diminished a few of their individual films.  Sadly, this falls into the latter camp as the magic that Ant-Man brought to the franchise has been subsumed by the mandates of continuity, and what’s left just isn’t as engaging as what we’ve seen from this series before.  That said, it also has some really incredible moments and the character work is still top-notch with some fun decisions throughout that made this a blast in fits and spurts.  It’s a lot of really juicy bits of fruit sandwiched in a half-baked pastry and while I came out of this feeling slightly more positive than negative, it can’t help but feel like a big letdown after the last two Ant-Man movies set the standard for breezy low-stakes Marvel fun.  That said, even if this movie itself feels underwhelming, it does give me confidence that the next story arc in the MCU will be great as the seeds of some great ideas are being planted here.  Cassie Lang getting the suit was a good choice to expand the action possibilities of the series, and the moments between her and Scott are definitely one of the highlights of the movies as it echoes what worked about the first two; mainly its characters and their mostly grounded relationships.  She’s definitely someone I would like to see show up in future movies which seems likely as they’re gonna need a new Avengers team at some point to fight off Kang, who is also great in this movie.  Jonathan Majors was put in a pretty tough position here as he has to convince us that he’s a Thanos-level threat, and he had to do so after already making his debut in Loki where he did little more than talk and is now having to sell it in a movie that is frankly far from the best that Marvel has put together, but he holds his own and there’s definitely a pathos that he brings to the character that makes him distinct and somewhat more terrifying than the big purple guy.  Also, while this isn’t something that will likely affect future films, we are talking about the good stuff right now and I absolutely adore everything they did with MODOK.  I can’t say if fans of the character will appreciate it as my understanding of him basically comes from that Hulu show we got a year or so ago and for me, it makes sense what they did with him while tying it back to the greater Ant-Man story in a clever way.  It’s the kind of twist on the material that infuriates YouTube scream-guys but has always been one of the greatest strengths of the MCU and his character alone bumps this up significantly.  All of that is good stuff, but it’s occupying a movie that is just not particularly interesting.  We’re thrust into a new world that has so little time to develop that it’s hard to engage with the struggles of the people there.  It doesn’t help that it all feels at least a little bit inconsequential; not just because everything happening is on the scale of a microbe on the Hulk’s butt, but because of how disconnected it is from everything else that exists within the universe we’ve set up.  The ultimate threat is not to the world we are in, but to something within it escaping to ours.  The people who are oppressed, the rebels that have turned sides, even the history that Janet has with this place outside of the direct connections with Kang; it all feels meaningless and isn’t helped by an overly simplistic narrative of trying to find a MacGuffin that everyone already knows how to find and is also something that is not borne from the quantum realm as it was brought here.  This could have taken place in the chocolate dimension full of Easter Bunnies and gumdrop mountains and you’d have to change very little for the movie to play out exactly the same way.

“Free men of the planet Zeist, hear me!”     “Nah, dude.  Zeist is WAY on the other side of the multiverse.”

This is not the worst Marvel movie, but it’s perhaps the one I felt the most disappointed by.  It’s a strange beast to be sure as it has some unquestionably fantastic elements in it, but the whole of the narrative just never managed to grab me and it felt uncharacteristically insubstantial.  The Ant-Man movies have always worked at a much smaller scale than the rest of the franchise which has allowed for some of the best characters, funniest moments, and inventive action scenes, but it all feels wasted when thrown into a world we don’t know to set up movies yet to come.  Thankfully there are enough standout moments for this to be a fun ride, with Hank getting probably the best hero moment we’ve seen in the last few of these movies, but the overall picture feels cluttered and unfocused; a lot of sound, spectacle, and CGI to accomplish very little.  Thankfully we got a very enjoyable preview of what Jonathan Majors will be bringing to the MCU and we’ve at least set the stage for a few interesting developments along the way.  It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in the Kang storyline going forward, but the better Marvel movies bring a lot more to the table than just continuity management, and Ant-Man in particular falling short of that can’t help but leave me a bit dispirited.  Oh well, maybe rewatching a few of those awesome MODOK scenes will cheer me up!

3 out of 5

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