'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' review: Bigger stakes equal smaller movie
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
At times a strange and occasionally welcome detour from the expectations thrusted upon a Marvel flick, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” kicks off Phase 5 with massive exposition and little payoff. If you were a fan of the previous two films (guilty as charged) for their low stakes energy complete with the signature Michael Pena fast-talking recap, “Quantumania” couldn’t look and feel more different. By expanding this tiny universe into a bigger (and complicated) narrative scope, it results in a much smaller movie that seeks to jumpstart the next iteration of The Multiverse Saga. The humor is inconsistent, the visuals, while weird and partially engaging, are ugly, and if not for Paul Rudd’s amicable charm and the one, two punch of Johnathan Majors (set up as the next Thanos) playing Kang the Conqueror, the MCU would be in desperate need of some oxygen.
The umpteenth entry in the sprawling, neverending Marvel franchise, “Quantumania” opens with a bridge between its predecessors “Ant-Man” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” because, like most of these interconnected superhero properties, there’s been 10 movies since the last time Paul Rudd suited up in his own solo outing. By default, all of these movies must now open with what’s the basic equivalent of: “previously on.” Indeed, Rudd’s Scott Lang recollects being an Avenger and enjoying his newfound notoriety during an introductory voiceover. Even he can’t believe how he managed to go from convicted burglar to using Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) shrinking particles to travel through time and space, saving half of humanity in the process.
But things get on the weird side in “Quantumania,” which depending on your tolerance and comic book knowledge, could sway your overall enjoyment. I miss the days where Scott used his real-world surroundings for Ant-Man shenanigans (bring back the oversized Pez dispenser!). When Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton - new to the franchise), sends out a signal into the forbidden Quantum Realm, the response immediately thrusts herself, along with her dad, Hank, Janet (Michelle Pfiffer), and Hope, aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) into the microscopic world.
And the next 30 minutes thereafter is a non-stop barrage of easter eggs, visual dreck, and plenty of “Star Wars” inspired world-building (one has to wonder if director Peyton Reed is trying to plant a seed within the Disney empire). There’s a half-baked rebellion brewing among the realms population (headed by mind-readers, a pink gooey looking substance who’s obsessed with holes, and a discount Mr. Electro from “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl”). It’s all in service of setting up the big baddie, Kang the Conqueror and it’s here where mega-star Jonathan Majors puts this struggling movie on his back.
He injects some much needed heft into a movie who’s best idea of humor involves Bill Murray, in an unnecessary cameo, drinking an octopus. The idea of Kang and his entire motivation provides a spark for the MCU that, until now, hasn’t been clear in the direction it’s steering. He’s dangerous and gives Scott a tough ultimatum where if he doesn’t do what he asks, there will be hell to pay. Ardent fans, especially ones who watched the Disney+ series “Loki,” will know Kang’s true intentions, but casual viewers (if there are any at this point) might be left confused. There’s more questions than answers and don’t even get me started on the inclusion of niche character MODOK, a dispensable baddie who doesn’t make a successful leap from page-to-screen.
The MCU has always been a steady stream of content meant to hype the next installment, but in its heyday, it could be counted on to have solid performers as marquee heroes. Now, with its shifty timelines and expansive television series, things are more of a chore and the visual effects are afterthoughts. “Quantumania” is a huge eye sore where every component is digital aside from the actors who were added in post production. This puts an extra burden on the humans: Rudd and Newton make a good, solid pair and I could’ve done more with the father/daughter mini-training sessions teased throughout the movie.
Still, fans will appreciate the breadcrumbs being laid for the next phase of whatever Marvel is cooking up and if the two juicy post-credit scenes are any indicator, perhaps there might be something to be excited about. Let’s just hope there’s room to grow.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA opens in theaters Friday, February 17th.