Majors Shines Even as Quantumania Shrinks into the Multiversal Void
As a surprise for her father Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and for Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfieffer), inquisitive teenager Cassie (Kathryn Newton) has been working on a device with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) that can map the Quantum Realm. But Janet’s reaction is far from enthusiastic. She wants the device turned off and destroyed.
Seconds after Janet’s warnings, a strange energy wave pulls all five into the heart of the Quantum Realm. What they discover there is a world beyond imagining, filled with strange creatures and unique civilizations. Scott and Cassie immediately are separated from Hope, Hank, and Janet, and before they can rejoin their family, the two are taken prisoner by a giant mechanical head named M.O.D.O.K. and presented to the ruler of this bewildering land, the all-powerful tyrant and self-proclaimed conqueror Kang (Jonathan Majors).
So begins the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, focusing on the characters first introduced in 2015’s Ant-Man and further developed in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. Set not too far after the events of Avengers: Endgame, not only does this film work overtime to tell a self-contained adventure of family and togetherness, but it also has the unenviable task of setting up the “big bad” for the next few phases of the MCU.
That’s a lot to ask of a character whose best individual moment remains a fight on a miniature Thomas the Tank Engine train track against a pint-sized villain in a mechanical suit that made them look like a weaponized bumblebee. But thanks to returning director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness’ credit, this sequel comes close to pulling off both tasks. There are a handful of undeniably strong moments, most of them involving Majors, Pfieffer, or both in the same scene playing off one another.
But the foundation this multidimensional craziness is built upon isn’t sturdy enough to support all the time-bending, multiversal nonsense. It collapses into visual chaos and audio overload during the final act. There’s no sense of wonder. Any semblance of awe is strangely absent. The humor is forced, and most of the dramatic elements are unnoteworthy. Other than a nice, pleasantly quiet moment between father and daughter amid all the carnage, precious little toward the end provoked an emotional response from me.
On the plus side, the great stuff is legitimately fantastic. The first half spends a ton of time on Janet, during which Pfieffer unsurprisingly dominates. Her performance is stirringly balanced, and the way she evokes fear, resilience, anger, and love with such mesmeric ease is astonishing. Janet has been hiding what happened to her during her 30 years in the Quantum Realm for good reason, and watching Pfieffer work her magic as she travels through so many emotional permutations is something special to behold.
This is nothing compared to what Majors accomplishes, however. As Kang and his variant selves will likely be the major threat confronting the Avengers from here on in, his entry into the MCU had to be something memorable, and dang, is that ever the case. Majors knows when to speak softly, understands exactly when to twist the volume dial up to 11, and showcases a menacing physicality that’s terrifying. His Kang is a force of determined nature that cannot be easily stopped, and I cannot wait to see what else the actor does with the character moving forward.
“Moving forward.” Those two words. That’s the biggest problem that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has working against it. As Marvel announces all of its films so far in advance, even if Scott, Hope, and Cassie end up victorious over Kang, there’s never a doubt that the villain is bound to return sooner rather than later. This makes the final confrontation an unfortunate letdown, for no matter how much effort Majors and Rudd put into their face-off, the idea that anything their characters do to one another has any weight is pretty much zip — and that’s frustrating.
I have plenty of additional quibbles, but most of those have to do with the MCU as a whole (the constant quipping, the overreliance on digital sets, climactic action sequences that look like video game cutscenes, etc.) more than it does this specific escapade. There are some inventive visual touches, and while I understand that this depiction of M.O.D.O.K. is not comic-accurate, I actually liked the way the filmmakers connected the cybernetic creature back to the first Ant-Man.
Look, even with all my reservations, I did enjoy enough of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to be happy I took the time to watch it. Those who love everything Marvel does will likely have a blast, and anyone who enjoyed the main character’s first two solo efforts arguably even more so. But for the rest of us, Ant-Man’s return is notable for the villain and not a lot more, meaning this sequel shrinks into the back of the memory rather quickly, disappearing into the multiversal content void almost as if it never existed in the first place.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)