Directed by Peyton Reed — Screenplay by Jeff Loveness.
Trilogies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t really trilogies. You can’t watch the Iron Man or Captain America trilogies without knowing what happens in the Avengers films. Or, of course, you can, but it would be a strange exercise as those trilogy films eventually reference other films, are reliant on those other films’ setup, or are direct continuations of a film that isn’t technically in that very trilogy. This has also been true of the Ant-Man trilogy. If you just watch Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp (both directed by Peyton Reed), you’ll definitely have some questions about why Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest and about what the hell happened in the 2018 sequel’s mid-credits scene, in which most of the cast suddenly disappeared (thus stranding Scott Lang in the so-called Quantum Realm). Similarly, those who have decided to live under a rock (or simply ignore every other Marvel movie — including two of the biggest films of all time) would probably be really confused as to what happened between the 2018 sequel and this 2023 sequel. I suspect very few people would find themselves in that situation, but I mention all of this because the interconnected nature of the incredible achievement that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can be both very exciting and confusing depending on who you ask.
Fans of the Ant-Man films will probably say that the first two films in the Paul Rudd-led trilogy have been relatively self-contained in spite of the references to other films. It’s true. In broad strokes, those first two films exist in their own little San Francisco family-comedy bubble of the MCU. Well, that is until now. Because Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania breaks open the trilogy for the purpose of telling a story with Scott Lang that can have lasting consequences for the direction the interconnected universe is headed in. While it’s really cool to see an Ant-Man movie being tasked with the kind of epic action-adventure package that is usually reserved for the A-list heroes, Peyton Reed’s third film with the ant-controlling thief-turned-Avenger sometimes appears to buckle under the pressure of the massive interconnected universe.
Since the end of Avengers: Endgame, the MCU has had a lot of fun with Scott Lang (still played by Paul Rudd). Every now and again, references have been made to his growing status as a famous Avenger, who even published his own memoir. In Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, we find him as he is enjoying the safe newfound celebrity life. People treat him kindly on the streets of San Francisco, they greet him (and sometimes misidentify him as Spider-Man), and people of all ages listen with great enthusiasm to his tell-all adventures detailed in his popular memoir. He even likes to listen to the sound of his voice. But all isn’t fine and dandy. Scott is saddened and frustrated by the time he missed with his daughter — Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton), who is now a young adult that has taken an interest in science and the less fortunate — and he wants to make up for the lost time. During a family dinner, word gets out that Cassie has experimented with Quantum sciences and she has specifically designed a device that can send a signal into the Quantum Realm. This frightens Janet van Dyne (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who once spent three decades in the Quantum Realm. Suddenly, something from inside the Quantum Realm pulls them — Scott, Janet, Cassie, Hope (played by Evangeline Lilly), and Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) — into the dangerous subatomic realm that is beyond time and space. They find themselves divided, and now Janet’s Quantum Realm secrets are about to come back to haunt them all.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has a bit of an identity crisis. Yes, on the one hand, it has most of the ingredients that make up a good Ant-Man movie, but, on the other hand, in blowing up Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man trilogy to epic interconnected-universe-defining proportions it has also lost some of the quirky charms of the missing supporting cast. Though she is mentioned, Judy Greer’s character (the mother of Cassie Lang) is sorely missing in every ‘family dinner’ scene, and it’s equally upsetting that Scott Lang’s friends that made the first film, especially, so special are just not there at all. It’s an understandable trade-off because one film couldn’t contain all that and still be tasked with the job of setting up the future of the MCU. In the past, films with such a task, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, have suffered because of how clumsy, clunky, and side-tracking this can be for the given film. And Quantumania does suffer because of this, I just think it’s mostly in what is left out of the film because of this focal change (though it is also a little bit silly that the premise relies on the idea that Janet decided not to tell her scientist husband or the Avenger that she has family dinners with about what happened in the Quantum Realm — that notion is a bit of a stretch).
It isn’t the only notable problem, I must say. Quantumania also has issues when it comes to its reliance on visual effects and the pace with which it tells its story. While there are some really good-looking corners of the Quantum Realm (and cool-looking backgrounds), there are just as many times when the backgrounds look video gamey to an extent that it may momentarily shatter your suspension of disbelief because the live-action characters stand out so much. To add to that, the film is breathlessly paced. Everything just goes by so fast that the scenes you cut from-and-back-to feel too close together and too short. There is virtually no breathing room. This is especially true of the setup, but also true of the entire film. It only rarely slows down (when they show a flashback in the Quantum Realm). The excessively fast-paced action and fast-cutting become really exhausting during extended action sequences, which, ultimately, just feel like compositions of weightless destruction and empty visual noise. But again, for as many times as these problems occur, there are just as many times when it works.
In spite of these significant problems, I do think the film mostly works as a fast-paced theme park ride-esque film made purely to entertain. This may sound like me damning it with faint praise, but I actually think it is a huge compliment to say that it still mostly works in spite of the aforementioned notable problems. The thing is that the actors that are all there put in great shifts. Paul Rudd is as charming and funny as ever, and it was a great surprise to see just how solid and involved Michelle Pfeiffer is here. Actors like Michael Douglas, Bill Murray, Kathryn Newton, and Evangeline Lilly don’t get as much to work with (which is baffling given that Scott’s relationship with Newton and Lilly’s characters is important for his character’s storyline), but they are still perfectly fine considering they probably worked almost the entire shoot in front of nothing but a green screen. But I have yet to mention the very best thing about the film, which is the performance delivered by Jonathan Majors. Majors had his Marvel debut in the MCU series Loki, but this is his big-screen Marvel debut. Like in Loki, he is magnetically entertaining here, but in Quantumania he is outright imposing. He adds a lot of gravitas to an otherwise quite silly subatomic space epic. The film is at its very best when the camera is pointed at him.
Director Peyton Reed and writer Jeff Loveness have certainly let the film’s tone be defined by their previous work. The film borrows from Star Wars, which Peyton Reed has worked on (episodes of The Mandalorian), and has the same type of wacky sci-fi comedy that you’d see in something like Rick and Morty, of which Loveness has written and produced several episodes. I actually think it mostly succeeds with its tonal balancing act, and I think it is really funny at times. Rick and Morty-style comedy feels like a good fit for this kind of family-focused action adventure, and there are several characters here whose designs and quips are straight out of that show. The comedy here worked better for me than it did in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a mixed bag. It is a breathlessly paced sci-fi superhero epic in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon. As a film, its tonal balancing act owes a lot to both Rick and Morty and Star Wars, but it winds up not really coming anywhere close to the heights of either franchise. One of the reasons why is that, like some of the weaker entries in the MCU, it is more in service of the overall interconnected universe than the actual characters that the previous two films in the trilogy had set up. The performances of Paul Rudd, Michelle Pfeiffer, and, especially, Jonathan Majors elevate the film above the very floor of the beloved interconnected universe. It is a bit of a mess, but an entertaining mess nonetheless.
6 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.