The third installment in the low-key MCU sidebar amps up the stakes with Jonathan Majors at his villainous best
Dir: Peyton Reed. US. 2023. 124mins
With Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces a formidable new villain while grappling with some old issues that have plagued recent instalments of the 15-year-old superhero series. This sequel to 2018’s Ant-Man And The Wasp sends Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang and his cohorts into the Quantum Realm, where they battle the sinister Kang The Conqueror, brought to life compellingly by Jonathan Majors. Quantumania has greater stakes and a grander canvas than the more lighthearted previous chapters of the Ant-Man saga, and the film mostly negotiates the tricky tonal shift — even if the results are more predictable than spectacular.
After 31 films, the MCU is clearly losing steam creatively if not commercially
Disney launches Quantumania in the UK and US on February 17. Ant-Man ($519 million worldwide) and Ant-Man And The Wasp ($623 million) were far from the MCU’s highest-grossing pictures, offering audiences a comic-relief palate cleanser in between epic Avengers adventures. Expect similar returns for Quantumania, in anticipation of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 hitting theatres in three months.
Now a happy couple, Scott (Rudd) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly), a.k.a. Ant-Man and the Wasp, are adjusting to the fact that their cover is blown, making time for Hope’s scientist parents Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) — not to mention Scott’s brilliant daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). But when Cassie surprises the family by announcing that she has found a way to make contact with the Quantum Realm — where Janet had been marooned for decades — the five of them are accidentally sucked into that miniature world, which forces Janet to admit something she has been keeping secret ever since she returned in Ant-Man And The Wasp.
Directed by Peyton Reed, who oversaw the earlier Ant-Man instalments, Quantumania is built on some convoluted circumstances — chiefly, that Janet never told Hank and Hope what she was involved with in the Quantum Realm — but Scott quickly learns that there is a whole civilization residing there. Even more shocking, these beings live in fear of a horrifying foe named Kang (Majors), who controls time but has been imprisoned in the Quantum Realm to keep him from destroying the multiverse.
This sequel takes a little while to find its stride, not just hampered by plotting issues but also a sense of familiarity. Not unlike Thanos, Kang (who first appeared in the Disney+ Loki series) is a seemingly all-powerful villain who wants to wreak havoc, which leads to de rigeur over-the-top fight sequences. Even some individual “hero” moments feel taken directly from previous MCU films, to say nothing of earlier blockbusters such as the original Star Wars trilogy.
That said, what has always been the saving grace of the Ant-Man series is its modest likability, which goes a long way towards making Quantumania feel relatively human-scaled despite its amped-up spectacle. The running joke in the MCU pictures is that, unlike mighty Avengers such as Thor or Iron Man, Scott is a regular guy with less-impressive powers, but it’s a compliment to this new film that Reed and his cast hold onto the character’s ordinariness while putting Scott into a situation where he’ll be tested in an unprecedented way.
Rudd helps enormously in this regard, exuding a genial normalcy while simultaneously shouldering Scott’s emotional arc. Unlike his activist daughter, Scott wants to stop being a do-gooder — as far as he’s concerned, defeating the monstrous Thanos was enough — but he’ll discover that evil doesn’t operate on a timetable, and that heroism is often needed at the most inopportune times.
Majors is the picture’s greatest asset, however, playing the slowly simmering Kang whose soft-spoken style belies the depth of his wickedness. Kang may not be an especially novel villain, but Majors’ magnetic, layered performance brings out the best in his co-stars — especially Rudd and Pfeiffer, whose characters are most impacted by Kang’s cruelty.
Production designer Will Htay has envisioned a Quantum Realm full of trippy colours, although the quantum amounts of CGI can grow tiresome. Quantumania is strongest when it offsets the special effects with one-liners and amusing non sequiturs, although the jokes prove to be somewhat muted because of this film’s more serious scenario. Indeed, this is the least funny of the three Ant-Man pictures although, thankfully, the series’ low-key charm hasn’t been sacrificed in the name of establishing Kang as a striking nemesis. After 31 films, the MCU is clearly losing steam creatively if not commercially, but Majors’ villain should be tormenting the Avengers — and captivating superhero fans — for the foreseeable future.
Production company: Marvel Studios
Worldwide distribution: Disney
Producers: Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard
Screenplay: Jeff Loveness
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Production design: Will Htay
Editing: Adam Gerstel, Laura Jennings
Music: Christophe Beck
Main cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas