Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

We are eight films past Avengers: Endgame and the MCU continues to stumble around looking for a coherent way for their stories to proceed. Aside from two Spider-Man movies and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the universe has been a mess, filled with meandering new threads, new characters that no one is particularly interested in, and established characters looking for something to do. The Multiverse seems to offer endless possibilities but so far, they do not seem to have been compelling or building a new narrative for everyone to follow. The scattered trajectory of the new Marvel films has suddenly doubled down on options by taking a deep dive into the quantum realm, which when layered alongside the Multiverse, ought to render all the storylines meaningless. Let’s face it, if you have billions of possible outcomes at any given time, why should we care about the particular one we are watching now?

Additionally, the television shows are starting to cross pollinate with the films, so that if you haven’t been watching and re-watching the shows, you may have no idea what is going on in the films. This is exactly what I was worried about when the Disney+ started adding new series to their inventory of superheroes. There have been eight new series there in the last two years. I have watched four of them, all of which finished their initial run almost two years ago. The villain in the new Ant-Man and the WASP film is Kang, the Conqueror , who was apparently referenced in “Loki” which I saw once, and do not remember all that well. His expanded role in this film did little to tell me why he is important, how he threatens the Universe or what his powers are. It’s as if he were a DC Villain, slipped into the MCU for filler. There may be a rich vein from the comic books to mine here, but unless the stories do a better job at updating movie fans who are not also comic book readers, the future seems bleak. 

“Quantumania” in particular has a few things going for it, but largely wastes them by the end of the film. There are domestic issues between Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Those troubles need a bit more development so we can care about a resolution in our adventure. In this movie, they barely qualify as an incident much less a plot thread. The failure to build this dynamic more effectively, makes what comes later in the film feel perfunctory rather than meaningful. Scott and Cassie bonding over a shared fight against a compelling enemy would mean more if their relationship was at stake, but it never felt to me like it was. Hope and her parents have a little more going in because we know there has been a big gap in their relationship. The failure of Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) to elaborate on her time spent in the Quantum Realm, is an artificial plot point that does not make much sense. Her continued reluctance to reveal information, once all the principles have been sucked into the world, just feels arbitrary to stretching out the story. Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym, feels like he is just along for the ride, although there will be ants at some point and that is fun once we get there.

When it comes to the worldbuilding of the Quantum Realm, much of it reminded me of the Cantina scene from the original Star Wars, only enhanced with CGI so it feels like the casino planet sequence from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, and that is not a compliment my friends. The sub-atomic worlds of the Quantum Realm, are populated with a variety of organic and inorganic, living creatures, subsisting on no apparent source of food or water, and some of them have been conquered enough to exist in a mass city that looks like every futurist location you have seen for the last twenty years. Since there is mostly no sun in this world, the corners are dark and the sets seem to hide any number of enemies, friends, weapons or anything else that will be needed when the script calls for it. The one creative variation that works and has a comic effect is a gelatinous creature, who provides a liquid that allows the visitors to understand and be understood by the residents. I say that it is the one humorous element that works, and that is in spite of the fact that Bill Murray turns up for an extended scene. Usually, if Murray is allowed to improvise and riff on his lines and the characters, that would be gold. Either he was not adequately inspired or he was required to stick to the script, because his dialogue falls flat and barely gets a smile much less a laugh. It feels like they have wasted the opportunity to give him a role comparable to Jeff Goldblum’s in Ragnarock. It is stunt casting that did not pay off.

The villain Kang, is played by Johnathan Majors, who I last saw in “Devotion” where he was a much more interesting character. If you stick around for the mid-credit sequence, you will get to see the wholly dull variations of the character that are coming up in future storylines, it does not look promising. Corey Stoll, who was the villain in the first “Ant-Man” movie, sort of returns here as M.O.D.O.K,   Mechanized Organism Designed Only For Killing. The threat from this character is that you will bust a gut looking at how his face has been implanted in this mechanism. Maybe it is based on a comic book character but it adds to the carnival nature of the production design. If James Cameron’s Avatar films are the Disney Imagineering group, then this MCU picture is the Dark Ride designer for a traveling carnival, like the Funhouse in “Funhouse”.  

Paul Rudd continues to be a great Ant-Man, and when he is given a chance, the character can be heroic and fun. This movie puts most of the jokes in the visuals of the new world they are playing in, and Rudd has to make due with substantially less material. There was one great sequence that almost gets to his potential. The multiple Ant-Man variations that show up do get in a concentrated bit of what they hired Rudd for in the first place, but it is not enough. I still had a good time at this, and it is at least as good as the last Doctor Strange film and Love and Thunder, but it is not moving the wider plot forward and it is clunky in way too many places. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man is a lesser Marvel Property that is slowly being elevated in status for the second generation of Post Avenger’s Infinity Wars movies.  Paul Rudd’s introduction to the MCU came in the 2015 origin story, Ant-Man. He followed that up with a quick introduction and one major scene in Captain America: Civil War.  Interestingly, he was not a part of the Infinity War movie earlier this year.  In this film we get a reason why and a strong connection in one of the mid-credit sequences as to where things could be going in next year’s “Infinity War” entry. It’s beginning to look like Thanos is not a quantum physicist.

That future speculation however has little to do with this movie. Much like its origin story, the stakes for this plot seem befittingly smaller for Ant-Man. The world is not threatened by aliens or nuclear megalomaniacs, Rudd’s Scott Lang is recruited by original Ant-Man Hank Pym and his daughter Hope, in the belief that his earlier visit to the quantum realm, has left them a path to follow to recover Hank’s long lost wife, Janet. As usual, there are plenty of complications. Black market technology thieves want the material in the fugitive Pym’s lab. A mysterious costumed character, who ends up being referred to as “Ghost”,  also wants the technology for a more personal purpose. And since Scott has been under house arrest for violating those accords meant to contain the actions of “super” beings, his fan worship of Captain America has gotten him and Pym in trouble.

So the plot is a rescue mission with a few heists and chases mixed in. Scott has to try to finish his sentence which is almost up, without having contact with Pym and Hope. Evangeline Lily returns as Hope, and has donned the tech suit created by her father which turns her into “The Wasp”.  Clearly this is a comic duo in the making, with a strong romantic strain which gives the film some Tracy/Hepburn style sparks with interpersonal confrontations mixing with the plot mechanics. Very much like the first film, this is a comedy. Much more often than in that film however, the comedy is focused on peripheral characters, like Scott’s buddy and business partner Luis. Michael Peña returns as the loquacious thief turned security expert. In a hysterical sequence that probably goes on too long, although that was the point of the sequence, he provides a whole history of his relationship with Scott in his own unique style. Also providing some humor but of a more subtle and refined style is Kirkham family favorite Walton Goggins. He has moments of frustration and fear that generate priceless laughs at the right spots.

Michael Douglas gets to put on the costume as well in this film and it turns out that Michelle Pfeiffer continues to look like a movie star. She and Tom Cruise must have made the same deal with the devil. The two more mature actors only get a little bit to do in the film, but it is enough to justify having them there, and for any fans of theirs to come out and see the picture.

I hope someday that Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale will get to do a little more in this film series than mug for the camera, but at least their mugging is in tune with the warm humor that is usually found in Ant-Man’s family relations. This whole film plays like a palate cleanser for all the strum and d angst found in the two earlier 2018 Marvel movies. This is a comedy with action parts all over the place, rather than an action film with comedy inserted. I don’t mean that it is frivolous, but rather that it is interested in entertaining us in a very different manner than it’s older brothers and sisters. That makes sense since director Peyton Reed is a comedy film veteran, helming some solid humor filled hits back in the naughts, including “The Break-Up”, “Yes Man” and “Down with Love”. He replaced Edgar Wright on the first Ant-Man movie, and I know a lot of fans want to credit that films tone to the departed director. Fair enough, so Mr. Reed should probably get credit for the jokes that work, and a little blame for some of the bits that go on a little too long, even when they are funny.

There are plenty of effects shots that take advantage of the unique powers that the two heroes on this film possess. Stuff gets big and small at the right moment or not and the outcome works in making us laugh or adding a moments tensions to the proceedings. Because the film feels so much like a stand alone story, there may be Marvel fans out there who will give it a pass and just wait for “Captain Marvel” next year. I think that would be a mistake. There are some hints about the Infinity War at the end of the movie and in the credit sequences. Those hints should delight the fans of the main story and build even more anticipation.