Ant-Man has long been one of Marvel’s preferred franchises when it comes to mixing up the house formula in small ways that have big implications. The first two movies’ balance of light tone, sweet family heart, low-stakes heist action, and sci-fi mumbo jumbo went hand-in-hand with Guardians of the Galaxy in establishing a slice of sci-fi comic-book life that can be entertaining in ways that go far, far beyond epic superhero flair. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania tosses almost all of that aside in favor of trying to be the next big Marvel event thing you have to watch in theaters right now, please.
Marvel made their third and possibly final Ant-Man (and the Wasp) movie into a prologue of their next, big step forward in a post-Avengers: Endgame world. If only they had just focused on making an Ant-Man movie. Not a redux of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 by way of Rick and Morty and now wanted by the police for plagiarizing Ralph McQuarrie.
And sure, all that should sound as enticing as the title Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, itself. Now there’s a movie that gets what it is and what people should hope it to be, right there in the title. But even the tiniest expectations are set up to fail once said Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) get roped into a family adventure deep inside the quantum realm that goes about as well as Disney’s Strange World.
It’s been a few years since Scott Lang (Ant-Man) helped save the universe, and recently he’s been resting on his laurels. Writing books, taking pictures with dogs, and trying to make up for lost time with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who aged five years into a teenager while he was trapped in the “Quantum Realm,” or a different part of it? The movie never really explains this well, because before long, he and the rest of the Ant-Family — rounded out by Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, with far more to do this time around) — get summoned to the Quantum Realm against their will.
“This place…it isn’t what you think.”
Only it’s not the Quantum Realm we’ve seen in previous movies, where characters shrink down to sub-atomic levels where giant worm-like creatures roam empty, gelatinous wastelands. Now, we have an explanation for why and how characters can survive for even 30 years in this universe. Because it is another universe “under” our own. And honestly, it’s kind of a boring one?
The Marvel machine knows well and good that their cosmos movies (Guardians, Thor: Ragnarok, etc.) have a specific energy and look and style that fans find both familiar and engaging. Copy/pasting this style onto a sub-atomic universe probably makes sense when it comes to consistency, but it makes for an underwhelming, been-there-seen-that world. It doesn’t help that so much of the environment is manufactured that instead of a green screen, it’s like we’re in a green box. Characters are precariously stilted as they wander around in this 3D space that they clearly aren’t in. It’s maybe only modestly more convincing than the Star Wars prequels.
What’s worse is that the movie carelessly throws in haphazard time travel exposition and multiversal madness that never satisfyingly connects to the whole “secret universe” pastiche, complete with our saga big bad, Kang (Jonathan Majors), who makes a compelling case for why he can be the next Thanos, in the sense that he’s actually an intimidating threat and seriously unhinged both in his actions and in his own brand of villainous philosophy. Turns out if you exist outside of time long enough, every universe and the lives therein lose weight and value to your warped, unnatural experiences. He’s like the protagonist of a video game where everyone else is a disposable NPC. (Note: you should probably watch Loki if you haven’t, already, at least if you expect more of an explanation for what’s going on with this guy).
Too bad he’s in a movie that’s even more chaotic than him. The good news is that this chaos often breeds a smile or even a heavy chuckle at times, thanks mostly to some of the new (and returning) characters who float in to liven up an otherwise robotic story about making the most of messing up, or something. Marvel is still pretty good at making their mishap movies entertaining enough to sit through at least once.
The bottom line.
For a movie branded “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” there’s almost no Ant-Man with the Wasp, as the two are usually split up and have no arc or emotional issues to sort out this time around. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to just avoid the contrived “now we need him being too awkward to propose!” storyline or something equally embarrassing. They’re just a happy couple, no drama, no fuss. The relationship issues are wisely kept to Scott struggling to parent a rebellious teenager who wants to do more good in the world, which…actually, that’s not that interesting, either.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens in theaters February 17. Watch the trailer here.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA - 6/10