Here’s something you won’t hear another critic say: the first Ant-Man movie is the best movie Marvel has ever made. Of course, that was because it had its own unique visual language and featured a comic hero who was actually funny. And it had ton of heart. However, unlike the Captain America and Thor franchises, the Ant-Man movies have had diminishing returns, and the latest entry, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is surely the worst one yet.
That’s no fault of the still-charming Paul Rudd, or the villain he must battle here played by Jonathan Majors, who’s Kang the Conqueror is certainly intimidating. Instead, the blame falls squarely on Jeff Loveness’ messy screenplay and Peyton Reed’s ho-hum direction. I loved the energy that Reed brought to the first Ant-Man movie, but he seems to be going through the motions here, and I suspect he knows precisely why.
Spoiler Alert: No one cares about the Quantum Realm! No one cares about the creatures that have been oppressed down there or the worlds that Kang has conquered. It’s hard enough to care about the events happening in “our world” within the MCU, let alone an entire multiverse full of families we’ve never met. I’m not without empathy and often cry just reading the newspaper, but this is why I’ve never been drawn to the sci-fi or fantasy genres, of which Quantumania is a true hybrid. When Kang’s true nature is first glimpsed and we see what he’s capable of, all I did was shrug. This wasn’t Thanos snapping away half of Earth’s population, it was a genocide of fictional pixels.
As for the Quantum Realm itself, which looks like an expensive screensaver, the biggest complaint I have is how claustrophobic it feels down there. Much like the characters, we can’t wait to get out of there. There’s not even any weight to anything in the Quantum Realm. It just feels fake… like a half-assed version of Pandora featuring a fraction of the imagination, or an audition to direct a Star Wars movie.
Indeed, this is the Marvel movie that feels the most like a Star Wars film, and that’s not necessarily a compliment, an avowed Star Wars skeptic. It also feels like grees-screened Rick and Morty at times, with a running gag about holes, which is even less funny than it sounds. Like, sit back and watch the men in the theater do the mental math as they count how many holes they have. Priceless stuff. It’s amazing to me that Marvel can’t find better writers for these projects, going after Rick and Morty staff writers instead of folks who wrote the classic action movies of the 80s and 90s, which had awesome one-liners and great action sequences.
Where the first film succeeded in using clever sight gags to surprise audiences, this third film just makes everything bigger and louder, and it hardly takes advantage of Ant-Man’s unique abilities, almost preferring to see him as tall as Godzilla rather than teeny tiny, which is when the character thrives. Anyone can see that the movie literally comes to life whenever ants are onscreen working together. That’s when it’s fun. Whatever solemn movie Kang the Conqueror is stuck in is most definitely not fun.
As solid an actor as Majors is—and he is good here—it still feels like he’s in a different movie at times. Sure, Kang is a bit of a cool customer, yet despite his relative restraint, he’s still quite intimidating. But he’s introduced way too late, entering the film about halfway through its 125-minute runtime. Second, he’s way too serious. Like, lighten up, my man. You’re the ruler of the Quantum Realm. Bill Murray (who appears in a single scene) sure looked like he was having fun down there. Third, he’s dealt with way too easily for the MCU’s supposed new big baddie. But again, that’s all in the writing. Majors himself is pretty solid.
Rudd delivers once again as Scott Lang, who is enjoying his celebrity status as an Avenger when this sequel begins. His daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is all grown up, and a social activist to boot, but Newton, who was so good in Freaky and Detective Pikachu, gives a rather lifeless performance devoid of emotion behind her eyes —we don’t see the fear when she’s supposed to be scared, or the wave of emotion/relief that one would feel upon being reunited with their father.
Michelle Pfeiffer has been earning kudos from critics as Janet Van Dyne, who from a narrative standpoint is kind of the main protagonist in this film, but the character hardly feels like someone crushed by guilt over her role in making the Quantum Realm what it is, so I found Pfeiffer’s performance rather lacking. Meanwhile, Evangeline Lilly is all but completely wasted as the Wasp, though she does get her moment to shine at the very end of the movie. One of the critics I work with at another publication filed his review thinking the movie was titled Ant-Man: Quantumania, which I mention only to illustrate what an afterthought the Wasp is in this movie.
In one of the film’s earliest scenes, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man who remains a mischievous rascal, uses his magic serum to turn a small pizza into a large one, thereby saving himself 8 bucks. That’s the kind of low-key charm I appreciated in the first Ant-Man movie. You will smile watching Lang walk down the sidewalk in this movie, and notice how quickly that smile disappears once you’re transported to the Quantum Realm, where Reed and Loveness would prefer to overload you with visual stimuli rather than deliver an urgent story with real repercussions within the MCU, which is feeling less fresh and increasingly stale as of late.
Those X-Men and Fantastic Four reboots can’t come soon enough…