2022 was an unusually dull year, by Marvel’s standards, bringing us Doctor Strange, Thor and Black Panther sequels which all rang a little hollow.
2023 now opens with an Ant-Man sequel that hopes to both fascinate and entertain while also raising the stakes for the future of the MCU. After 30 movies, four “phases” and almost 30 billion dollars in box-office earnings, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe now enters Phase 5, with Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania leading the way. But is this massive challenge a little too big for such a tiny hero?
2015’s Ant-Man and its 2018 sequel were jaunty heist romps, with unique and likeable characters, wacky situations and a lot of humour. Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania takes something of a left-turn, isolating the key cast (its two title leads and their immediate family) in the “Quantum Realm” with a bunch of new faces. If you haven’t seen the previous two movies, the story here will definitely be a confusing one. The Quantum Realm is explained as being beyond space and time, reached in the previous movies accidentally by the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, then intentionally and with considerable effort by the rest of her family in their rescue efforts in the sequel.
This time, it’s easily reached by a device made by Kassie Lang, a teenager, using spare parts found in her grandfather’s basement. This is just one of the convenient plot mechanics exploited here to ensure things get off to a speedy start.
Despite this early simplicity and brisk start, once in the Quantum Realm, things slow down considerably and really begin to drag. This has previously been a place of wonder and mystery, with limitless possibilities including, most recently in Avengers: Endgame, time travel. In Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania, the focus shifts from those previously wacky antics of the Ant-Man movies and his appearances elsewhere, to focus on the Quantum Realm and its inhabitants. Some of this pays off, with some entertaining new characters, but other tropes feel a little overplayed. Like the throwaway A-list cameo, used to a far lesser extent than, say, Jeff Goldblum in Thor: Ragnarok, it feels like a real wasted opportunity.
On a more positive note, Michael Douglas continues to revel in his role as Hank Pym and clearly enjoys being a part of this franchise. His involvement in the third act is possibly the best part of the movie, which is itself perhaps one of the best MCU third acts. Paul Rudd also gives a great performance in his fifth starring role as Ant-Man and lends the comedic timing and nuance that only he can. Jonathan Majors also gives a fantastic turn as the tyrannical Kang the Conqueror. His brooding menace is present throughout his appearance and it’s a pleasure to see a villain avoid the familiar MCU trap of being simply the inverse of the hero. The only issue is that the true scale of Kang’s menace is only hinted at in the actual movie, with the after-credits scene holding some key information.
Considering Peyton Reed has now directed all three Ant-Man movies, this one feels like a real departure from what made the others so goofy and enjoyable. There are definitely glimmers of this, with returning characters and continuations of their story arcs, but they’re too thinly-spread that the film severely sags in the middle. Once past the opening half, however, things do open up and it becomes more breezy and enjoyable, switching for the better from overly-serious to suddenly self-aware.
A little less Quantum and a little more Mania would really have benefited Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania. Unfortunately, it takes itself a little too seriously in places, where Ant-Man’s best moments have always laid in the ridiculousness of its characters and their wacky situations. Thankfully, some light humour, great performances and significant onward story-building manage to shine through the shrouded obscurity of the Quantum Realm – and a fantastic finale saves Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania from being seen as dull, but, fittingly, only by the tiniest of margins.