Marvel finally solved its villain issue, but it has now forgotten how to create a compelling film.
Well, that’s an overstatement. As the kickstarter to Phase 5, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania had a lot of hype attached to it. It introduces the next big multi-film villain, concludes(?) the Ant-Man trilogy, and hopes to move on from the maligned Phase 4. As the trailers for recent Marvel films have all been excellent blends of popular music with emotional beats, the engine behind Marvel movies is as powerful a force as the movies themselves.
And unfortunately more powerful than the actual films. After the third and forth Avengers movies (mostly) lived up to the hype, every step forward has the weight of expectation. Phase 4 actively went the direction of making loose, barely-connected films, and Quantumania hoped to get things back on track. While Quantumania is not terrible, it is a decidedly average and choppy effort.
In the wake of Endgame, Paul Rudd‘s Scott Lang is enjoying life as a celebrity, and Rudd’s affable monologue sells you on lightweight hijinks while commenting on time lost with his family due to his space-faring Titan shenanigans. His daughter is grown up now, played by Kathryn Newton, and is determined to keep fighting the good fight. That sets up one of the “themes” of the film, about standing up to fight even when the odds are stacked against you. Unfortunately, director Peyton Reed conveys that theme with all the nuance of the prior sentence, shoving it in your face in a shallow way.
Reed loses his way as the heroes are drawn into the Quantum Realm, the micro-dimension that exists outside of time and space. The film juggles being a “space” adventure film, a set-up of Kang the Conquerer as the next big villain, a wacky comedy, a heist film, and trying to convey a theme of family and what makes a hero. Reed does not successfully keep all these balls in the air, though many of the balls are colorful and fun in isolation.
The entire cast is having fun and no one is phoning it in, even though Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer easily could with their rather plainly-written characters. Rudd’s charisma sells many funny moments, and the parts where the film gets truly wacky, such as having talking amoeba characters and Scott talking to multiple versions of himself, embrace the inherent weirdness of comics to great effect. There’s a great essentially-cameo from Bill Murray, and when he’s talking to Douglas and Pfeiffer it feels like an 80s reunion.
The star of the show, though, is Jonathan Majors as Kang. Though the script struggles to clearly establish his motivation, just barely dusting over the ideas of time travel, multiverses, and Kang’s desire to break free of the Quantum Realm, Majors’ acting is such a force that it hardly matters. He brings a presence to the screen that has been matched by only a few Marvel villains, whether its his quiet command and regality or when his anger spills over into brutal rage. The film nearly disservices him by making his goals so ill-explained; though it avoids getting bogged down in exposition, it’s too lightly-explored for Kang to fully work on paper. Majors thankfully solves that.
But for all the film wants to communicate about the importance of the time we have, heroism, and family, there is too much going on for any of it to feel emotionally impactful. The film’s jumpy tone doesn’t create a clash per se, but Quantumania never fully commits enough to one idea. To its credit, the film makes efforts to be a capstone to the trilogy. The fact that this is an Ant-Man and Wasp film isn’t forgotten as they have one or two team-up moments and reaffirm their love for each other in the end. The ants also get a few shining moments. Randall Park‘s Jimmy Woo even gets a brief moment, though Marvel junkies will wish this came with some commentary on what happened in Wandavision.
Corey Stoll’s character from the first Ant-Man also returns as M.O.D.O.K., a villain deep cut that I personally enjoyed seeing, though the film isn’t assured enough of itself to use him, instead leaning too much into mocking the idea of the character and hastily giving him a redemption arc. I appreciated that his final scene doesn’t try to be serious, and openly mocks the idea of caring about what’s happening; it’s a degree of self-awareness that works in that moment.
Quantumania is trying to start the ascent into another big, interconnected story. The weight of prior stories, though, means that trying to start anew leaves many questions unanswered, and it’s unclear why none of the Avengers seem to be communicating with each other anymore. These weaknesses aside, Quantumania is an average movie on its own. The visuals are creative and fun with all sorts of weird and out-there character designs. We get grand futuristic cityscapes and technology, and the final hand-to-hand fight between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Majors’ Kang is satisfyingly brutal, giving some weight to all that came before. It’s just a shame that the script doesn’t do better at making things clearer and gets overburdened by its ideas. It is indeed a Quantumania, for better and worse.