At the tail end of Marvel's unpopular Phase 5, we have Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a flawed film that fights tooth and nail to maintain the Ant Man spirit but only muddles the already murky waters of multiverse stories. It’s never been more clear that Marvel has been struggling this phase to rebuild what had been mostly lost in Phase 4 with Avengers: End Game, and with Quantumania, they are really trying to finally give direction to what felt like a rudderless ship. We are finally given the big bad that will bring our heroes back for that classic Avengers magic, but is it too little too late?
Ant Man begins with a delightful reintroduction to Scott Lang, played gleefully by Paul Rudd. A aquirky montage brings us up to speed on where Scott’s life has gone since End Game. He’s got a book, a podcast, a now grown up daughter Cassie and his estranged Pym family. Things quickly turn treacherous when Cassie’s rebellious investigation into the Quantum realm sucks all of the Pyms into the microverse: Hank, Janet, and Hope, plus Scott and Cassie . It’s here we experience the world of the Quantum realm -- one that we’ve been dreadfully uninformed of by Janet, who’s spent 30 years surviving in it.
The Quantum Realm is an Oz-like locale filled with wonders and dangers that are so psychedelically realized, they could have come straight from a Jack Kirby illustration. While the visuals are stunning, its initial impact wanes rather quickly due to subpar CGI moments. There’s a level of CGI integration that can turn viewers from awestruck to eye-rolling, and Ant Man plays jump rope with that line consistently, especially with the inhabitants of the Quantum Realm. The tribal civilization that our heroes encounter are all lovable otherworldly characters which is getting to be a rather tired trope of the Marvel films (see Korg/Doug from Thor and Morris in Shang Chi) but the chemistry works just the same.
The stand out of the film is the villain Kang the Conqueror, played by current Hollywood it man Jonathan Majors. He gives Kang a silent rage that is both dangerous and alluring. There’s a deep darkness to his portrayal that balances between being your best friend and cutting your throat. On the other side of the coin, is his sidekick M.O.D.O.K., played by Corey Stroll, who reprises his role from Ant Man. There’s a definite story arc for the Darren Cross character, but it’s played more for laughs than sincerity, leaving the character ultimately flat in his personality. Your mileage may vary for this character, but there’s absolutely no question in how the CGI lacked with regards to M.O.D.O.K.
By the film's end, I was left with more questions than answers regarding the plot. Our heroes getting lost in a microverse of shenanigans, revolutions, uprisings is a fun concept on paper, with added surprises like Bill Murray appearing as a Kang officer in practice felt unfocused. Plots were started and then abandoned. There were a lot of confusing choices with Janet’s refusing to provide details of her time in the Quantum Realm. A subplot about Scott with his time with his daughter Cassie was also lost within the film's 2 hour runtime, to say nothing of Darren Cross’ character arc. Despite the film running a full 2 hours, the entire thing felt rushed and that puts a damper on an overall interesting premise.
Jonathan Majors does an outstanding job establishing himself as the new MCU big bad, unfortunately the rest of the story doesn’t do justice to its characters. Cassie is given a lot of good screen time but barely any character development and Evangeline Lilly is severely underutilized. Ant Man does best when his stories are contained to their own little world (no pun intended) and Quantumania seems to want to reach past that to the bigger multiverse. In doing so we lost a lot of what we loved about Ant Man, character pieces that focus on development, with the added elements of a heist. Even when they attempt to re-establish the same humor, it often falls flat. Quantumania isn’t the worst movie in the MCU, nor is it even a bad one. It’s just disappointing to be such a departure from what we love, and fall flat on those attempts. As our parents used to say: “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”