“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is an odd film, and not because most of it takes place in a dimension outside space and time. Director Peyton Reed’s movie continues the lighthearted-comedy streak of the previous two entries yet simultaneously attempts to instill very dramatic stakes. The setting is a dazzling new land full of weird creatures, yet none of it is especially spectacular, and while the quips come fast and the story is always moving, every minute of its two-hour runtime is felt. The third “Ant-Man” installment certainly has some winning elements, including strong performances, a couple of cool designs, solid jokes and more, but it feels like it’s doing too much while trying to tackle something far too big.
Following the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is doing pretty great. He saved the world, still has his girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and gets love from everyone around him. One area that could use a bit more work is his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who constantly finds herself in trouble with the law for her crusading acts of social justice. Lang soon discovers that she’s not just causing trouble with the cops but also conducting quantum experiments with Hope’s father (Michael Douglas). When the group, including Hope’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), are sucked into the Quantum Realm, they find themselves in a bizarre new world. They also find that they’re in the crosshairs of the Realm’s ruler, a ruthless man named Kang (Jonathan Majors).
The first two “Ant-Man” movies were relatively small affairs. They had lots of fun miniaturization moments and excellent humor, but the stories themselves were much more contained than other MCU efforts. The first “Ant-Man” was a super-powered heist movie, while the second was a super-powered McGuffin chase. They were light-hearted and soared on the charisma of its leading actors and the banter among them. “Quantumania” tries to retain that spirit and approach while expanding to a much broader story scale — one that includes grander action sequences, a world-ending threat of a villain, more dramatic beats and a lot of worldbuilding. It’s like injecting “Ocean’s Eleven” into “Avatar,” and while there are moments and aspects that work well, the final product feels uneven and awkward.
The Quantum Realm is a totally alien place made of alien organisms and bizarre landscapes, but due to the CGI or color schemes used, it never feels wondrous. This should be an amazing spectacle for both the cast and the audience, as we’re seeing a whole world that we didn’t know existed on a scale that we couldn’t imagine. That’s a tall order, of course, but that’s the one that writer Jeff Loveness, Reed and the rest of the team took on with this movie. There are some excellent alien creatures in design and execution, and some cool practical costuming, but most of it feels alternatively muted or too busy and blends into an easy-to-ignore background.
The humor is still strong, with Rudd leading the way as the hapless Lang, who’s in way over his head. There’s a truly hilarious scene towards the end of the film that plays in a beautifully comedic and fairly unexpected way. But even that moment is at odds with the fact that viewers are watching a character die, and although it’s done in a joking manner, there’s meant to be some pathos in it. This is a similar issue to “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which wants to be fun and humorous but also have very serious moments, usually abutting directly up against those quips. “Quantumania” is very funny until it isn’t and is meant to be taken very seriously. Having a villain like Kang is similar to the Gorr problem in the fourth “Thor” movie; this is an intense character with majorly sinister designs compelled by unmovable convictions, and he’s surrounded by jokes about Baskin-Robbins and an alien that’s curious about how many holes humans have in their bodies.
If you were to dissect “Quantumania,” you’d find that many of these elements work well separately. Majors is fantastic as Kang, a methodical conqueror who is unwavering in his purpose to the point of abject cruelty. The actor commands every scene he’s in, bringing a sort of weariness to the multiversal traveler, but one that never dilutes his calculating drive. And when that veneer of control slips, Majors is tremendous at releasing a true sense of villainous rage at those around him. Similarly, Rudd is still great in the title role, even when it calls on him to be two disparate people: the jokester and the dramatic superhero. They aren’t totally congruous, but separately (in their own movies), they would have a lot to do.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” isn’t the worst Marvel movie. It’s not even a bad movie. It just feels like one type of tale was foisted onto another with competing scales, stakes and characterizations. It has fun scenes and memorable lines, and Kang is properly set up as the MCU’s new Big Bad. However, all of that is found inside a film that tries to do too much, and serve too many masters, without having the finesse to pull it off or the inventiveness to make it their own. Reed and company deserve praise for attempting to fuse these conflicting elements into some new synthesis, but it’s not a wholly successful attempt, unsure of the size of story it wants to tell.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll, William Jackson Harper, Katy M. O'Brian
Director: Peyton Reed