Talking Movies: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Talking Movies

Released: 17 February 2023
Director: Peyton Reed
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas

The Plot:
After aiding the Avengers in saving the world, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) has become a beloved celebrity now focused on making up for lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Newton). However, when Cassie inadvertently sucks Scott and his family into the mysterious Quantum Realm, Ant-Man faces his greatest challenge when he comes face-to-face with the maniacal Kang the Conqueror (Majors), a tyrannical despot from beyond time!

The Background:
In his first comic book appearance, Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man wasn’t the unstable, garishly-costumed hero who would form the Avengers, nor was he the only character to take up the Ant-Man mantle. Perhaps his most notable successor was Scott Lang, a reformed criminal created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Byrne, who assumed the role in 1979, and both characters eventually featured in the first live-action Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) film. Ant-Man’s impressive $519.3 million gross and largely positive reviews led to a sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp (ibid, 2018), which outperformed the first at the box office but was met with more mixed reviews. Although the core cast returned to the film, Emma Fuhrmann was disappointed to learn she’d been recast; Kathryn Newton replaced her as Cassie in a decision apparently motivated to better highlight Cassie’s coming-of-age story. Having been established as one a pivotal hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), the third film sought to further explore the Quantum Realm and the complexities of time travel through the inclusion of Kang the Conqueror. Returning director Peyton Reed was excited to pit Ant-Man against such a villain as part of his wish to produce a pivotal entry in the MCU rather than a simple palette cleanser, and Majors was equally excited about exploring the multiple facets and iterations of Kang in this film and beyond after previously portraying an alternative version of the character in Loki (Various, 2021 to present). Following numerous delays, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania finally released last week; as of this writing, it has grossed nearly $290 million and the box office and been met by mixed reviews; critics have expressed disappointment with the pacing and content of the film, though Jonathan Majors’ performance was met with unanimous praise and that there were some visually impressive sequences to be found amidst the jumbled plot.

The Review:
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ant-Man; I’ve never been the biggest fan of the character, especially as his characterisation and relationships can be a bit dated, hokey, and inconsistent, but framing it as a superhero heist film and focusing on Scott Lang as this flawed, but loveable, reluctant hero, a dad just trying to make amends, was a really refreshing idea and helped contrast the MCU’s cosmic scope with a nice grounded adventure. I remember not really being too impressed by Ant-Man and the Wasp; I really should revisit it sometime, especially as it laid a lot of the foundation not just for a major plot point in Avengers: Endgame but also for this film, which takes Ant-Man so far away from a quirky, sci-fi action comedy and into the absolutely batshit realm of other dimensions and timelines. Scott is a great character to thrust into these situations; despite all of the abilities the Pym Particles give him, he’s still just a regular guy, someone who reacts realistically to the crazy events happening around him, so he makes for a charismatic and relatable character to help focus these mind-bending concepts through.

While there’s surprisingly little for Hope to do, Scott and Cassie’s relationship is a focal point of the film.

This is immediately emphasised in the opening scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; Scott is now a recognised and celebrated personality who remains awestruck at the fantastical things he’s seen in his adventures. However, as much as he enjoys the limelight, the abilities afforded to him by the Pym Particles, and the experiences he’s had alongside his fellow Avengers, Scott is now content to focus on promoting his inspirational memoirs and making up for lost time with his family. Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (Lilly) has now taken control of her father’s company, renaming and restructuring it in her image and to help displaced families following the Blip. She and Scott are seen to have a loving relationship and are no longer at odds with each other like in the previous film, but the two spend a surprising amount of time apart considering both of their names are in the title of the movie, so Quantumania is less a story about these two pint-sized heroes/lovers saving the Quantum Realm and more focused on developing the relationship between Scott and his daughter, Cassie. Cassie is now a somewhat rebellious teenager; she’s getting arresting and causing Scott headaches because she wants to follow in his example, “look out for the little guy”, and help others, and is disappointed in him giving up his superhero duties when there are still people that need help. Her arc throughout the film is both learning the value of patience and how to control her own shrinking/growing abilities, and understanding that the life she is so enamoured by is dangerous. While Scott is proud of her moral compass, her ingenuity, and her moxie, he also wants to protect her first and foremost; thankfully, while this is a point of contention between the two, the film doesn’t portray her as a cliché sulky teenager who acts without thinking or unreasonably lashes out at her father and they still have an adorable bond, she just wants his respect.

Janet’s stubbornness and fear cost the characters valuable time.

As part of this, Cassie has secretly been spending her time working with Hank (Douglas) to research and map the mysterious Quantum Realm. Despite Hope’s repeated efforts to find out more about the time her mother spent trapped there, Janet (Pfeiffer) remains stubbornly tight-lipped and this was a real issue for me in the early going of the film. Because Janet refused to talk about the Quantum Realm, the characters had no idea of the dangers that lurked there; her warnings came too late to prevent them all being sucked down there and, once they are stranded in the Quantum Realm, she continues to refuse to tell them anything for no real reason at all when that knowledge really would have helped them be better prepared once the source of her fears, Kang, inevitably showed up. Instead, Janet leads Hank and Hope on a merry tour of the Quantum Realm, now expanded into a strange alien environment full of colourful beings and bizarre creatures, most of whom, like the enigmatic Lord Krylar (Bill Murray), know Janet from her time as a freedom fighter. Hank, who has spent his entire life researching the Quantum Realm, is understandably fascinated by the ecosystem and society that dwells there, and equally stunned to get a glimpse of his wife’s tumultuous life amongst these beings. Both characters receive more screen time this time around and are certainly more of a focal point to the plot than Hope, and Hank’s demeanour is now noticeably far more relaxed; he’s lost a lot of his edge and is now portrayed as a quirky scientist with an unhealthy obsession with ants, whereas Janet is shown to be unreasonably cagey and to have fought against the all-powerful Kang during her time trapped in the Quantum Realm

With his nuance performance and incredible power, Kang was the undeniable highlight of the movie.

Although we get a glimpse of his arrival in the Quantum Realm in the film’s opening moments, Kang is a mystery throughout most of the film; he’s talked about with a mixture of awe and fear by the colourful freedom fighters Scott and Cassie hook up with and Janet is so terrified of him that she goes out of her way to keep her family in the dark just to try and avoid catching his attention. This is a shame as, once Kang arrives onscreen, he is unquestionably the most interesting and charismatic character, eclipsing even Scott with his nuanced performance. A cold, calculating, driven individual, Kang is a man from beyond time who was betrayed by his own alternate selves (or “variants”) and banished to the Quantum Realm because of his destructive nature. I know a little bit about Kang from the comics but am by no means a Kang expert, and Quantumania decides to keep his exact backstory and motivations a bit vague, presumably to explain them in further productions. It’s not really explained how or why he has the powers he exhibits or what his limits are; at first, he’s weak and helpless and needs Janet’s help to repair his ship, then he regains his fantastically comic accurate suit and shows an ability to stop characters in their tracks with a thought and swat his pint-sized adversaries out of the air. Yet, though he appears unstoppable and has built an empire comprised of (literal) faceless stormtroopers and advanced technology, Kang can still get down and dirty in a fist fight. Yet, for all his imposing menace and the captivating allure of his unhinged psyche, Kang is very much a desperate man; he’s clearly been broken by some unknown tragedy and is fuelled not just be a need to conquer and avenge himself, but a desperate desire to bring a twisted order to the multiverse, regardless of who he has to torture, enslave, or kill along the way. He’s not just some maniacal villain, though; he seems to genuinely value Janet’s friendship and is driven to violence only as a means to facilitate his escape and seems to regard himself as a necessary evil n the face of some unknown future threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
There are a few themes at work in Quantumania; you might think that it’s a movie about Scott and Hope as surrogate parents and the dynamic of the Pyms and van Dynes co-existing as this superhero family, but it’s sadly not. You might also think that it’s geared towards showcasing Cassie’s journey into her own superhero persona and, while that certainly is a development in the movie, the focus is more on Scott learning to accept that her daughter wants in the life (which he’s happy to do, he just worries about her) and her learning to walk before she runs (perfectly exampled when Scott has to teach her how to properly make use of the Pym Particles in a fight). The film does shed a bit more light on Janet, a largely mysterious character who clearly has been through some stuff and seen some things down in the Quantum Realm, but it, like her, is unnecessarily coy about the specifics and we’re left with only the briefest, vaguest mentions of her as an inspirational fighter in the war against Kang. Like the other Ant-Man movies, Quantumania leans heavily on the comedy; mostly, this is demonstrated through character’s being awestruck by their surroundings, struggling to adapt to the Quantum Realm’s bizarre society and characters, and riffing off each other. For the most part it works, though the absence of Scott’s more comedic supporting cast is felt in the movie and there’s one scene in particular where the dramatic tension is completely undercut by unnecessary forced comedy.

While the visuals generally impress, others are a bit cartoonish and disappointingly realised.

This would be the death of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who’s revealed to have survived the ending of Ant-Man but been left a misshapen and embittered troll of a man; rebuilt by Kang’s technology into the ultimate cybernetic killing machine, he chases down Scott and his family with a vengeance as the MCU version of George Tarleton/ Mechanised Organism Designed Only for Killing (M.O.D.O.K.) M.O.D.O.K. is one of the most bizarre villains of Marvel Comics and one I never thought we’d ever see translated to screen, so it’s pretty amazing to see him flying about shooting lasers and missiles and sprouting buzzsaws, but then the face plate lifts up and we’re forced to look at this really unsettling, cheap-looking CGI face and listen to Darren spouting pithy declarations and the character loses a lot of his menace. It’s a shame but, for the most part, Quantumania looks really good; it’s naturally a very CGI-heavy film and as far removed from its more grounded predecessors as you could get and goes to great lengths to expand upon the Quantum realm, while also handwaving a lot of the specifics. Humanoid characters like Jentorra (Katy O’Brian) and telepath Quaz (William Jackson Harper) exist alongside anthropomorphic houses and surreal alien creatures like the protoplasmic Veb (David Dastmalchian) and a robot with a laser for a head! These characters, while visually interesting, aren’t very well developed, though; I barely caught most of their names and their single characteristic is wanting to oppose and dethrone Kang, but they do help to show how versatile the Quantum Realm is. Before, characters couldn’t survive in the Quantum realm without special suits or suffering severe time dilation; that is now no longer a problem as they’ve conveniently travelled to a part of the dimension where they don’t need their helmets to breath and suffer no consequences of lost time once they return. The world is colourful and alive, but also feels strangely restricted; I also can’t help but feel like exploring the Quantum realm should’ve been a sub-plot in Ant-Man and the Wasp and that maybe it would’ve been better if Quantumania had take place entirely in Kang’s city, Chronopolis, to avoid the slow start to this movie. Everything also just feels a bit too cartoonish and intangible, and it’s again far too obvious that many actors aren’t actually in the same shots in some scenes, which really took me out of it.

There’s an intriguing conflict and looming menace lurking amidst the bombardment of spotty CGI sequences.

Yet, there are still some exciting and bonkers action scenes on offer here; any time M.O.D.O.K. shows up the screen I filled with explosions and frantic action, and seeing Scott, Hope, and Cassie come together in their small and giant forms for the finale was exhilarating, though it was difficult to appreciate Giant-Man’s scale from the framing. One really inventive scene in the film sees Scott shrink further down to reach the core of Kang’s ship; there, he splits into an infinite number of variants and they must work together to get him closer to the core, literally evoking the image of an ant colony working together. Cassie later has a cool coming-of-age moment where she inspires the people of the Quantum Realm to rise up against Kang, and even Hank gets to have a moment to shine by leading his army of technologically advanced ants into battle, though the same unfortunately can’t be said for Hope, who spends most of the film sporting a ridiculous haircut and being understandably annoyed at her mother’s stubbornness before swooping in to aid Ant-Man in reaching the core and in defeating Kang. After Scott retrieves his ship’s core, Kang sets about escaping his confinement using an elaborate set of spinning rings, which will bring him and his army out of the Quantum Realm and allow him to get back to conquering the multiverse. Giant-Man storms his citadel and, despite all of Kang’s vaulted and incomprehensible time powers, a fist fight breaks out between Scott and the conqueror that sees Ant-Man absolutely decimated. Scott frantically gets his family to safety and chooses to stay behind and sacrifice his freedom to prevent Kang’s escape, only for Hope to show up and help fend Kang off, presumably killing him or banishing him to a further sub-sub-atomic dimension. The film then teases that Scott and Hope will be trapped in the Quantum Realm but the Cassie just immediately saves them and everything’s fine…save for Kang’s troubling warning of an oncoming danger and an entire legion of his variants turning their attentions towards the MCU following Kang’s defeat. Personally, I think it would’ve made more sense for someone in the core cast to die or even have it be Hank and Janet who make the last-minute save and end up trapped in the Quantum Realm; that would’ve been quite fitting given Hank’s obsession with it and small things and Janet’s past there but, instead, things wrap up in a nice little bow and I’m left wondering which version of Kang will return to fight the Avengers and how his threat will be restored after being easily overwhelmed by an army of giant ants despite boasting about how many Avengers he’s killed!

The Summary:
I had high expectations for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; knowing full well that Kang was set to be an Avengers-level threat in the future and having had some knowledge of the character, I expected this to be a little darker, a little more high stakes, and to have serious repercussions for the MCU going forward. Hell, there was the suggestion that Ant-Man might not live through the tale, let alone be victorious, and it seemed like this could be the shake-up the MCU needed to start seriously working towards their next big team-up movie. Instead, it was just lacking in a lot of ways; I get the idea of exploring and expanding upon the Quantum Realm, but it felt like it took way too much time and I just wasn’t that interested in what was happening there as it felt somewhat inconsequential. It tied in nicely to Cassie’s arc of wanting to help people no matter where or who they are, but a lot of the new characters were forgettable, despite being visually interesting. There was next to no onscreen chemistry or development for Scott and Hope; she could’ve been entirely absent and it wouldn’t have mattered all that much as Cassie could’ve easily done everything she did. Paul Rudd continues to shine as Ant-Man but he’s bogged down by all this CGI mess and protracted world-building, and the environment really didn’t give his unique powers a chance to stand out. The sole saving grace was Kang; Jonathan Majors did an excellent job of portraying a nuanced villain, one who is filled with regret for the evils he must do, and he stole every scene he was in. sadly, though, we really don’t learn anything about him; I have no idea where he’s from or why he’s compelled to be the way he is, meaning a lot of the connection I felt to him came from inference, which is fine but I would’ve liked to see some of the early runtime focused more on him so we get a better sense of his motivations. I think Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will land better on repeat viewings, especially once Kang returns to the MCU in future productions but, for now, it was a bit of a let-down for me and definitely a case of style over substance.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? How did you think it compared to the other Ant-Man films? What did you think to the exploration and expansion of the Quantum Realm? Did you enjoy seeing Cassie develop into her own heroic role and the relationship between her and Scott? Were you disappointed by M.O.D.O.K.’s portrayal and the effects used to bring him to life? What did you think to Kang and his motivations, and are you excited to see him return in the MCU? Whatever you think about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Ant-Man content.