After an incredibly disjointed Phase Four, all eyes are indeed on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (or Quantumania, as we will be noting for short throughout this review) to see how this particular threequel will set a precedent for the forthcoming Phase Five of the continued Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If this is anything to go by, however, the MCU, “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”
Whilst there’s a certain vibrancy and scrappiness to Quantumania that brings to mind temperaments not unlike the atmosphere of classic Star Wars or the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Peyton Reed‘s third go-around with “the little guy”, Paul Rudd‘s always charming Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, feels unsure of its own journey, losing its personality in a sea of overt CGI and poorly-executed humour that, sadly, cheapens whatever genuine wit Jeff Loveness‘s script manages to occasionally muster.
Basking in the afterglow of saving the world, Scott happily skips about his day amongst the appreciative crowds of San Francisco; even if the local coffee shop owner refers to him as “Spider-Man” whenever he thanks him. His romance with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), now overseeing the use of Pym Particles in her efforts to benefit humanity, is the picture of bliss, and he’s even written a best-selling book, waxing lyrical about looking out for the aforementioned little guy. It’s a harmless, easy life for a supposed super-hero.
A Lang who is actually hoping to be heroic is his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton, taking over from Emma Fuhrmann’s brief turn in Endgame), who after informing her somewhat clueless father that she’s served some serious minutes behind jail cell doors, reveals that she’s created a form of technology that allows her to communicate with the Quantum Realm, a miniscule dimension that can only be entered through subatomic particles; it also happens to be where Cassie’s unofficial grandmother – Hope’s mother – Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, as captivating as ever) was stranded for 30-odd years, and has refused to divulge any concrete information about the realm itself.
Janet is none too pleased that Cassie, Hope, and her husband, Hank (Michael Douglas), have meddled with such technology and demands that the communicative sector of Cassie’s creation be shut down. And that would be all well and good if this wasn’t a damn Marvel movie, so, before you can say “CGI”, our blended family is sucked into the Quantum Realm, separated in the process as Scott and Cassie veer off into one micro-verse, and Janet, Hank and Hope to another.
The Quantum Realm has always been a subject of fascination within the MCU, and given that their multi-verse narratives has given the studio license to play God with character canons, it makes sense that in further detailing the Quantum Realm they would embrace whatever weird and wonderful temperament may come with such an unexplored dimension. Initially, Reed’s film – as heavily enforced by special effects as it is (not once do you believe you’re ever on a set of practicality) – delights in the bizarre plant life and various living organisms that inhabit the realm.
It gets over the alternate language of the setting with an easy introduction of drinking a local beverage to begin understanding the surroundings, and in separating Scott and Cassie from Janet, Hank and Hope, it allows each respective dynamic to thrive more fully. This is where Quantumania exercises the first of its two major plus points: it becomes a vehicle for Pfeiffer. So unfairly side-lined in the last Ant-Man sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp (despite that film having the smarts to base its entire plot around how far people would be willing to go to save Michelle Pfeiffer), her Janet proves to be the action-capable, dangerously-alluring character we always knew she was, but never had the chance to see.
Her aloofness as to what she got up to when trapped there for 3 decades asked more questions than answers provided, and here, through the fear and anger of locals or the suggestive banter of Krylar (Bill Murray), she’s a picture painted with brutal strokes that are at odds with the loving wife and mother Hank and Hope know her as. Whatever reputation Janet has in the Quantum Realm though is tied directly to Kang (Jonathan Majors), the film’s second plus point. Kang, a conqueror, who is an alternate timeline variant of He Who Remains from the Loki television series, has a terrifying grace when flexing his evident villainy, and it’s the complexity of his character and relationship with Janet that serves him a stronger hand than other MCU adversaries are often afforded.
As villains have so often been a hit-and-miss affair within the MCU across the multitude of films, it’s to Quantumania‘s benefit that it has Majors playing ball as much as he is. Not only is he an exciting talent to watch unleash his charm and volatility across the screen, he elevates the film as a whole, as does Pfeiffer, as the other villain on hand is an embarrassment of riches that cheapens a former character and the actor playing him; Corey Stoll‘s take on M.O.D.O.K. leaving much(!) to be desired.
It’s the off-setting of a character like M.O.D.O.K. to Kang that easily sums up Quantumania‘s overall temperament as a film; it’s loud and messy, just as it’s intriguing and unconventional. It’s a shame that the messiness outweighs the intrigue though, as this start to Phase 5 doesn’t come with any clear kind of structure – only the mid and post-credit scenes alluding to who the big bad is going to be across the next line of films.
Whilst I wouldn’t say I have Marvel fatigue, it’s clear that the studio has lost the sheen of its origins. Hopefully learning that too much can sometimes be enough, Phase Five needs to streamline itself if it hopes to earn a degree of cohesion and, perhaps in that regard Quantumania can serve as a cautionary tale of what not to do. Whatever the course of action, Majors is a key find in moving forward as a formidable villain for all to fear and, for the love of all that is good and holy, give Pfeiffer her own movie. This was a good first step, but she – and her version of the original Wasp – deserve so much more.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is screening in Australian theatres from February 16th, 2023.