Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, 2023.
Directed by Peyton Reed.
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Bill Murray, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Jamie Andrew Cutler, David Dastmalchian, Randall Park, and Corey Stoll.
Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne, along with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, explore the Quantum Realm, where they interact with strange creatures and embark on an adventure that goes beyond the limits of what they thought was possible.
Initially, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania positions itself as attempting to explore fractured parental relationships due to lost time by utilizing parallel storylines. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) finds himself bailing out his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) from jail, imprisoned for nobly standing up against police injustice that has been tied to “The Snap” with people losing their homes from financial instability. She’s a rebel activist increasingly growing disappointed that her father is more interested in being a guiding parental force rather than an Avenger fighting crime. He wants to spend time with her, and she wants to make a difference in the world like he already has.
Likewise, Hope Van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) reconnects with her mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), previously stuck in The Quantum Realm (a dimension entered through subatomic particles that exist outside time and space), and her estranged father Hank (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man. There’s the usual comedic banter to be expected from these movies (once again directed by Peyton Reed, this time from a script by Jimmy Kimmel Live! writer Jeff Loveless), which is mainly dropped (and not funny when it tries) once Cassie’s scientific experiments (she builds a way to communicate through digital signals from between realms) gets the family sucked into The Quantum Realm.
Once stranded inside The Quantum Realm, the script splits these characters up, presumably to better focus on the friction between them, while attempting world-building for what appears to be an alien desert land. Barring some expensive and impressive CGI visuals and some wacky concept designs (including sentient buildings that fire weapons, pink bubbly creatures inexplicably obsessed with holes, and a unique steering wheel design for aircraft flight), the place never truly comes alive.
That’s partly because the story itself of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is busy; what started as a criminal turn superhero bonding with his activist criminal teenage daughter has suddenly turned into, as advertised, a sci-fi adventure but without much intrigue. During the portion with Wasp and her parents lost in a different area, Janet is reunited with an old friend played by Bill Murray, and somehow, even that scene bores.
The first act also features much backstory and exposition, as Janet speaks of her first time there and time around a villainous madman turning the land into his kingdom. That man is scientist time traveler Kang the Conqueror (a nuanced but relatively nuts and expressive performance from incredible rising star Jonathan Majors, previously seen playing the character on the Loki TV show). Jonathan Majors should also be referred to as “the defibrillator” because his eccentric and imposing performance gives the film desperately needed life.
Essentially, Kang the Conqueror revels in time-hopping and overthrowing alternate dimensions, deleting them from history. He has murdered quite a few Avengers during those conquests but is unfamiliar with Ant-Man. At one point, Kang the Conqueror quips that The Avengers all start blending, which is unintentionally hilarious as it brings to mind the recent state of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. They do start blending, and there’s not much separating Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania from all the properties it’s taking inspiration from for its interpretation of The Quantum Realm.
Fortunately, Kang the Conqueror is still an exciting villain presence, playing the role with a great balance between cartoonish and dramatic. When he’s threatening to murder Cassie over and over until Scott is begging to be killed, there’s weight behind that menace. As a fighter, his scenes are intense despite how special-effects heavy the action often is.
Jonathan Majors is the real deal as an actor, showcasing a promising future for this phase since he appears to be the ultimate bad guy moving forward. The problem is that the story is put together in a way that cheapens the importance of familiarizing ourselves with the villain in this particular movie. M.O.D.O.K. (a comedic relief CGI monstrosity sidekick complete with a clunky subplot despite a well-meaning message) also aids him.
The good news is that Kang the Conqueror does dominate much of the running time once he is introduced, simultaneously elevating the excitement of the surrounding story. He needs a way out of The Quantum Realm and is forcing Ant-Man to do what’s necessary to make that happen. This paves the way for mind-bending sequences involving alternate versions of the superhero and a thrilling climactic battle as large as the character can grow in scale.
It’s a shame this all comes at the cost of compelling character dynamics. It’s one thing not to mean much in a cinematic empire that has built itself on epic crossovers and the future, but Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is also unsatisfying and emotionally thin as a standalone narrative. Something is also off regarding the chemistry between Paul Rudd and Kathryn Newton, as if they know the inconsequential narrative has abandoned its themes and is lost in another realm.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com