Review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ has fun, until it doesn’t

Who is the villain in 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania?'
Image: Marvel Studios

Since Ant-Man’s introduction in 2015, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has mutated and transformed significantly from being an interesting franchise movement/experiment, to a behemoth of seemingly never-ending content.

The mini-franchise, which started as a series of palate cleansers that delivered a unique and charming mix of heist pictures, comedy, and action, have now become beholden to the Marvel project at large: building mythos and arcs to get to the next phase and keep things rolling.

This has proven to be the biggest weakness at the heart of many installments, sacrificing interesting ideas, character development, and daring visuals for the bigger story at hand, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is no exception. Although it might be the weirdest, most interesting, and perhaps most fun film of the three, it still has a lot of the same problems plaguing most Marvel blockbuster: an inability to be solid standalone fare that truly shines.

In Quantumania, we find ourselves catching up with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, reliably charming and funny), post-Endgame, happy with his life as an Avenger – even if he’s more focused on selling his new book and taking care of his family than actively protecting San Francisco. His daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is now a teenager following in her dad’s rebellious footsteps, much to Scott’s dismay.

It turns out that she’s also become more interested in the Quantum Realm, where Scott shrunk into and came back from when he went subatomic in the first film, and where Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) disappeared for over 30 years after going subatomic herself. Scott and Janet are the only two who seem concerned at this development, which makes sense given their experiences.

When Cassie reveals that she’s created a device that sends a signal to the Quantum Realm to map out the uncharted territory, Janet freaks out, and then the device malfunctions, sending everyone into the alternate dimension. They’ll have to sort through Janet’s past, make new friends and allies, and come face-to-face with Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, exceptional) – Marvel’s latest big bad for Phase Five and beyond.

There’s a lot of weird, great stuff that happens in the Quantum Realm as our heroes get separated upon entry. Scott and Cassie are given a lot of time to bond and work through some of their relationship issues as they try to find their way back to the others. Meanwhile, Janet, Hank (Michael Douglas, having a good time by all accounts), and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are also forced to talk through the last three decades as they work together to get help and find Scott and Cassie to get home. Along the way, they’ll encounter goo that lets you understand all the Quantum-folks’ languages, and environments that look suspiciously like something from a galaxy far, far away. 

It’s a rich field for character development and exploration of a surreal, new environment, but it only goes so far. Some of it does pay off by the end, but mostly Quantumania uses the journeys and adventures in the Quantum Realm as exposition for Kang, as well as setting up the next property in line.

There are some smart narrative decisions made by focusing on Scott and Cassie’s relationship over Scott and Hope’s (three movies and several forced flirty scenes later and the chemistry between Rudd and Lilly is still nowhere to be found), and by letting us in on Janet’s story as a means of understanding her better as a character.

Yet, even in the weirdest, best stretches of this, like when Scott has to endure a “probability storm” to get to a multiversal engine core and then generates endless possible selves, there is still the hovering reminder that this is all an episode in service of a larger story, and the creativity and uniqueness in the movie is constantly undermined as a result.

Every time a dramatic turn happens, a weird set piece finishes, or a character has interesting motivations or develops, it’s squandered. By the end, we’re forced to remember this is the first stepping stone in Phase Five, then Six, then the conclusion of the Multiverse Saga, and so on and so on.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a weird, welcome entry in the franchise, and might be the best of the three so far. However, it’s disappointing that something this fun and outlandish took two other movies to generate. It’s also hard to enjoy something when you know it’s only fodder for whatever’s next in the pipeline. Quantumania is fun and fresh, until it reminds you that it simply can’t outgrow the constraints Marvel has put on it.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' is the weirdest, most fun movie of the three. Yet, it's bogged down by serving as another stepping stone on the road to Marvel's Multiverse Saga.