Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Audiences weren’t exactly showing up in swarms – by MCU standards – for the Ant-Man movies anyway. This was, perhaps, down to the character, or to the personable nondescript-ness of Paul Rudd, or the comedy-first angle of a superhero who can shrink down very small or grow very large. Scott Lang is more of a goof than a hero, so making his movies ever more ensemble in aspect – now daughter comes too! – was perhaps inevitable. But that aspect, combined with the more serious, ponderous even, visit to the Quantum Realm in this third instalment, succeeds only in diminishing Ant-Man’s relatively distinctive calling card. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania may not be the worst Marvel movie – it isn’t even the worst out of the last two big-screen MCUs – but it isn’t much cop.
Scott: “Am I the Hulk’s baby?”
The Phase V opener – Marvel couldn’t even manage a shout out to the best ant movie ever by positioning Quantumania as part of “Phase IV” – starts as this latest group of films and TV series doubtless means to go on: faint-heartedly. Given the consistently mediocre-at-best output since 2019, one must assume there’s a controlled demolition of the MCU – along with Lucasfilm – in process at this point. The most singularly identified factor in this decline has been placing wokeness above all else, most specifically storytelling, with only the Sony co-production Spider-Man: No Way Home escaping such designs (and duly making a mint). It may be that upping the ante on this ethos, to general dismay, is a public-face method of engineering a permanent end to the Evil Empire: first obliterate its unassailable cash cows. Sure, it could be a case of a sudden lurch into pronounced ineptitude on Kevin Feige’s part, all that shrewd planning giving way to across-the-board stinker choices, but given previous form, I’d have said, if anyone could have sold woke successfully, it would have been him. Perhaps, in retrospect, the stunning “Sisters are doing it for themselves” line-up of B-superheroines in Endgame’s third act was the writing on the wall.
And then you have to factor in Chadwick Boseman vanishing from the MCU’s most acclaimed new title (the theory being that he’s actually still alive and well). Paul Rudd, a White Hat, perseveres here, soldiering on dutifully, resolutely game and unaffected, even though he knows he isn’t really the guy for extreme dramatics when squared against Phase V’s Big Bad.
Kang: What’s coming? Me. A lot of me. they exiled me. Down here. they’re afraid of me.
Oh yeah. Jonathan Majors. What were the chances of a (potentially) devastating domestic violence charge being levelled at the MCU’s newly anointed most major player, the designated villain of 2025’s The Avengers: The Kang Dynasty? Besides which, he’ll be in Loki Season 2 and Kang variants are doubtless due to be sprinkled across the next two years to build up the hype/threat. That is, for anyone actually interested in seeing The Marvels (Captain Marvel being so poisonous, they changed the sequel’s name), Captain America: New World Order (with a non-super Cap no one cares about), Thunderbolts (C-list characters one and all) and Blade (not Wesley Snipes: nuff said). William Goldman may have said nobody knows anything in Hollywood, but in the broader world (and actual universe), nothing is a coincidence.
I didn’t think Quantumania was outright terrible, but it’s inelegantly plotted, often rather dull and plays to no one’s strengths. Peyton Reed is saddled with wall-to-wall green screen, and the resulting compositions often look like he’s at a loss, settling on Wes Anderson-esque tableau. The FX themselves have been singled out for criticism; I didn’t see this on the big screen (heaven forfend), so may have been spared the worst, but they didn’t seem markedly ropier than other recent MCU patchwork efforts. MODOK is rubbish, but he’s a rubbish concept anyway. There are several scenes of doubling up a character that show the ability to make it seem seamless hasn’t moved on much since the early days (ironically, the infinite Scotts work better than the three or four Kangs seen in the coda). There’s a mixed-bag palette, both dour and Gunn-colourful (with creatures to match).
Scott: This is not our fight.
In terms of that inelegant plot, our heroes – Hank, Janet, Hope, Cassie and… Scott (easy to forget him) – are soon sucked into the quantum realm when Cassie develops a “subatomic quantum telescope” in the basement. It becomes quickly evident that Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) conveniently omitted to inform anyone else of what gives down there, and how arch-fiend Kang was exiled from his own selves and set himself up there. Which means a lumpen, momentum-draining flashback is required to explain this. So Jane gets to be all sexagenarian kickass in her efforts to sort things out. Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank (Michael Douglas) don’t do much, but neither do they vacillate the way manly main hero Scott does, more concerned with getting Cassie (Kathryn Newton) home than fighting evil (indeed, it’s stressed that he’s pretty much doing f-all, aside from book signings, and pretty much everyone else, most of all his next-gen daughter, is more morally focussed and expressly intent. Less a toxic white male than an ineffectual one).
Actually, we are told of Hope “Now she’s using the Pym Particle for global change. Reforestation. Affordable housing. Food production. She’s not wasting a second”. Which means, what, a utopia on Earth? And while one might argue Cassie – messes up by dragging her family into the Quantum realm – and Janet – messes up by helping Kang out in the first place – haven’t entirely acquitted themselves, at least their intentions were other than sitting indolently on their asses. So not quite full-blown Mary Sue-ing, but compared to Scott and Hank (his friends the ants come through for him), not far off. Also in the wokesphere, Cassie is intimated to have the hots for Jentorra (Katy O’Brian) – “Damn, you’re cool” – which may be the magic of the Rainbow Utopian Parallel crossing the striations of the multiverse, or it may simply be because Jentorra is so manly (certainly more manly than any of the men in the movie).
Kang: Have I killed you before?
Bill Murray barely makes a dent in one scene as an old freedom fighter/flame of Janet. Majors is… fine, I guess? More effective than his variant in Loki Season 1, certainly, but fashioning interesting villains has never been the MCU’s forte, and this one comes armed with a few insights into the ways of the universe – “Time. It’s not what you think it is. It’s a cage”; “I don’t live in a straight line” – but isn’t especially witty, erudite or involving.
Hank: Darren? Holy shit, Darren. What happened to you?
The other noteworthy presence is Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, repurposed as the comics’ MODOK. The thing about rendering the character “in the flesh” (or CGI), is that, for all its overt cartoonishness, it’s a rather grotesque concept. You know, in a similar manner to the gnarliness of actually addressing Robocop being more machine than man, and the implications thereof. Jeff Loveness, as a stalwart of the inherently corrupted Rick and Morty, inevitably plays Cross’ fate for queasy laughs; MOLOK’s a “big face” with “baby legs”. Ultimately, shattered/battered Darren is offered an olive branch of salvation – “I don’t know what to be. Tell me what to be” – that might be seen as a cautionary take on irreversible transhumanist transformation (of the sort Disney’s woke message is otherwise pushing). We quickly revert to Rick and Morty form, though, with Darren’s death scene played for laughs (“You always were a brother to me”; “And at least I died an Avenger”).
MOLOK: You’re looking at the possibility of another you. you’re in a Probability Storm.
Perhaps the most interesting conceptual part of the movie, which has an overriding tendency to tell when it should show, is the probable realities Scott encounters. Scott must retrieve Kang’s multiversal power core – Janet oversized it, so he was unable to use it – in the vicinity of which he encounters a multitude of probable selves (Wiki refers to these as variants, à la Kang terminology, however).
This appears, essentially, to be a visualisation of the Seth Material’s take on probable realties, albeit literalised (per Seth, all probabilities or choices one considers have their own reality, and while they do not occupy a physical reality in the sense of our own, as “paths we may have taken, but did not, in physical life” they do seem every bit as real to that probable self as ours does to us). Scott is told he is encountering “every choice you could make existing all at once”, and somewhat facetiously, “You’re inside Schrodinger’s Box and you’re the cat”. Here, they are presented as distractions, fakery to be overcome – “Don’t look at them. they’re just probabilities. They’re not you” – except that, in one of the movie’s few effectively motivated developments, they become a help, rather than a hindrance: “I’ll tell you how. We all want the same thing” (which is to save Cassie).
Also worth mentioning is the way in which, to overthrow the tyrant dictator, a communistic, hive society ethic is needed, via Hank’s ants encountering time dilation (“Thousands of years in a single day”) and coming back transhumanistically – transinsecticidally – advanced. Hank is full of praise for them and suggests “I know socialism is a charged word…” Someone should sit him down in front of Phase IV – the Saul Bass Phase IV – and see how he feels afterwards.
Kang: How many did you call?
Kang: All of us.
By remissness or design, or a combination of the same, the MCU is in a mess. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is expected to make a substantial loss. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will probably do okay, coming as it does from deceased co-chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios James Gunn, but then there’s a Marvels movie also due that everyone is already openly deriding. The best thing Ant-Man 3 could have done would have been to plough its own quirky furrow, rather than getting distracted by cumbersome, laborious arc storylines and Phase-building. I enjoyed the previous instalments – particularly Ant-Man and the Wasp – but Quantumania raises the stakes and succeeds only in drastically diminishing the returns.