Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania (United States, 2023)

February 19, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania Poster

It’s fair to say that the third Ant-Man movie is the most ambitious of the trio. It’s also unlike most superhero movies, taking the storyline into uncanny and mostly unexplored (at least in the MCU) directions. There are glimpses of potential greatness and teases of future storylines that could become incredibly convoluted. Unfortunately, the film possesses a screenplay that struggles to express its complex ideas in a coherent manner. The ending is confusing and unearned and there’s a sense that the only way a villain this powerful can be defeated (if only temporarily) is by violating the film’s internal logic and employing a deus ex machina. Some of the same problems that infected Avengers: Endgame are evident here. And, as different as Quantumania strives to be, it all comes down to the same-old same-old: a big CGI battle and a fist-fight.

As far as conveying complicated notions surrounding the nature of time, quantum mechanics, and relativistic physics, Quantumania veers into contradictory and often indecipherable territory. It’s not clear whether the problem is that the filmmakers (director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness) don’t understand these things themselves or whether they’re unable to convey their understanding to an audience. The harder one tries to truly grasp the underlying principles being hinted at, the more frustrating the experience becomes. Ultimately, Quantumania is best appreciated on a pure comic book level – fights, special effects, etc.

Although Quantumania is ostensibly an Ant-Man movie, it’s really an opportunity for Marvel to introduce the latest Big Bad Guy to audiences, and he feels an awful lot like Thanos Mark II. We get bits and pieces of his backstory – enough to establish him as a “conflicted” entity rather than an inherently evil monster. A mid-credits sequence that’s designed to illustrate the extent of his threat, feels more comedic than ominous, which is certainly not the tone Reed was trying for. Although this isn’t the first time Jonathan Majors has been introduced to Marvel viewers (he previously played a variant of Kang in the TV series “Loki”), it represents his debut for non-Disney+ subscribers. Majors’ approach to the role is interesting – calm and brooding, albeit prone to volcanic outbursts. He delivers dialogue with numerous dramatic pauses, making one wonder whether he spent time studying William Shatner before embarking on this performance.

After a brief introduction set on Earth (with the amusing conceit that Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is often mistaken as a better-known Avenger), Quantumania wastes little time plunging the insect family – Ant-Man, Hope Van Dyne a.k.a. The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) – into the Quantum Realm. Trapped there, they have to find their way home without being discovered by Kang, who has built an empire during his period of exile (30 years) in the micro-universe. Kang wants his freedom and claims that unless he attains it, bad things will happen. He captures Scott and Cassie and bargains with the daughter’s life for the father’s help in obtaining the MacGuffin that will allow him to power up his ship. Meanwhile, alerted by a monologue by Janet about Kang’s true nature, the Van Dynes band together to stop him from getting what he wants.

World-building in the Quantum Realm is disappointingly scattershot but at least the place looks interesting – kind of a cross between a low-rent Pandora and one of those bizarre milieus from sci-fi films of the 1950s and 1960s (Fantastic Voyage, for example). As eye candy goes, it’s fun, although George Lucas did a better job with this sort of thing in The Phantom Menace. Speaking of Star Wars, there are various nods and homages. Some of the creatures look like refugees from A New Hope’s cantina. There’s a sequence that apparently references the cell block rescue from the same movie and another that recalls some of the Ewok material from Return of the Jedi.

Despite their names being featured in the title, Ant-Man and The Wasp often fade into the background, seeming more like supporting characters than leads. The juicier roles belong to Hank, Janet, Cassie, and Kang. Bill Murray enters the MCU with a character that might have been written for him. Corey Stoll, who played the villainous Yellowjacket in Ant-Man, comes back as the comedically vicious Mental Organism Designed Only for Conquest (M.O.D.O.C.).

The overall narrative is pedestrian but offers enough flashes, bangs, and general weirdness for those who prefer to sit back and absorb such things. One problem with the latest round of Marvel movies – the ones featuring multiverses and such – is that they are becoming increasingly difficult to relate to. I recognize that many feature faithful adaptations of comic book elements but there are things that can work in strips on a printed page that don’t translate well into a live-action motion picture format. (Director Tim Story was keenly aware of this when he made Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007 vis à vis Galactus, although his “solution” was a disaster.) Still, Quantumania is the best of the three Ant-Man movies, outshining the previous installment by a good bit and even edging out the first one. It can be amusing when appropriate and serious when necessary and maintains a high level of energy to go along with its eccentricity. For all its epic aspirations, however, it feels slight.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania (United States, 2023)

Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, William Jackson Harper, Katy O’Brian, Bill Murray, Kathryn Newton, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Home Release Date: 2023-05-16
Screenplay: Jeff Loveness
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Music: Christophe Beck
U.S. Distributor: Marvel Studios
Run Time: 2:04
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-05-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1