Marvel Studios may be emerging from its slump as it delivers its most enjoyable film since “Spider-Man: No Way Home” with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Despite an uneven and underdeveloped screenplay, the film succeeds as a popcorn outing because it stays true to its characters and previous tonal world (unlike the recent sequels to the Thor and Dr. Strange).
Peyton Reed returns to the director’s chair for a third time with a script from Jeff Loveness. Lead actor Paul Rudd, who wrote on the previous “Ant-man” films, did not contribute to the third film’s script.
This film opens with an oddly placed voice over from Rudd’s Scott Lang giving the audience an update on his life in San Francisco. Lang has become a successful author and has spent most of his time doing book readings and self-promotion. It’s been pretty quiet in the hero department since the events of “Avengers: End Game” for Lang.
This lengthy voice over feels contrived, serving as a sort of narrative band aid to explain the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to any newcomers as well as fans who may have missed some sequels or recent TV series.
In one of the few threads that stretch across the movie, we find Scott Lang in disharmony with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Cassie is more of an activist than her father of late, and she feels that he is resting on his hero laurels. Cassie is a budding scientist, despite no genetic link to groundbreaking scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) or his genius wife Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).
With the help of Hank and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Cassie’s been developing a SONAR like technology to map the Quantum Realm. This seemingly dangerous scientific venture is done without the involvement of Janet van Dyne, who spent decades in the realm and refuses to speak about her time there.
The film wastes no time getting the cast of Ant-Man into Cassie’s basement lab where they’re pulled into the Quantum Realm (moments after Pfeiffer’s character reacts with fear to Cassie’s experiment and demands it be shut off).
Pfeiffer’s character becomes the default protagonist as she has the most experience surviving in the Quantum Realm’s “Stars Wars” like universe. This CGI-shaped realm even has it’s own super-powered Emperor, Kang, who prefers purple clothes to the black cloak of Star Wars’ Emperor.
In continuing the Star Wars comparison, Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne is much like Episode IV’s Obi-wan Kenobi. She knows the dangers of this once familiar world and knows that she has many enemies who would recognize her… so she must keep a low profile.
Janet van Dyne also seems to have some force-level powers, as she performs fantastical action sequences that make her more Steve Rogers than sixty-year-old scientist.
Janet leads her group — which includes her daughter Hope and husband Hank Pym — as they try to reunite with Scott and Cassie and find a way to escape the Quantum Realm. The film has a third stranded party, which the audience will have already forgotten about… Hank Pym’s hyper-intelligent colony of ants! These wonderfully inane characters will inexplicably save the day much later in the film… more on that later.
Janet’s first stop is this film’s version of the Star Wars cantina. Here, our Earthly heroes ingest a substance that conveniently allows everyone to understand each other. It’s a pretty pointless scene built around the comedic reunion of Janet van Dyne with Bill Murray’s royal character.
Murray’s character regales the group with the details that Janet shared with him about their lives back on Earth. It turns out that Murray’s character is an old accomplice and former lover of Janet, alluding to a steamy affair that’s both hilarious and cringe worthy.
Murray’s character has, of course, betrayed Janet in an attempt to gain favor with Kang. It’s not much of a surprise to see this double cross, nor was it shocking that Janet and company make a quick escape in a stolen star ship. The ship is comically guided by Hank’s arms after they’ve been inserted into lengthy jelly-like tubes. It’s one of the few things given to Douglas’ Pym, who seems less interested in being there given recent comments.
The film bounces scene to scene with no real connective tissue being built around the narrative. The only thread being that Cassie’s desire for Scott to get involved and help the Tusken Raiders like tribes with a rebellion against Emperor Kang, the “conqueror.” Scott is only interested in reuniting his family and escaping the Quantum Realm, but Cassie does have sway over her father by the end of the film.
On the villain side, Jonathan Majors’ Kang the conqueror shines with charisma mixed with a sense of danger. Jonathan Majors delivers his lines with a real complexity that comes off far more impressive than his finale appearance in the “Loki” series.
We learn this enigmatic traveler initially befriended Janet when he crash landed in the Quantum Realm. Janet saved his life and vice versa as they spent years working together to fix his ship’s drive, which would allow them to escape the Quantum Realm.
Having been exiled to the Quantum Realm, Kang doesn’t share many true details of his past with Janet, certainly not his world-conquering ambitions and murderous actions.
After they successfully repair Kang’s ship’s drive and re-energize it, Janet and Kang are ready to escape the Quantum Realm. When Janet installs the ship’s drive, she’s suddenly shown a vision of Kang’s past actions through a sort of “mind meld” (borrowing from Star Trek).
In that moment, Janet chooses to disable the ship’s drive and stop either of them from escaping. She uses Pym technology to make the ship’s drive grow into an enormous sphere, incapable of being used by Kang.
This stops the conqueror from escaping the Quantum Realm, but the restoration of the ship allowed Kang to regain the use of his Iron Man like purple suit (which is far superior to Tony Stark’s tech).
Using this suit and his vast futuristic knowledge, Kang set out to build an empire in the Quantum Realm. This empire, complete with an impressive home base, has established dominion over most of the realm, save for the few rebel tribes still out and about.
In present time, Kang has captured Scott Lang and Cassie with the help of MODOK. MODOK is the mechanically upgraded and deformed current state of the human formerly known as Darren Cross (the original Ant-Man villain played by Corey Stoll).
This MODOK has killed many rebels and it’s revealed that he was the one responsible for pulling the Pym/van Dyne/Lang family into the Quantum Realm. MODOK’s attempt at bragging is cut short as Kang tortures his minion, showcasing his dominating presence in front of Scott and Cassie Lang.
Kang demands that Scott Lang shrink as Ant-Man enter his supersized ship’s drive and shrink it back to its normal size. If he does this, Kang can escape the Quantum Realm and in exchange Kang won’t kill Cassie.
Scott agrees when he sees Kang’s resolve in torturing Cassie. Once the small version of Lang enters the ship’s drive, he has contend with multiple versions of himself inside the oversized multiverse drive of the ship.
At the last moment when he seems to be falling away and into an unknown abyss, Hope van Dyne conveniently swoops in when all hope seems lost. This is one of several out-of-the-blue-saves that the film strings together in the final act.
Hope and Scott are able to shrink the ship’s drive and they escape with it. However, Kang follows and takes it back after a brief fight. He also doesn’t deliver Cassie as promised, simply returning to his home base with the ship’s drive in his possession… preparing for his grand exodus.
This leads to a very expected finale set piece of the rebels charging the home base of Kang with the help of Lang transforming into Giant-Man! At the same time, Cassie escapes from her own cell and frees the currently captured rebels that we somewhat recognize from their four minutes of screen time in act one.
Cassie activates a futuristic PA system and alerts everyone in the Quantum Realm via video transmission that they should join in this fortress attack and that Kang is vulnerable. This leads to a further charge of “good guys” while Giant-Man disables Kang’s spinning ring apparatus (meant to work in conjunction with the ship’s drive and allow his escape.
This angers Kang, who jumps into battle and repels the revolt with his superpowered suit. Kang has no qualms with vaporizing anyone within his eyesight. At this point, the entire film becomes a bit of a mess as the battle developments in the final act all stem from convenience… there’s no ingenuity showcased with the heroes or the villains for that matter.
Imagine Han Solo swooping in during the Death Star attack run to save Luke Skywalker, but it happens multiple times in this film. Starting with Hope saving Scott inside the ship’s multiverse drive and now Hank Pym’s legion of highly evolved ants comes in to save the day. The ants attack Kang and take down his minions. There’s no real writing talent on display with the plotting of this film.
The writer tries to tie in flashbacks to Hank Pym’s hearing aids as some sort of groundwork excusing the absurdity of nameless and characteristic-less ants coming to the rescue.
The family all escape back to Earth except Scott Lang, who is tasked with a fist to fist confrontation with Kang. All the while, Cassie, Hope, Janet, and Hank wait on the other side of the portal… no one thinking they should go back and check on things.
Scott puts up a not so commendable round of boxing against a wounded Kang. He is the superior warrior even without his suit. As Kang attempts to enter the portal back to Earth, Hope van Dyne finally (and conveniently) steps back through and shoots Kang with her wrist cannons. This brief confrontation ends with Kang’s demise and for a moment it seems that we’ll be leaving Scott and Hope trapped in the Quantum Realm with their new intelligent ant friends.
However, the portal is reestablished by Cassie and the happy family is reunited on Earth, ending the film with another inane voice over detailing the events of the film and contemplating what Kang meant about the dangers ahead for Marvel’s heroes.
The entire film is an odd but enjoyable affair that’s best not to deeply analyze if you want to maintain a favorable opinion of the product from Marvel’s assembly line. The tonal issues and convenience of the script are enough to warrant the numerous negative reviews of the film.
I can think of no better example than when MODOK goes from trying to (once again) kill Lang’s daughter to suddenly becoming a good guy because he doesn’t want to “be a dick.” A viewer will either laugh and go with this moment or shake their head in contempt. I chose the former and I admittedly did chuckle during MODOK’s hyperbolic death speech when he says he’s “Scott Lang’s brother” and “He’s an Avenger now.”
“Quantumania” excels with its impressive visual landscape and its charming cast making the most of the lines given. It certainly benefits from Pfeiffer’s expanded role, proving that she’s one of the rare timeless talents that can bring gravitas to a role beyond what the page offers.
Having left “Thor: Love and Thunder” underwhelmed and scratching my head, and having felt utterly disappointed with “Dr. Strange and The Mulitverse of Madness,” this film was a welcome return to familiar characters acting in the ways that we’ve come to know the characters.
However, it’s clear that the production line at Marvel is prioritizing quantity and interconnected storytelling over the servicing of its characters, particularly in their standalone films.
Letter Grade: B-