Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is proof – the latest piece of proof, at least – that Marvel doesn’t care anymore. They don’t care about storytelling, their characters, human and relatable themes, establishing stakes, or even building their universe in exciting ways, which used to be their raison d’être. Their new movie had tons of promise, a concept tailor-made to hit on many of the points I just mentioned, fantastic actors, and spectacular special effects (which are the best part of the film), and they threw together a soulless mess that never tries to be anything but a dull cog in what is shaping up to be a creaky, rust-ridden machine.
Following the event Marvel is stubbornly insisting everyone call “the Blip,” Scott Lang is finally content, having become a celebrity, a bestselling author, Hope’s boyfriend, and a steady presence in Cassie’s life. But when Cassie takes too much of an interest in her father’s superhero shenanigans, she gets herself and the past and present Ant-Men and the Wasps trapped in the Quantum Realm, where various factions are at war and a mysterious figure known as “the Conqueror” rules with an iron fist.
The first few minutes of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (outside of a quick opening that could have been cut or moved to later in the film) are a good introduction to the new status quo. Scott narrates how his life has changed since Avengers: Endgame and gives a rundown of where he and Hope are in their lives. Paul Rudd keeps it light and funny, which is the right tone at this juncture, and this is where most of the film’s laughs come. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any more attempts at laughs, but these are the ones that both work and weren’t spoiled in the marketing.
Then, Cassie shows up, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania never recovers. Cassie is the worst part of the movie, and it only starts with her characterization. She’s insufferable from the moment she appears, an ungrateful, disrespectful brat who insults and demeans her father at every turn. She has this “What have you done for me lately?” attitude towards the man who risked his life for her several times, who helped bring her mother back from the dead and save the world. And what’s worse is, everyone is fine with this and helps her pile the insults onto Scott. You ever witness a child’s tantrum and think, “Somebody needs to smack this kid,” but her parents just indulge her instead? That’s Cassie.
More importantly, Cassie undermines the overarching theme established in the previous Ant-Man movies and Avengers: Endgame – Ant-Man and the Wasp are a team, and they’re stronger together than they are individually. Quantumania could have tapped into that and wrung a lot of drama and character development from it, especially after everyone gets caught in the Quantum Realm. The pieces are there; Scott and Hope are separated immediately, and there are clear parallels to Hope’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. It could have expanded on the love story, with Hope and Scott fearing ending up like Hank and Janet did but putting their faith in each other, with a guiding hand from the older generation. And this is off the top of my head about thirty minutes after my showing ended.
The reason none of this happens is that Cassie is one of the main characters, and she replaces Hope as the co-lead with Scott. Quantumania isn’t about Ant-Man and the Wasp; it’s about Scott and Cassie, and how Scott’s miserable little snot of a daughter makes him a better man by telling the guy who went through hell to save the world that he doesn’t care enough about other people because he wrote a book or something. Spending so much time undermining Scott undermines Hope as well, as her role in the story that bears her name is whittled down to nothing except a couple of “stronger together” moments that feel false because the movie almost entirely ignores this theme. With so little care put into the title characters and their relationship and a seeming determination to make Cassie unbearable, Quantumania has no heart.
Hank and Janet don’t fare much better. Hank is mostly an afterthought, played for laughs instead of treated like the scientific genius he is. Janet has a lot to do and advances the plot, which is good, but she has no arc, no character growth, and next to no personality. How you get nothing fun or interesting out of Michelle goddamn Pfeiffer, I have no idea, but they manage it here. All the actors are just as wasted; Michael Douglas is reduced to being a goofball, but more the butt of the jokes than the instigator. After the funny opening, Paul Rudd is given a series of Marvel’s new brand of comedy, which is tired and desperate for a laugh it doesn’t know how to earn. He’s got some good dramatic moments, but they’re few and far between. Evangeline Lily is told to sit in the corner and wait till she’s called on, which is a shame. Bill Murray’s anticipated appearance is lackluster, and he looks and sounds like he’s in hell playing this part.
But what everyone is wondering about is Kang the Conqueror, who makes his movie debut in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. He’s not bad. Like Scott, he’s got some good moments, and Jonathan Majors plays him well; there’s sincerity in everything Kang says, even when he’s lying, and he feels like he’s mastered his emotions to the extent that he can convince someone to help him with as much honesty as he can beat them half to death. They also make him feel like a threat in this movie and show how insignificant Ant-Man and the Wasp are to him. However, his threat level is diminished severely by the end, and while it’s clearer how the rest of Phases 5 and 6 will use him, it doesn’t bode well, and I think he’s going to get repetitive and will ultimately feel toothless. That may be a problem for other movies, but the ending also undercuts Quantumania, which puts so much stock in establishing the next Marvel big bad.
The special effects are where Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania really shines, with the Quantum Realm and its many inhabitants looking fantastic. The aesthetic is a bit jumbled, and if that annoys people, it’s understandable; I think it works because the Quantum Realm is such a mess conceptually, existing outside of time and space. There are influences from lots of different sci-fi movies, like Fantastic Voyage, Mad Max, Dune, and even John Carter. The music is an odd duck; it occasionally tries to invoke some of those films, but it also gets bland and forgettable, like it’s going for epic and ominous without trying to create those tones – much like the whole film.
The filmmaking itself is a mixed bag. Peyton Reed feels like he’s out of his element shooting this grandiose sci-fi epic, which Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania… well, it doesn’t exactly “aspire” to be that, but it sure does want you to think it does. Reed was at home with the two previous Ant-Man movies, which were relatively grounded and character-driven. Here, he’s got to shoot these big battles in a fantasy world, and he seems lost. The fights are ugly, with the camera swooping around to suggest scope rather than pulling back and showing it. It’s hard to see what anyone is doing, so it’s equally hard to get invested in the action. However, a few scenes are great, and – hold onto your hats – they’re the character moments that should have been the centerpieces. I don’t want to give them away, but one, in particular, is sensational. It’s too bad it’s surrounded by empty nonsense.
And that’s what Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania ultimately is: empty nonsense. It doesn’t feel like a story about characters we love; it feels like it’s here to lead to the next movie and do it as quickly and lazily as possible, with enough pretty pictures thrown on the screen to make you think you’re seeing a fun superhero adventure. Marvel used to be better than this.