Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania Review: A Wild Journey Through Space And Time

  • Intermittently "fun"
  • An overachieving performance from Michelle Pfeiffer
  • Flat humor
  • Unimaginative backdrop
  • Feels less like an actual movie and more an excuse to get to the next movie that itself may or may not feel like an actual movie

The "Ant-Man" films have long been the sub-franchise of the MCU most reserved as breather pieces. They've been charming, comedic little romps as positioned as a respite between the cacophonous crossovers and busy world-building of the brand at large. But "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," a title that suggests more of that levity, feels like a tipping point in the ongoing narrative surrounding the MCU.

Back in the spring of 2010, right before the release of "Iron Man 2," Kevin Feige talked about his aspirations for building the first-ever shared cinematic universe of this scale. He insisted that "...the movie that we are making comes first. [The] movies need to stand on their own. They need to have a fresh vision, a unique tone, and the fact that they can interconnect if you want to follow those breadcrumbs is a bonus." With "Quantumania," the 31st film in an ongoing series of interwoven stories that have since expanded to television and animation, a veil has been fully lifted on the ruse that Feige's words still hold true.

Ostensibly, "Quantumania" is the third act of a trilogy of films surrounding ex-con turned superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his partner/lover Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), but placed as it is as the curtain jerker for "Phase Five," any real progression for the core cast of characters is suppressed to make the necessary space for introducing Kang the Conquerer (Jonathan Majors), the next Thanos-level threat for the universe. Much like "Captain America: Civil War," another third act that sidestepped properly following up on its prior outings to introduce Black Panther and a large-scale conflict between all the heroes, this film has to do the heavy lifting for the brand rather than do anything meaningful with its characters.

But where other instances of this phenomenon exist within the MCU, this might be the first one with so few redeemable qualities to justify the naked commerce at play. When you strip-mine something that's already so fleeting and threadbare and replace it with a feature-length trailer for a bigger movie years away, then what is the point?

We've gotta go back

In the never-ending war on internet spoiler culture, Disney and Marvel's review embargoes for critics often include riders not so politely imploring writers to leave plot specifics out of their coverage. But as time passes and each MCU film's "plot" becomes more and more abstract, it's hard not to think that's not just a ploy to avoid openly discussing what consistently turns out to be these films' weakest points. 

That said, "Quantumania" picks up after the events of "Avengers: Endgame," where Scott's original idea to use the Quantum Realm to time travel and collect the Infinity Stones led to the saving of the universe and the return of the 50 percent of Earth's population that had been "blipped." Now he's famous, has written a book, and lives a happy-go-lucky life that looks nothing like the stress and graft of his former existence. But despite being recognized every day as a superhero, Scott does no superhero-ing. He claims he just wants to make up for lost time with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and she just wants to be a superhero. She wants to make a difference. 

This conflict is mirrored between Hope and her mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who spent 30 years of her life trapped in the Quantum Realm but refuses to speak about what she experienced there. Janet, too, just wants to spend time with her daughter, but circumstances send the entire family (including Michael Douglas having a ball with more pithy work as Hank Pym) back to that place. The rest of the film is intended to be a phantasmagorical journey into the unknown, pitting the underdog heroes from the lowest stakes entries in the MCU against a threat that's set to headline the next two mega-budget "Avengers" films. 

Director Peyton Reed talked a big game about not wanting to be the palate-cleanser franchise for the MCU anymore, touting exciting-sounding visual influences for exploring the Quantum Realm, from Heavy Metal magazine to Jean Giraud. Screenwriter Jeff Loveness compared it to "Jodorowsky's Dune!" But the execution of those lofty goals leaves a lot to be desired. 

Roughly 95 percent of the film takes place in the Quantum Realm, with the opening eight minutes or so sprinting through the set-up at a ridiculous pace, all just so we can watch the cast walk around bland, muddy-looking environments that strike the visual distance between a filler episode of "Rick and Morty" and the Cantina scene from "Star Wars." The former comparison makes sense, as Loveness (who is also writing "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty") is a vet of the Adult Swim series, like other ex-pats from the Dan Harmon industrial complex who have made the jump from funnyman scribe to MCU architect. But as much as Reed seems to think he's finally making the cosmic epic he's been jealous of his peers helming, the result is something that absolutely would have been just fine as a Disney+ special.

The shape of things to come

"Quantumania" clocks in at just over two hours, including two post-credits scenes (one laborious and laughable, the other solid enough), but instead of feeling like a lean summer blockbuster, it scans as a bloated episode of television. Anything meaningful we need to know about the main characters has happened off screen in between films. Scenes bounce from one to the next in the kind of hurry usually reserved for network procedurals, not even classy cable or streamer dramas. The genuinely compelling arc between the two sets of parent-child relationships that comprise the central family is truncated down to Cliff's Notes and only works half as well as they do because of this cast.

Paul Rudd continues to be endearing, as he is in literally everything, and he has strong enough chemistry with Newton as the kid he didn't get to watch grow up. Evangeline Lilly continues to get top billing despite the fact that most of her dialogue and screen time seems to have been misplaced somewhere in the edit. Michael Douglas is a riot in his own little way, but it's really Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet doing all the heavy lifting. It's hard to swallow that she's only front and center, reminding us how great she's always been, because her character has narrative proximity to Kang, the character for whom this entire feature is little more than a backdoor pilot.

Though his initial turn at the end of "Loki" Season 1 was intriguing enough to suggest he had some interesting tricks up his sleeve, Majors underwhelms here as the heavy. He's got presence for days, sure, but this variant of Kang is so underwritten, such a cardboard stock character, that no amount of handsome charm or menacing scowling is enough to make him feel special. 

Going into this film, it seemed as though Ant-Man was only getting sidelined to make space for an important figure who was going to breathe new life into the MCU after  But seeing the reality that Kang, within the confines of this picture and this picture alone, could be the villain of any lesser movie from 15 or 20 years ago, is pretty disconcerting. "Quantumania," as its own singular viewing experience, would be considered slight and forgettable even if being consumed as a New Classic on TNT on a Tuesday night. Instead, it's a big and expensive tentpole picture made for little else than to herald the coming of the next slight and forgettable outing from this stretched-thin brand.

For how much longer are fans going to be expected to give the benefit of the doubt to middling, barely enjoyable movies meant for little more than passing the time between bouts of fan theories, analyzing production leaks, and being excited about future adaptations of classic comic book stories they've only consumed by skimming Wikipedia? Is this the innovation capitalism has wrought? Is this all ever going to end?

"Quantumania" is the first of three theatrical releases and six television series the MCU has to offer in 2023. Let's see if anyone remembers any of them come 2026 when they're all supposed to finally pay off.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" hits theaters on Friday, February 17.