Content Warning: Photosensitive viewers may have trouble enjoying Quantumania as there are many sequences involving flashing lights. There are far more than I expected and, though I did leave the theater without a migraine, I did wake to one the following morning that’s required multiple meds to clear.
Some are born into greatness; some have greatness thrust upon them. Others, accidentally steal it when they’ve been set up via a long con in order to find someone with the skillset to commit a heist and prevent their secrets from hurting the world. That third one is Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the second individual in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to bear the name Ant-Man, and the films in the Ant-Man trilogy basically possess the same energy. They are about someone who wasn’t meant to wield any kind of power finding the strength to do good when given the chance. But after playing a significant role in bringing the universe back in the battle against Thanos (Josh Brolin), what more is there for the newly-minted Avenger to do? In returning-director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a different question of Scott is asked. No longer is it “what would you do with power,” but “what would you do when your power may not be enough?”
Life post-Blip has been kind to Scott Lang. He’s got a podcast, he’s written a book talking about his experiences (all of them), and he’s reached a certain level of notoriety. He’s no longer viewed as an ex-con, but as an Avenger. But while he’s resting due to the lack of major crises to avenge, his daughter Cassie (Freaky/Supernatural’s Kathryn Newton) is out on the streets getting involved. Before their ideological differences can be discussed, Cassie reveals she’s been working on a project with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to develop a beacon that can be sent into the quantum realm to map it. It’s a marvelous discovery with an unfortunate side effect: someone hears the beacon and pulls them in. That someone is Kang the Conqueror (The Harder They Fall’s Jonathan Majors) and he’s been waiting a long time for this opportunity and he will not be denied.
By the way, there are plenty of surprises in terms of characters and twists, so be careful out there when surfing the web. What follows will be as spoiler-free as possible, but, before you continue, be advised that there are two post-credits scenes: a mid-credit and a stinger. Mileage will vary.
Let’s clear one thing right up before we go any further. If you’ve seen an Ant-Man film, then you have some sense of what Quantumania, the final solo outing as we know it, will be like. Whether it was a heist film (1) or a sci-fi actioner (2), these films didn’t take themselves very seriously. Don’t believe me? Here’s Exhibit A and B. Those critical of the MCU tend to use the films’ use of humor to undercut seriousness and there are certainly some instances of this (though I’d argue far fewer than they think and they’re primarily in the ones that lean more toward the comedy or buddy action genre), but Ant-Man’s been silly from the start. These movies strike an interesting balance between the absurd and the common and do it more frequently and with greater ease merely because the films themselves are about a common person (Scott) finding himself in the extraordinary. The difference between Scott and just about any other character in the MCU is he tends toward the affable, which could very well be a result of his incarceration and divorce. He doesn’t have super strength, come from a different realm, travel the galaxy, or possess unlimited financial resources: how else could someone with an intelligent mind (he has an M.A. in electrical engineering) come to grips with losing everything? You could blame everyone else or develop into what he is. This is, of course, a theory, because we don’t know Scott prior to the start of Ant-Man, but the way he is creates fantastic opportunities that Reed and the various screenwriters have taken advantage of. In the case of Quantumania, sending someone like Scott into an area of science that’s so unknown and theorized that literally *anything* is possible is primed to be, well, astonishing, marvelous, and fantastic.
So let’s get into the good and bad of Quantumania.
This is the first official film in the MCU’s Phase 5 and the beginning of the middle of what’s now known as The Multiverse Saga. For those having a hard time keeping up, the first three phases from Iron Man (2008) until Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) make up what’s now known as The Infinity Saga, with the Multiverse Saga starting gently with Black Widow (2021) and kicking off more properly in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021). Quantumania wastes very little time jumping in with the bulk of the runtime being in the quantum realm. The very beginning is used to establish where Scott is with his life and relationships before things kick off. Though Scott is typically presented as the sort who just rolls with things, Quantumania places him in a different position where the script has him explore what his role is as a hero and how that jives with his relationship with his daughter. In the prior two films, Cassie (played by the scene-stealing Abby Ryder Fortson) was far younger and couldn’t really go out on adventures. So, what does it look like for Scott when his daughter, who has always idolized him, now challenges the way Scott wants to live and keep her safe. It’s a slight mirroring of the Hank/Hope dynamic in Ant-Man 1, but without the animosity. This decision is what gives Scott his internal arc and it’s one that is likely going to serve a strong purpose down the line as reins are surely to be passed off as Rudd and his generation of actors are slowly removed to make way for the Young Avengers characters, many of whom are already being established in other films and Disney+ series.
Another plus: watching the imagination at work in the production and character designs within the quantum realm, all I could think is “Guardians crawled so that Ragnarok could walk so that this could run.” To that end, with the absence of rules or logic to be beholden to, everywhere that Team Ant-Man goes feels like some kind of trip beyond the realm of Wonderland. There are several characters that audiences are going to come away loving or want more from, and not in a toy-way, but as in to get to know them. One such character is that of Katy O’Brian’s Jentorra, a rebel leader who has lost far too much by battling Kang. We don’t spend as much time as we would like learning about her as the film has too much to explore already, but screenwriter Jeff Loveness (Rick and Morty/Miracle Workers) at least does her the service of not being rescued by the Lang/Pym team, thereby avoiding a problematic white savior storyline. Instead, time with Jentorra is often used to establish more things about the world of the quantum realm, enabling Loveness and Reed to add some hefty weight to the background of the battle between Lang and Kang in the expected big confrontation.
The issues, however, are several. There’s the not-their-fault fact that audiences are now oversaturated with science fiction of some kind or another where almost every big budget tale feels like a rip-off of something else. Whole scenes and segments in Quanumania give off the same vibe as pick-something from Star Wars, though one specific portion felt entirely influenced by The Rise of Skywalker (2019) as well as recent animated release Strange World (2022). These details are compliments when used sparingly and inventively and less-so when they come off as knock-offs. There are portions of sequences where the CG doesn’t come across as concrete as intended and where the action becomes hard to follow, and, well, the problems outweigh and distract from the inspired. There are two specific sequences in the film which, if the scenes were reordered, would carry far more weight and enhance the tone of either the film at-large or the sequence. One thing that’s worth mentioning that spoils nothing is that Kang is spoken of primarily as “Him” and it takes a while before He’s introduced, except we, the audience, have been introduced to him even if we don’t know his name. So having the characters speak of him in hushed tones does illustrate the fear he imposes on others, but, after a while, it starts to stand out as a means of seeking to build tension where none exists.
Gratefully, all of this changes when Majors steps on the screen. The man is a force. He doesn’t prattle like Loki (Tom Hiddelston), he doesn’t have the size of Thanos, and yet each word, each movement is so concentrated that one grows uncomfortable whenever he even looks at a single member of Team Ant-Man. Someone like Majors engrains Kang, a character audiences may be less familiar with, providing an introduction that should draw fear at his next appearance (we will see him again as the currently slated May 2nd, 2025, Avengers film is titled The Kang Dynasty). Knowing that he’s coming, seeing what he’s capable of, should cause us to pause in the same way that it causes Lang to stop cracking jokes. Kang isn’t funny and Majors makes a meal out of each moment. Now, for those who are up on the LOKI Disney+ series, Kang is a variant (or version of Kang from a different timeline/dimension), but this is not that man. Unfortunately, because there is no expectation that audiences will have seen the six-episode series (Season 2 arriving soon), there’s a great deal of time spent in the film establishing him and the rules, thereby making much of Quantumania feel exposition-heavy. Thankfully, everything else makes up for it.
Frankly, though, Quantumania is a stellar time. Audiences finally get to see our central characters working together in a hero capacity, enabling Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet Van Dyne, Lilly, and Rudd to play off each other in ways we haven’t seen. Most importantly, neither Pfeiffer nor Lilly find their characters reduced to service the story. In truth, much of the success or failure within the narrative lies with Jane and Hope’s leadership and Hank and Scott’s willingness to follow their leads. It’s done without fanfare or argument, demonstrating trust between them. It’s fantastic to see and newbie Newton holds her own, bringing her version of Cassie Lang to life. Add to that some truly trippy sequences, some genuine excitement, and the characteristic laughs the Ant-Man films offer, and Quantumania is a strong start to Phase 5.
In theaters February 17th, 2023.
For more information, head to Marvel Studios’s official Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.