With the third movie in its shrinking superhero series, Marvel Studios tries its best to turn what has thus far been its silliest franchise into a proper MCU blockbuster, complete with high stakes, intense drama, and important lore tied to the overarching Multiverse Saga. To Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s credit, it manages to supersize this adventure while still maintaining the awkward, deadpan humor that makes Paul Rudd’s portrayal of Scott Lang so endearing. Yet in its haste to do so much, some of Quantumania’s characters, ideas, and plotlines feel underdeveloped – and that’s not the first time that’s been said about a recent MCU movie. The saving grace is Jonathan Majors’ show-stopping performance as the chilling new villain Kang, but not even he can conquer the MCU’s tendency to get in its own way.
No time is wasted in establishing the drama between the various members of the Pym/Lang family unit, which is good because there’s not much of it before they’re whisked off to the wondrous-yet-dangerous Quantum Realm and must sort it all out while in the midst of an action-packed adventure. Scott’s relationship with his well-meaning delinquent daughter Cassie is the emotional crux, and while her reason for being mad at dear old dad may not feel warranted at first, Rudd and Kathryn Newton work well together to peel back the layers of abandonment and disappointment until they arrive at Quantumania’s most heartfelt moments. That the film sticks the emotional landing is one of its greatest strengths.
A Time-Bending Look at Kang the Conqueror's History
Unfortunately, Michael Douglass’ Hank Pym doesn’t have much to do this time around, and there’s even less for Evangaline Lilly’s Hope – which feels strange for a character who’s mentioned in the title. The most delightful surprise comes from the substantial role given to Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne, who finally deals with the trauma of what happened to her during those 30 years in the Quantum Realm with a reserved and powerful performance. After her far-too-short appearance in the last outing, it’s most welcome for Janet to take a leading role this time around.
Majors absolutely nails the multifaceted nature of Kang.
Delivering a very different kind of powerful performance, yet one no less incredible, is Majors’ Kang. We already met a variant of this infamous Marvel Comics villain in the Loki Disney+ show, but whereas He Who Remains was flamboyant and wild-eyed, Kang is steely and sinister. Majors absolutely nails the multifaceted nature of Kang, a man who feels burdened with his domain over time yet has the fiery will to use it to achieve unthinkable ends. So much effort is put into establishing just how powerful and dangerous Kang is that it makes the irony all the more delicious when he has to face off against the goofball who talks to ants.
To say that the power levels between Ant-Man and Kang are mismatched is a severe understatement. In the comics, Kang is an Avengers-level threat on par with Thanos – the kind where even a full team of Avengers would be lucky to come out victorious in a head-to-head brawl. So it’s a credit to writer Jeff Loveness and director Peyton Reed that they find ways for Ant-Man to actually stand a chance, and those ideas make for some creative action scenes. That said, punches are often pulled when it comes to setting up the stakes of those battles, which makes the dangers it builds up ultimately feel toothless.
There is seemingly no rhyme or reason behind the Quantum Realm.
Nearly the entire story takes place in the Quantum Realm, a bizarre place where beings have broccoli for heads and they use flying mitochondria for transportation. While there’s plenty of never-before-seen sci-fi stuff to enjoy, there is seemingly no rhyme or reason behind any of it, so it all feels like computer-generated window dressing that has no bearing on events taking place. Contrast that with Disney’s recent animated film, Strange World, which also featured a family getting lost in an uncanny sci-fi landscape – but there was an explanation that tied all of the weirdness together. Similarly, we meet a band of characters in the Quantum Realm, but much like their home they don’t add much to Quantumania beyond a few jokes and a way to move the plot forward. No one embodies this issue more than Bill Murray’s character, whose one scene feels entirely inconsequential.
The same issue of underdevelopment can be felt in the theme of fighting oppression. Cassie is driven by the desire to stand up to those in power, and Kang just happens to be a power-mad dictator for everyone to resist, but Quantumania doesn’t stop to explore any of those ideas. Another recent Disney offering, the Star Wars series Andor, showed in intimate detail how rebellion can break out from under the evils of fascism, yet Quantumania is content without closer examination. It’s frustratingly surface-level in that regard.
We have to talk about MODOK.
We also have to talk about MODOK. The fan-favorite murderous giant floating head has finally found his way into the live-action MCU, and while his oversized, stretched-out face never quite looks right and his body looks like a Decepticon design rejected for making people feel too uncomfortable, the character actually works. I never could have predicted that MODOK, of all “people,” would have one of the most effective character arcs, but here we are.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has just enough entertaining moments and a heartfelt family story, plus knockout performances in Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne and Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror, to make up for its more underdeveloped aspects. The exploration of its central themes, new characters, and the Quantum Realm itself only goes skin deep, leaving it feeling high on spectacle but low on substance. Even so, Quantumania works as a culmination of the Ant-Man series, a way to start things in motion for Phase 5, and a promising roadmap of where the Multiverse Saga is going.