For the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s a lot riding on Ant-Man’s tiny shoulders, with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opening the MCU’s Phase 5. The film, the third in the Ant-Man standalone series, sees Ant-Man and family get trapped in the Quantum Realm facing one of the Marvel universes’s biggest villains: Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Spoilers below.
With how much the MCU has expanded over the years, even branching into limited series like Wandavision, it’s not too surprising that not every entry in the MCU will be a crown jewel. Is Quantumania an enjoyable watch? Certainly, but it is also flawed. With Quantumania being the film that sets the tone for upcoming MCU films to come through Phase 5 (and even into Phase 6 with the next Avengers entry), things start to look a little rocky.
Perhaps the most strange aspect of Quantumania is its visuals: the film often looks like a cross between Star Wars and Spy Kids. Settings, landscapes, and the vast Quantum Realm feel like a microscopic underworld counterpart to the Star Wars series’ space aesthetic. Costumes and other-worldly character designs feel lifted from the Spy Kids flicks, looking cheesy and very on the nose. To make matters worse, Quantumania is beleaguered with the typical amount of CGI that plagues most Marvel films. Granted, it’s hard to do many of the effects for a film like Ant-Man practically, but that doesn’t stop the film from often feeling flat and shallow.
Quantumania‘s screenplay also drags the film down. The writing is inconsistent, trying to walk a fine line between comedy and action while also balancing heartfelt moments and drama. Similar to Thor: Love and Thunder, Quantumania is unable to walk that line successfully. Quantumania is also more ambitious than the latest Thor, considering it literally is trying to set up films to come. Its hastiness to do so is another flaw for the film, as it presents new characters to its viewers and basically saying “trust us” about their backstories.
With how long Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) was trapped in the Quantum Realm, the film chooses to gloss over this history and instead let things unfold over the film’s runtime. This makes it hard to really sympathize with either side, because viewers are denied the chance to really get to know the characters and their motivations in exchange for continuous action scenes unfolding. Kang’s past and his powers are spoken of rather than shown. With Kang being an all-powerful conqueror who can manipulate time and space, he also doesn’t manage to put up a very good fight either — with Ant-Man and Wasp seemingly defeating him at the film’s climax.
The film’s lazy writing continues after the credits start rolling too, with Kang’s defeat being explained away as one of many probabilities. Sure, it’s a comic book movie and characters die and come back regularly, but it feels like a bit of a middle finger to the viewer to let them know while the credits roll that the last two hours they watched really led the story nowhere that a simple rewriting into a different probability can’t explain away.
Quantumania‘s cast does what it can with the film’s writing, visuals and overall tone, but even with all of that put aside, there’s no outstanding performances here. Most notable would be Pfeiffer and Majors; it honestly feels as though the MCU should have had a film or limited series devoted entirely to their two characters and their backstory to set up Quantumania. Their two characters are also the most complex in the entire script, with the titular characters being the most one-dimensional. The motivations and driving forces behind both Janet and Kang are when the film is at its most interesting, allowing Pfeiffer and Majors brief moments to flex their acting prowess. There are moments when Kang feels relatable yet despicable, and there are also moments when Janet and her desire to keep secrets from her family about her past in the Quantum Realm are all too easy to relate to as well.
Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) are both relegated to afterthought ‘obviously good guy’ status. It’s been nearly ten years since the first Ant-Man film, and Rudd is almost convincing that he’s not tired of the role yet, but Lilly, on the other hand, just seems miserable from start to finish. Scott (Ant-Man)’s daughter, Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), has been recast for a third time, and Newton ably performs the role. Cassie’s part in the film is crucial to all of the events that unfold, and there’s glimpses of internal struggle over her past actions in Newton’s performance despite the writing giving Cassie a savior complex.
Many of Quantumania‘s problems are actually symptomatic of the comic book movie genre as a whole, though. Both Marvel and DC flicks have struggled with tone and finding a balance between comedy and poignancy, and they’ve also been plagued by bad visual effects that hamper the actors’ ability to perform realistically. Another small but increasingly more prominent gripe is how Quantumania and other comic book films/shows give their heroes and villains the nano technology to change into their ‘super hero’ outfits instantly. While it makes the most sense for Ant-Man with his history, the film is very comfortable relying on the trope.
Is Quantumania an enjoyable watch? Sure, especially for those who are always excited for comic book films and to see where the MCU is headed. Unlike other MCU entries, though, it cannot stand on its own, and Quantumania feels more like filler designed to set up future entries. The film’s potential feels wasted with bad writing and poor character development that are only made worse by questionable visuals and costuming. Quantumania is worth seeing, but when it comes to the film (and perhaps even Phase 5 of the MCU) it might be worth it to lower your expectations a few notches.