For those keeping track at home, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While there has been no indication of Marvel slowing down and also no tangible evidence that audiences around the world are getting tired of these films to any capacity, it’s still insane to me that we are now at film #31 in this on-going series (granted, these are franchises within franchises and we are also withholding the Disney+ specials and series) – and Quantumania feels appropriately like you’d expect a 31st film to feel. Aside from a quick and cute introductory period where Paul Rudd can do his loveable-schtick for about less-than 10 minutes, the film begins with little-to-no warm-up time; immediately throwing you back into the ringer of references to past events and the larger multiverse shenanigans that are at-play within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film moves at such a rapid speed that it became abundantly clear to me that we are so far behind the days of old when a regular movie-goer could step into an auditorium for one of these films with no baggage and be fine – you either have to be completely down the rabbit hole of lore and characters, or you’ll be almost entirely lost within the overarching plan that Marvel Studios has up their sleeves.
This isn’t to say Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the main culprit to this larger issue, because these criticisms have been around long before today. But as a fan of these films and an avid comic collector/reader myself, even I found myself a bit overwhelmed with everything Quantumania was throwing at me and the rate at which it was pitching. There is also a deeper issue here in how the exposition is at an all-time low in terms of how it truly never once tries to disguise itself as anything but exposition – hearing actors like Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas in particular spout expository, need-to-know information about the Quantum Realm and the Multiverse at the audience with no grace is… tiring and a little disheartening as someone who thinks Marvel Studios’ has actually done a fantastic job at world-building up-until this point. This is also in the-mix with some truly atrocious editing choices and awful use of visuals, particularly in the first act. This all makes for an incredibly bumpy start to an already dense and wacky movie.
One of the biggest departures with this latest entry is how different it feels from the other films in the Ant-Man series. Sure, they are all wacky sci-fi adventures and the general conceit of Ant-Man as a character is funny to begin with; but whereas those films were street-level movies that introduced sci-fi, they were completely character-focused and mostly small-scale. Within the first ten-or-so minutes of the film, Quantumania finds our heroes sucked into the Quantum Realm and faced with the nichest of characters, plot points, and simply egregious attempts at world-building/univerese-expanding that the MCU has attempted thus far. The first 30 minutes of the film are extremely rough from both a filmmaking standpoint as well as a basic storytelling standpoint; and it had me fearing that I was watching the worst MCU movie to-date.
However, the film has a major saving grace (no pun-intended) within Jonathan Majors – who plays the main antagonist of the film, Kang the Conqueror. For anyone who watches the Marvel series’ on Disney+, you will recognize Majors from the finale of Loki‘s first season where Majors played He Who Remains. In Quantumania, Majors plays Kang – a much more nefarious variant of He Who Remains. Not only does the introduction of Kang provide some much-needed focus and purpose to the story of the film, Majors genuinely delivers a fantastic performance as Kang, just as he did with He Who Remains in Loki. Kang is menacing, terrifying, sympathetic, and most of all a simply magnetic screen-presence from the moment he arrives in the film; he also serves as a perfect anthesis to that of Scott Lang and Paul Rudd’s general good-nature. Lang is a man who has lost so much time with his daughter Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton) – and Kang is a man who doesn’t even view time as valuable, but a prison that is meant to be broken out of. They have such different beliefs, and it’s genuinely riveting to see them go head-to-head. This is such a different feel and tone than the first 30 minutes of the film; because it feels like something actually matters.
The introduction of Kang and his hold over Lang throws the film into a fun albeit brief segment of taking the franchise back to it’s heist-roots and also paves way for a genuinely enthralling third-act battle (especially impressive if you see it in IMAX) that fully takes advantage of all the wacky concepts previously introduced. By the end of the film, you’re left with a moderately entertaining time with a fantastic performance from Jonathan Majors and Paul Rudd being likable as always. Quantumania is mostly inoffensive and I think most fans will have a decent time with it, but there is also a big part of me that feels a bit disappointed that the film went so-far down the rabbit hole that it lost some of (luckily not all) the charm and small-scale of the previous two entries. This isn’t even including what I have to say about the character of MODOK (which I fear might be too spoilery, so tune-into our podcast this week) or where the film leaves off.. but as it stands, Quantumania is entertaining and charming in spades with enough intrigue for the “bigger picture” to make it an essential watch for Marvel fans, but I am still a bit let-down by it as a whole.