I suppose it’s appropriate that movies starring Ant-Man aka Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) have always been rather “small” in the scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, he showed up for Captain America in 2016’s “Civil War” and played a role in saving the universe in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” but those were parts of a team effort. In movies where he’s been the lead, the character’s contributions to the MCU have mostly been self-contained, with action localized to San Francisco and villains like the miserable Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) never getting off the ground to affect other heroes. New installment “Quantumania” throws that small scale out the window in favor of a whole new world to explore and a villain with long-term ramifications. I liked the smaller movies better, because even with the deceptive strength of an ant, the character isn’t cut out for this sort of heavy lifting.
The film sees Lang, his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), girlfriend Hope van Dyne aka The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) all shrunken down and sent to the mysterious Quantum Realm. Yes, it’s technically infinitesimally small, but to the characters, it’s a big mysterious world. The crew meet some new characters, like hole-obsessed gelatinous blob Veb (David Dastmalchian), exasperated psychic Quaz (William Jackson Harper), smarmy former freedom fighter Krylar (Bill Murray), and a repackaged old character that I believe now holds the title of Worst in the MCU. One look at this character, and the entire movie became instantly irredeemable. I like the actor, but this role is going to haunt him for the rest of his career.
In trying to escape the Realm, Scott and company encounter villain Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Advance word for this movie has told me that the MCU has big plans for Kang down the line, so this is just our first taste of him. I can’t say I’m terribly impressed – not with his character development, not with his ability to carry out a plan, and not with his track record. I suppose he’s intimidating and dangerous enough, but his motivations go little beyond a need to “Conquer” everything, he twice gets sloppy in concealing his megalomaniacal nature, which twice leads to his twice taking losses that will hurt his perception as a threat going forward. Then again, I will say that he’s off to a better start than Thanos, who spent six years as a vague grimacing presence dependent on underlings to do his bidding before he became a decent character.
The special effects are unusually subpar for a movie of this importance. Of course, they’re at their worst when is comes to a certain henchman, but they’re unconvincing elsewhere too. There’s an overreliance on greenscreens, especially when characters are running away from falling rubble. Maybe it’s just that the Quantum Realm environment is so phony that the characters wouldn’t look like they’re in danger anyway. No wonder everyone wants to get out of the place so badly, it’s not worth staying or even Conquering.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” shows early promise with Rudd’s effortless charm and Newton (of the surprisingly-heartfelt horror movie “Freaky”) as the new-and-improved activist version of his daughter, now grown-up thanks to surviving the Snap/Blip. But once the movie stops taking place in a recognizable plane of existence, it loses its relatability. Its legacy in the MCU will be that it marked the first big-screen appearance of Kang, but I’m waiting for the movie that marks the first “good” appearance of Kang.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is rated PG-13 for violence/action, and language. Its running time is 125 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.