Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – Big Scale but Small Imagination
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania sees the franchise tackle a bigger scale, but it ends up being to the film’s detriment.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Film Review
It’s been a while since anyone has seen Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). No, that isn’t a gag related to the character’s ability to shrink down to the size of the insect his superhero persona is named after. The bite-sized protagonist has been lying in wait since saving the universe with his Avengers colleagues in Endgame. Scott Lang, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), and the rest of the insect-inspired gang are back for the third instalment in their small-scale adventures, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Director Peyton Reed pulls out all the stops this time around, creating an adventure that aims to have more stakes than the first two entries, which may be both a positive and a negative.
Scott has benefitted from a rather cozy, celebrity lifestyle since doing away with Thanos in the last Avengers flick. People recognize him on the street, his morning cup of Joe from his preferred coffee shop is always on the house, and the book he’s written concerning his universe and timeline-altering escapades sells well. His daughter Cassie, now played by Kathryn Newton, is not such a straight shooter. Then again, nor was Scott once upon a time. Cassie is very involved in socio-political issues and her actions of choice landed her sent to the slammer, where Scott and Hope go to collect her before paying Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeifer) a visit for dinner.
It’s there that Cassie reveals, much to Janet’s chagrin, that she too spent the years after “the snap” studying the Quantum Realm, even sending a signal down there with some high-tech wizardry. As established in the previous Ant-Man adventure, Janet spent many years in the Realm and, as viewers discover in Quantumania, she made the acquaintance of a very powerful, very scary foe: Kang (Jonathan Majors). Before they know it, the quintet is transported back into the microscopic universe where they must face this new antagonist in all his wrath and bloodthirstiness.
Learning From One’s Mistakes
Whatever qualities the first two films in this Ant-Man trilogy were graced with (to be clear, both are among the lesser-loved MCU entries), a recurring complaint was that they felt too small in scale, no pun intended. Director Peyton Reed himself has described his chapters as “palette cleansers” after the mega-productions that were Age of Ultron and Infinity War.
This changes with Quantumania, which ups the scale, whilst ironically sending the five heroes into the smallest world they’ve ever been in. Hank is surprised at how different the Realm looks than he previously imagined, to which Janet replies it’s only because he couldn’t see its multiple worlds. First multiverses, now multiple worlds within the Quantum Realm itself. Forgive the layperson who finds it difficult to make heads or tails of who is who, what is what and on which theoretical planet any of these adventures transpire anymore.
Be that as it may, in the world that Scott, Cassie and the gang spend the majority of the film on there is a nomadic people led by Jentorra (Katy O’Brian). Their society is hunted down by the aforementioned Kang, who himself has a right-hand assassin, the identity of which shan’t be revealed here. Kang, as Janet relates, was in fact banished to the Realm (again, no spoilers) and once there he took advantage of the situation to make it his empire to gather strength.
Therein lies the heart of one of the script’s relative strengths. Just as Cassie fought the good fight the only way she knew how in her world, so too she feels the inexorable pull to help the less fortunate in this infinitesimal universe. Scott, on the other hand, is quite happy with his post-Endgame comfort and is less keen on fighting a big new baddie. He’d rather just protect Cassie to get out of Dodge. It was Cassie’s initial curiosity that led her to contact the Realm, just as it was Janet’s good nature to help out Kang before she knew his true colours. As such, the film plays on the notion of living with one’s past mistakes and making the best of how the cards lay. It’s not the worst idea, although anyone with a cursory memory of the first film will remember that that was ostensibly its message too. A nice message, albeit wholly unoriginal, even within the context of the MCU.
Small Characters, Big Charisma
It should also be stated that however pedestrian Peyton Reed’s direction can be at times, he gets strong performances out of his cast members. At no point has Paul Rudd ever disappointed in the starring roles in the Ant-Man movies or when he’s been a supporting player in other adventures. His mostly effortless charm and playful single-mindedness go a long way in pushing the film to the finish line. Michelle Pfeifer also gives it her all as Janet. There is a palpable sense of culpability in her performance, which makes perfect sense under dire circumstances.
Those who know the titles of the upcoming MCU entries are aware that there is more Kang on the horizon. No plot details shall be divulged as to who he is exactly in Quantumania, but suffice it to say that Jonathan Majors, cheap-looking costume and all, gives a genuinely threatening performance. It remains to be seen what the public at large thinks of the character, especially when Thanos turned out to be quite the titanic threat, but Majors’ Kang is definitely creepy. More than once he demonstrates a lust for violence that hasn’t been seen often in a Marvel movie. It isn’t the actor’s first rodeo (he was terrific in The Harder We Fall and Devotion), and he comes off convincingly as a big baddie.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else that’s noteworthy in Quantumania. For lack of a smarter way to put this, not many MCU films have looked very nice. That sounds like a rather pedestrian, vague criticism to level a film with, and to an extent it is. The author admits as much. That said, in many shots, it is quite difficult to pinpoint what exactly the viewer is supposed to pay attention to.
There are so many computer-enhanced blues, browns, darker browns, purples, oranges and whatnot that it ends up looking like a mess. Style is absent. Rather, the picture, at least once the characters enter the Quantum Realm, is reminiscent of an unspeakable number of post-apocalyptic films that have come before it. The difference is that several of its predecessors had the decency to give the production design and special effects an identity. Frankly, Quantumania just looks like “stuff” tossed onto the screen to see what sticks, and what does isn’t very inspiring.
The same goes for the action which, in true MCU fashion, is poorly lit, choppily edited, and resembles a confusing and very loud cartoon. Yes, these are harsh criticisms, and there is no doubt that many people will enjoy the movie regardless. Good for them. Movies are meant to be fun and to be enjoyed. Still, three films into his MCU tenure and Peyton Reed has yet to truly knock one out of the park, and, just based on aesthetics alone, Quantumania is the worst of the bunch.
The End But Not the End
Whilst we dance around major plot details, the whole “universe-altering event that must be halted in order to protect everything we know and love” is a bit played out at this point in the series. How many more times can a lone Avenger take on yet another candidate for the scariest, most dangerous villain? It’s a business. These movies are created to make money and, hopefully, entertain some people in the process. But these plots are like beating a dead horse at this point.
Thanos was the big boss of a story arc that spanned over a decade. To Kevin Feige’s credit and that of all the people involved in creating those films, it was pretty darn solid. Do we need a bigger, meaner one? At what point does it begin to feel as if our collective imagination has also shrunk down to the size of an ant?