Dammit, Janet! Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania fuses silly and sinister family secrets
The 31st release of the MCU, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA picks up the baton of a $29 billion-dollar-and-counting relay after the reprehensibly risible THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER and the maudlin earnestness of BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER and had me leaving the cinema (after a mid- and end-credits scene) with a sense of excitement for the first time in quite a while. Yes, Phase 5 is off to nearly as shaky and inconsistent start as Phase 4 ended with but with Kang now firmly established as the Phase’s most urgent (but perhaps not ultimate?) threat, it feels like the all-too-nebulous Multiverse Saga is finally starting to gain traction.
While dabbling in Quantum Realm research, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) inadvertently attract the attention of the strange dimension’s residents and – along with Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) himself find themselves dragged out of time and space and into the consequences of Janet’s past actions.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA wastes little time in getting our heroes into the Quantum Realm and in doing so brings us an epic sci-fi adventure by way of Luc Besson, evoking both THE FIFTH ELEMENT and VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS with a dash of STARS WARS thrown in for good measure. It’s a heady (and heavily CGI’d) visual experience – although no more so, say, than GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – but thankfully, Paul Rudd continues to bring enormous heart and humanity to Scott Lang, counterbalancing the overpowering visuals and providing the perfect contrasting light to Jonathan Major’s darkness.
Major’s second outing as Kang (after He-Who-Remains) is terrific. Even more terrifying in his quieter, softly-spoken moments than he is when unleashing his temporal erasure powers, the MCU has rarely been menaced this potently once before and there’s a chilling nonchalance with which Kang repeatedly dismisses the threat the Avengers may post to him.
Yes, M.O.D.O.K. – the other big Marvel Cinematic Universe in this movie – is dumb and ridiculous and looks kind of stupid but that’s perfectly on-brand for M.O.D.O.K. and for Darren Cross. There’s a lot to admire in how they’ve taken the quite frankly ludicrous M.O.D.O.K. comic book design and retrospectively connected it to what happened to Yellowjacket at the end of the first ANT-MAN.
It is a shame that the microcosmic setting of this third adventure means we don’t get to spend any time with the wider ANT-MAN repertory company (although Randall Park gets a brief cameo and David Dastmalchian plays break-out character Veb), the lack of Michael Peña’s Luis is at least part-compensated for by the presence of Bill Murray in a short but pivotal role.
It’s not just in its reliance on computer-generated backdrops that ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA resembles STAR WARS – there’s a very Lucasian structure to a story which sees our heroes split up into two parallel adventures coming together in a final battle which takes place on multiple levels. It certainly ups the action quotient from the first two ANT-MAN movies, proving that ANT-MAN may be a little hero but he can handle the big stakes. It even finds a way to bring along some actual ants for a satisfying formicae ex machina, something the character’s crossover adventures tend to overlook and gives plenty of opportunities for its veteran supporting cast of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer to show they can still mix it up with the best cinematic bad-asses when the opportunity arises.
It does, though, continue the recent Marvel trend of lazy and perfunctory introductions of new heroes; Cassie Lang just “has a suit” without really earning it in the way Hank Pym previously demanded (slightly cheapening the technology and the uniqueness of the characters of Ant-Man and The Wasp) and there’s perhaps not enough time spent properly fleshing out the fascinating denizens of the Quantum Realm and their backstories but maybe they’re being saved for a future exploration and expansion, especially as the entire realm seems to be outside of the multiversal mayhem that’s looming over the franchise.
In some ways, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA feels like a bit of a throwback to the earlier phases of the MCU, lacking the recent air of experimentation and expansion on multiple fronts but after the wildly variable quality of the previous phase, there’s reassurance in that return to the fringes of the franchise’s comfort zone. The film’s mix of the trivial and the terrifying won’t work for everyone, but the fusion of flippancy and ferocity only serves to underscore Kang’s villainous credentials as well as remind us just how much of a hero Scott Lang is.