REVIEW – Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

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Despite being out of place as the kickstart to Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania is still a “Fantastic Voyage” into the Quantum Realm that is both fun and exciting.

This review will be SPOILER FREE and won’t go beyond what’s already seen in the trailers and marketing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe post-Endgame has been somewhat uneven as it attempts to present new ideas, introduce new characters, and set up different parts of the MCU going forward. However, and I am adamant about this, most of it has been pretty enjoyable.

In actual fact, what I just described has been the entire MCU over the past decade and change. The reason for this is that it has always appealed to a broad audience including young fans that have and will grow up with these properties as well as audiences around the world that don’t have the same demands about “cinema” that a small portion of the English-speaking internet seem to obsess over. Much like the original comic books these movies take their inspiration from, Marvel Studios have simply tried their best to tell good and fun stories. That’s the core of their basic formula.

Having said all that, Phase 4 in particular did have its own extra set of challenges to overcome as well as experiment with including filming during a pandemic, the introduction of the Disney+ shows, and of course the weight of expectations in the wake of Endgame. Reiterating what I said before, while not everything is to my personal tastes, it’s all been rather enjoyable.

Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania continues that trend with a fun and thrilling adventure of its own that not only continues Scott Lang’s arc as a character and touches on the world in the MCU post-Endgame but also setting up things to come.

I won’t delve too much into the story yet it was nice to see how Scott deals with being an Avenger but more so how he reacts to being an absent father, which has always been his main motivation in these standalone films for him. Previously, it was due to being in jail for robbery, then it was because of house arrest after the events of Civil War, and this time it was due to being stuck in the Quantum Realm during “the blip.” This time there’s the added bonus of what being an Avenger may be doing to influence his daughter.

Along with the introduction of the more deathly-serious Kang The Conqueror it does cut down the humour these films are known for somewhat but only in terms of proportion. It’s still Lang being out of his depth in a new situation and the strangeness of the Quantum Realm still provides enough amusement.

If I may clarify that point about Scott Lang ever so slightly, it’s him adjusting to a new situation just as he was getting a grasp of his current life as a celebrity, known for being a hero, that he struggles with. And that’s been a fairly consistent arc for Lang over the course of three movies and Paul Rudd continues to make Scott so likeable and the audience POV to a certain extent. In fact all the performances are great as always with a few standouts.

Setting aside my cynicisms about the recasting, Kathryn Newton does a great job as Cassie Lang, the teenager inspired by her father to be a hero and do good (and getting in trouble for it). She gets plenty of fun moments to be a hero herself and her interactions with her dad are actually rather heartfelt. Michelle Pfeifer getting a lot more to do this time around as Janet Van Dyne really reminds you why she’s still acting after so many years and similar with Michael Douglas who appears to be having fun with the material. Both nicely easing into the elder roles better than other big stars from their era.

Of course the major (ha, pun!) standout is Jonathan Majors as Kang. We already saw him soft-introduced as “He Who Remains” in the Loki series but here he’s playing a much more menacing “variant”, chewing the scenery when appropriate. We’re getting much more than just “Thanos smiling at the audience” kind of introduction here and from what little I know of the original comic book origin, this is a much more interesting and entertaining take on the character.

I’m only going to touch on MODOK ever so briefly and say that they found a fun way to incorporate one of the more ridiculous characters from the comics into live-action that doesn’t necessarily go against said origins simply by leaning into just how ridiculous he is. If he was ever going to work this is how to do it. However, he works best if you have ZERO pre-conceived notions about him.

The most striking aspect of this movie is the Quantum Realm that our heroes find themselves stranded in. Again, continuing the MCU’s dabbling in various genres, this is their answer to films like Fantastic Voyage and stories like Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I also get a little bit of Flash Gordon vibe there especially when you encounter Kang and his minions (much more so than the Guardians of the Galaxy movies). For my money it’s a great and enjoyable mix.

Because of the setting, this film is full of visual effects that bring the unique and unusual wildlife and inhabitants to life and it all looks great. The much vaunted The Volume that was popularised through its use on The Mandalorian and then used on Thor: Love and Thunder was also utilised here. One of the drawbacks of the technology at the moment is that it’s limited in space, so if certain moments feel smaller than they should then that’s probably the reason (apart from filming in pandemic conditions of course).

If anything, that sense of “smaller than its scope” feeling you get (as opposed to being the “quantum realm”) does feel like a novel throwback to the old films I invoked earlier where they were filmed on sound stages with fake plants and styrofoam rocks. Again, the weight of expectations will determine which side of the coin will land upward for you in that regard but honestly it’s a minor issue.

Speaking of which, Quantumania isn’t without its flaws. With all the swings that it does take not all of them go over the fence let alone make contact with the bat. There are one too many conveniences and contrivances throughout including major story elements that you’re just made to accept as it is (not everything needs to be explained or spoon fed but it feels like we’re missing out on a fun moment) and not every joke lands but that’s to be expected because humour is subjective.

While it was great to see Bill Murray pop up I’m not sure his character offers a lot that another, less distracting actor could have offered. But then again Murray is in his “cashing in a pay cheque” phase of his career and good on him too. Evangeline Lilly goes a great job but I’m not sure Hope being “the better and more competent one” is interesting enough. They certainly do give her ample mother and daughter moments and drama but perhaps not enough. And despite how great Majors’ performance was, I don’t know if this film does enough to illustrate how much of a threat Kang potentially is. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the “show don’t tell” mantra of story telling (because sometimes exposition can be important when done right) but I think despite how characters react to Kang, a lot of it is reliant on what audiences are bringing to the film thanks to either the marketing, the comics, the Loki series, or even the fact that one of the future Avengers films is titled “The Kang Dynasty”. He’s appropriately menacing and threatening within this story but I don’t this there’s enough in terms of the greater MCU… yet.

Perhaps the biggest error is making Quantumania the start of Phase 5. Previous Ant-Man films have been palate-cleansers post-Avengers, a way to come down after the high stakes and massive spectacle of those movies. This film was clearly meant to be released smack-bang in the middle of Phase 4 to fit in with the themes of moving forward in the aftermath of trauma and tragedy. Again, pre-conceived notions and the weight of expectations post-Endgame (and to an extent the marketing) may have contributed to this but the pandemic definitely had something to do with the rescheduling.

I wrote most of this before reading other reviews and I’m perplexed as to whether we all saw the same movie. Ignoring my temptation to respond to the rather bewildering criticisms, I will just say that don’t know what folks were expecting from a film that has never been more than “good enough and fun enough” for two previous outings. Not every movie can be an Avengers-level tentpole (and these standalone films never try to be) and since the first Iron Man movie, Marvel Studios has not only adapted these characters and stories from the page to the screen but also the manner in which they are presented (one-shots, crossover events, mini/limited series. etc) and Quantumania continues that tradition.

I had fun with this one because I was able to manage my expectation (not lower them, that’s different). I knew what I was in for and I was still surprised and highly entertained. Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania is a fun romp in a strange new world and sometimes that’s all a story needs to be.

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