A film review by Craig J. Koban March 8, 2023


2023, PG-13, 125 mins.


Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man  /  Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne / The Wasp  /  Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror  /  Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang  /  Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne  /  Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym  /  Bill Murray as Lord Krylar  /  Katy O'Brian as Jentorra  /  William Jackson Harper as Quaz  /  Jamie Andrew Cutler as XOLUM  /  David Dastmalchian as Veb  /  Randall Park as Jimmy Woo  /  Gregg Turkington as Dale

Directed by Peyton Reed  /  Written by Jeff Loveness




The main problem with ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is - paradoxically enough - that it's too overstuffed and...well...big for its own good and seems to forget what made the first film in the series such a refreshing and subversive delight.   

One of the reasons that I thought that 2015's ANT-MAN worked so well (and within the larger MCU) is that it was less concerned with slavishly continuing on massive franchise story arcs for AVENGERS films to come and instead honed in on telling an origin tale of a working class everyman hero and his small scale adventures.  Ant-Man is an outlandish super hero, to be sure, but director Peyton Reed knew how to harness the inherent silliness of the character and embrace it with a storyline that melded weird science fiction with action, comedy and heist picture sensibilities.  Paul Rudd was also pitch perfectly cast as the titular character, not to mention that the primary fun of that first ANT-MAN film was showing him interacting with everyday objects, but from a bug-sized perspective.  When oh-so-many super films feature climaxes involving massive CG armies duking it out with heroes amidst city destruction porn, it sure was a treat to see the finale of ANT-MAN take place on a child's toy set in her bedroom. 

I really enjoyed ANT-MAN, but was only modestly taken in with its inevitable sequel in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, which - to be fair - was placed in the unenviable position to be the first MCU entry to come out directly after the hellish cliffhanger of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.  Rudd and company were still delightful in that sequel, but ultimately it suffered from an overstuffed script that was trying to do too much and cater towards larger arcs to come (in short, it was a mid-tier MCU placeholder effort).  This brings me to the longwinded titled ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA, which I was eagerly awaiting as a return to form for not only Scott Lang and his clan, but also for the greater MCU, which has given us Phase Four offerings that have ranged from just okay (DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS) to middling (BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER) to god-awful and wrongheaded (I'm looking at you, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER).  Sadly, this second ANT-MAN sequel and 31st (wow!) MCU entry fails as a worthy solo follow-up and future MCU world builder, mostly because it commits the cardinal sequel sin of believing that bigger equates to better.  That, and I was frankly shocked by how little I cared for anyone or anything in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA; it's like a two hour video game demo reel of endlessly numbing CGI excess masquerading as a movie.  And poor Paul Rudd and his supporting cast (so infectiously spirited in the past) seem hopelessly lost amidst this new film's visual madness and chaos. 

Worse yet, most of this third ANT-MAN outing doesn't take place in our real world at all, but rather the sub-atomic world within our world known as the Quantum Realm (more on that in a bit).  We're re-introduced to post-AVENGERS: ENDGAME Scott Lang, who's not only relatively happy with his new soul mate in Hope (aka The Wasp, Evangeline Lily), but is now trying to cash in big time from his fame as a super hero and saver of the world.  Unfortunately, Lang's Ant-Man isn't in the same stratosphere of popularity and hero worship as, say, Iron Man, Thor, or Spider-Man, which leads to some awkward social interactions with people on the street having no idea who he is (I appreciate how the ANT-MAN films wisely acknowledge with a wink to the audience that the character has always been considered more B-grade on a level of notoriety and importance).  While trying to push his self-penned memoir on the masses, he's forced to bail his teenage daughter Cassie (newcomer Kathryn Newton) out of jail, not to mention that she possesses a near Tony Stark-ian intellect and has been tinkering with Pym Particles and devices that connect to the Quantum Realm.  Scott is a proud papa when he learns this, as is Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who's been secretly helping Cassie.  Not impressed is Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), whom you may recall was stuck in the Quantum Realm for a near eternity and thinks having a gadget connected to it is foolishly reckless.



Turns out that she was right, as Cassie's experimental device accidentally zaps them all to the Quantum Realm, which is an alien landscape populated by all sorts of bizarre creatures. Realizing that they all are trapped there with no apparent exit strategy and ability to get back to their normal plane of reality, Scott and company plot their next move, but Janet is especially cautious, mostly because she knows of the existence of Kang (Jonathan Majors) down there, who's an all-powerful Thanos-wannabe that - while trapped in the Quantum Realm - has built up his own micro-verse army and will stop at nothing to escape from exile. He manages to easily capture Scott and Cassie and threatens to murder the latter if Scott does help him steal an orb of immense power that can not only get him out of the Quantum Realm, but allow for him to destroy multiple timelines and universes in the process. Scott begrudgingly agrees, and while he's attempting his caper, the remaining heroes launch a counter-offensive to end this madman's quest and return everyone home.

Rudd himself remains in good form as his light-hearted hero, who deep down knows that he's not the most powerful or well known Avenger, but nevertheless strives to attain some level of independence and increase his celeb status (sometimes, he fails miserably, like during one of his book readings that appears to have only a couple of people in attendance).  Ant-Man might be the only super hero in movie history that (a) has been to jail and (b) has also been fired from Baskin Robbins, and I liked how ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA reminds viewers that this divorced dad ex-con has definitely gone through the ringer and is trying to desperately re-earn some respect from people, especially his daughter Cassie, whom he has been semi-estranged from for years.  She resents him for not being around for her during his super hero exploits, not to mention that he's spending an unhealthy amount of time trying to peddle his LOOK OUT FOR THE LITTLE GUY memoir (great title!).  This sequel earns some points for establishing this daughter as a more prominent character in her own right this time, and Newton seems to be enjoying her time as this expanded upon teenage hero who has a chip on her shoulder and a lot to prove to everyone around her.  Pfeiffer herself also gets to do considerably more heavy hitting in terms of the narrative, and her character is now a driven force that propels much of the story's momentum forward as the one with the most insight regarding the Quantum Realm.  Not fairing as well, though, is the other titular hero in The Wasp herself, and it's kind of staggering how little Lily is afforded to do in this sequel.  Instead of being a larger power broker in the stakes, she's more or less reduced to a supporting player on the sidelines of her own team-up movie with Scott (furthermore, this film and the last sequel still kind of falters when it comes to establishing Scott and Hope as a genuine romantic pairing, and Rudd and Lily don't have much in the way of - ahem! - sizeable chemistry together).

Then there is a strange cameo by Bill Murray as one of the Quantum Realm's human inhabitants that goes nowhere (and he's never seen again soon afterwards) as well as the introduction to a prominent big-headed adorned antagonist that's handled so laughably and poorly that it will leave many Marvel Comics fundamentalists throwing their hands up in the air out of incredulous disgust.  Beyond the questionable handling of some of its heroes, the main misgiving I have with ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is that a majority of the entire film is stranded in the Quantum Realm, which renders all of the actors performing on greenscreen soundstages and playing opposite of the weird psychedelic extra-terrestrial landscapes of this world.  The art direction and overall aesthetic of this universe within MCU is nifty and kind of retro-sci-fi cool in dosages, especially when it comes to creature design and the vibrant vistas that dominate it, but it's all just ostentatious and cartoonish eye candy that makes this ANT-MAN adventure lacking anything tangible and relatable.  The film is so artificial looking that it all but neutered my emotional buy-in to the stakes of the story.  And what a misappropriation of the great cinematographer Bill Pope, who gave THE MATRIX films and the work of Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright such a distinct visual personality, but here his esteemed talents are all but drowned over by the aggressive preponderance of computer effects and environments on display.    

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA also seems oddly heavy in its expositional lifting while also not having much of an overarching plot to speak of during the course of its two hours.  We have to get re-introduced to the idea of the Quantum Realm and - once the characters are trapped there - we get a crash course of what can and can't happen down there (I found myself asking a lot of questions about the scientific logic of this unfathomably small world, but perhaps that's just a fool's errand).  We also need to know about the proverbial big new baddie in Kang as well, who's indeed a sinister new menace for Lang and his squad that certainly represents a scary force for the larger MCU.  The casting of Majors is one of the film's finer coups, and the actor most definitely steals scenes away from others as his creepily soft-spoken agent of galactic terror.  And like all megalomaniac villains in super hero fiction, he constantly feels righteous in his quest to decimate what could be billions of people and worlds.  Majors is the jolt to the system that this third ANT-MAN needed to maintain the audience's attention, but sometimes this villain seems to be somewhat inconsistently written...or even just underwritten.  The actor behind this madman is solid and can do wonderful things in this potentially juicy role, but there's not much to Kang on the page as a fully fleshed out baddie. He's insane, conflicted, a genius, all powerful, and wants to destroy universes when he can...and that's about it.  It's somewhat sad that a being this intimidating and godlike is reduced to having what amounts to a fistfight with the main hero in the end to settle things (despite the fact that he appears to have the power to nearly snap him out of existence).  That had me asking too many questions, as did the film's multiple end credit scenes.  More now than ever, I feel like I need to have a PhD in Marvel Comics history to understand just what in the hell is happening on screen while watching these films...or that I have to quickly search out Wikipedia for more information that the film itself doesn't supply.

This brings me - in closing - to the other pressing issue with ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA: It's another building block entry to propel more sizeable MCU (and AVENGER) installments to come versus just being a good solo outing in its own right with good standalone merits.   Ant-Man will always be but one cog among many in the larger MCU spinning wheel, but this sequel seems myopically focused on establishing another apocalyptic threat in Kang for the unavoidable next team-up picture as opposed to evolving the story of Scott Lang and his smaller world within the MCU.  There's also a heavy adherence here to ever-increasingly stale MCU conventions that are bogging most of these Phase Four films and increasing franchise fatigue (we get quippy banter when people should be shocked for their lives, large scale battles involving armies of CG monsters, mystical MacGuffins that the heroes and villains want, rampant third act chaos that threatens to destroy the fabric of reality...yadda yadda).  Granted, the ANT-MAN films should be whimsical, but even QUANTUMANIA seems bereft of hearty laughs and pure fun factor; it's more exhausting and numbing than enjoyable.   I loved the sense of quaintness to the first ANT-MAN, but here we get too much noisy spectacle that suffocates the picture.  ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA going bigger has ironically shrunk this series to one of diminishing qualitative returns.

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