Thursday, April 18, 2024

“ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA”

THE STORY – Ant-Man and the Wasp find themselves exploring the Quantum Realm, interacting with strange new creatures and embarking on an adventure that pushes them beyond the limits of what they thought was possible.

THE CAST – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, William Jackson Harper, Katy O’Brian & Bill Murray

THE TEAM – Peyton Reed (Director) & Jeff Loveness (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 124 Minutes


In a cinematic universe as large as the multiverse, it can be easy to take the little guy for granted. The first “Ant-Man” separated itself from the rest of the Phase 2 titles by establishing itself as a comedic heist movie; the sequel kept the comedic sensibilities while expanding just enough to maintain its already established small stakes. “Ant-Man” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” both worked in the past for being the smaller (no pun intended) MCU installments to follow massive Avengers movies, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” respectively. Thanks to the invaluable contributions of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in “Avengers: Endgame,” returning director Peyton Reed brings “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” to the main stage as the official start of Phase 5 of the MCU. By doing so, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” sets the tone for what will unfold for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s slate. 

If you are looking for the third installment to be more of the same from the “Ant-Man” movies, you’re in for a surprise. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” strips the low stakes of the first two movies for a grand adventure in the Quantum Realm. In doing so, Peyton Reed’s latest loses many of the side characters we’ve come to know and love, like Luis (Michael Peña) and Maggie (Judy Greer), to create a narrow focus on the core Ant-Man family and a memorable introduction to the new threat of the MCU multiverse.

Switching the primary setting from San Francisco to the Quantum Realm requires heavy lifting from the visual effects department. Utilizing the Volume technology found in “The Mandalorian” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the Quantum Realm comes alive in a more visually impressive way than some of the previous Phase 4 movies. However, the visuals of the Quantum Realm lack their own distinction. In fact, many shots make it look like just another planet from the “Star Wars” galaxy, with their own version of the Mos Eisley cantina.

Though this installment has a Michael Peña-sized hole in it, the comedy still hits at the same level as the previous “Ant-Man” movies. “Ant-Man” veteran David Dastmalchian hangs up his role as Kurt to voice Veb. Though the Russian cybercriminal is missed, Dastmalchian continues to flex his comedic muscles through this CGI character. Newcomer William Jackson Harper plays the telepathic Quaz. He has excellent chemistry playing off of Rudd, with their interactions going on for just the right amount of time before a joke gets old. And then there’s the surprise return of Corey Stoll. After being sent to the Quantum Realm at the end of the first “Ant-Man” movie, Darren Cross has transformed into MODOK (an acronym for Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing), giving his character legitimate conflict against Scott and the rest of the gang. Plus, Stoll leans head first (no pun intended) into the sheer lunacy of playing a giant floating head designed for killing.

Despite this being the longest “Ant-Man” movie to date, none of the side characters the Ant family meets in the Quantum Realm are there for too long. For instance, legendary comedic actor Bill Murray doesn’t overstay his welcome as Krylar, an old friend of Janet’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) from her time in the Quantum Realm. Though brief, Krylar offers Murray the chance to have humorous banter with Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym. While it would’ve been great to see Murray and Douglas spar back and forth a little bit longer, the pacing of the movie keeps audiences from being stuck with too many side characters in order to put the attention on the Ant family and the new villain.

With a heavy emphasis on making sure Kang the Conqueror’s introduction is impactful, it does hurt some of the development of the Lang-Pym-Van Dyne family. This is seen with Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank, who take a backseat for a good portion of the movie. In the case of Hope, so much of her arc is linked to reconnecting with Janet. When this conflict is later resolved, it doesn’t leave much for Lilly to do while she waits for her time to shine during the third act fight. Meanwhile, Hope’s frustration towards Janet to open up about her time in the Quantum realm, while suitably serving her mother’s arc, can be frustrating for viewers who are needlessly kept in the dark about the plot’s development.

Until this film, Michelle Pfeiffer had little to do with the MCU. She returned from the Quantum Realm near the end of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and has a cameo at the Avengers-studded funeral of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in “Avengers: Endgame.” Peyton Reed has said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he only had Pfeiffer in mind for Janet, and it’s clear why in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” The former Catwoman may not be in a leather suit like in “Batman Returns.” Still, she is given much more to do in her role as the original Wasp, adding some much-needed complexity to Janet as she slips out of her guarded nature into a total badass as the Quantum Realm rallies together to take on Kang and his legions of faceless soldiers. Pfeiffer really shines when she shares the screen with Jonathan Majors as the film attempts to fill in some of the gaps on what went down between the two during the thirty years Janet spent stuck in the Quantum realm with this mysterious and all-powerful being.

The big question on many people’s minds is if Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror would live up to the hype since his official casting announcement in December 2020. While we got a taste of what Majors can do in the MCU during his appearance as He Who Remains in the Season 1 finale of “Loki,” Kang is a whole separate being. Can he take on the mantle as the Multiverse Saga’s big bad from Josh Brolin’s Thanos? The answer is a resounding yes. Majors is a chameleon actor, creating a new type of villain who is genuinely threatening. Unlike He Who Remains, the Conqueror’s ominous presence is felt in the movie’s first half. Before appearing on screen, he’s treated like the Quantum Realm’s He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named from the “Harry Potter” franchise. Once he does appear, everything about his performance– from his line delivery to his physicality– is commanding yet terrifying. He doesn’t just steal his scenes… he conquers them.

Thankfully, this won’t be the last we see of Majors in the MCU as we set our sights toward “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” towards the end of the Multiverse Saga. Plus, we don’t know when we’ll see him pop up next due to the nature of variants and the multiverse. It’s giving Majors a lot to play with, showing new facets of Kang with every on-screen appearance. Majors simply does not miss with any role he takes on, and it’s apparent in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” why producer Kevin Feige wanted to invest in Majors for the long haul as the new big bad.

While Majors brings a shot in the arm to the film’s second half, the emotional narrative of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” keeps you grounded throughout this bizarre adventure in the Quantum Realm. Focusing on parent-child relationships and the consequences of lost time is a unique approach for the “Ant-Man” movies to tackle within the MCU. Both Scott’s now fully grown daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) and Hope struggle to connect with their parents, who also happen to be their heroes. There’s a tension between trying to make up for lost time and ignoring the past to make new memories. Although rocky in some points, the plot mostly works in this theme’s favor, except for Janet and Hope, who are tossed aside in favor of getting to the third act conflict.

With Scott and Cassie, on the other hand, their strife naturally evolves from the beginning of the “Ant-Man” trilogy to now. From the second Scott left prison, he was on a mission to make up for lost time with his daughter; when he finally completed his house arrest in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” he was trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years. Scott and Cassie have never had the time to reconnect. Outside of the Kang-level threat to the multiverse, the stakes are high for Scott and Cassie to figure out what it means to have a relationship after so much time apart. The bond between the two drives some of the movie’s best moments and motivates Scott’s decisions in the Quantum Realm against Kang. For Newton’s debut as Cassie, her chemistry with Paul Rudd creates the emotional stakes that ground the fantastical nature of the movie even when its many strange cultures and creatures threaten to suffocate the story and characters.

Two post-credit scenes follow “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” which serves as a return to form for the function of the MCU post-credit scene. Phase 4 movies got into a bad habit of relying on surprise cameos for lesser-known comic characters that have yet to be mentioned again. The mid-credit and post-credit scenes offer an additional comedic scene with another more serious scene that teases where the saga is heading next. Without spoiling these scenes, the mid-credits and post-credits scenes effectively set up the stakes of the multiverse saga and what’s coming next.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” on paper seems like the least likely title to kick start this next phase of movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much like when people doubted Paul Rudd and the first “Ant-Man” movie back in 2015, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is here to surprise you with its exceptional performances, genuine emotional moments, and earned high stakes. While it lacks the small scale and roster of beloved side characters, the narrow focus on this family and the new villain keeps “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” from going out of control. The actions made in this movie will have massive implications for what lies ahead in the MCU, and for the first time in a while, it’s once again exciting to see what Kevin Feige has in store for us.

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Meredith Loftus
Meredith Loftus
Digital Producer at Paramount. Features Writer at Collider. General cinephile waiting for the Mamma Mia cinematic universe to take off.

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