Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is upon us with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. After the first Ant-Man film was released in 2015 as part of Phase 2, Paul Rudd’s titular character has continued to play a major role in the MCU, including providing the critical piece that allowed the Avengers to defeat Thanos in Avengers: Endgame.
In what has to be at least a mild shock, Ant-Man ends up being only the fifth MCU franchise to get to a third film (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Spider-Man being the other four). Considering the others are marquee characters in both comics and film, it’s no small accomplishment that a character that most casual audiences knew little about prior to the first film’s release has reached this milestone.
With director Peyton Reed back at the helm for a third time, and largely the same cast as the previous films, Quantumania is a film that fans of the franchise will enjoy thanks to its trademark humor, unabashed weirdness and of course star Paul Rudd’s irresistible charisma. However, the film suffers from a desire to make the third movie a greater spectacle than its predecessors; in doing so, it loses some of its unique charm. Where the film falters, Jonathan Majors is there to lift it up with a genuinely fantastic performance as Kang. The next great Marvel villain has arrived, and somehow surpasses the hype.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania premieres in theaters Friday, February 17, 2023!
Super-Hero partners Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) return to continue their adventures as Ant-Man and the Wasp. Together, with Hope’s parents Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Scott’s daughter Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), the family finds themselves exploring the Quantum Realm, interacting with strange new creatures and embarking on an adventure that will push them beyond the limits of what they thought possible. Directed by Peyton Reed and produced by Kevin Feige, p.g.a. and Stephen Broussard, p.g.a., “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” also stars Jonathan Majors as Kang, David Dastmalchian as Veb, Katy O’Brian as Jentorra, William Jackson Harper as Quaz and Bill Murray as Lord Krylar. The sci-fi adventure opens in theaters on Feb. 17, 2023.
Director Peyton Reed and star Paul Rudd deserve much of the credit for shepherding the Ant-Man franchise to great success. Everyone loves Rudd, and at the start of Quantumania, art imitates reality, as Scott Lang is the toast of the town. He’s an Avenger who saved the world; he’s a beloved celebrity who gets free food (with the benefit of a little arachnid mix-up); and he’s a successful author who inspires kids.
The rest of the Ant clan are thriving as well, with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) running a successful corporation, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) trying to find some normalcy after being reunited, and Scott’s daughter Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) exploring some rebellious heroism of her own. It all culminates in a wholesome family pizza dinner together.
This joyful opening is one of the most fun parts of the film, as it allows Rudd to maximize his considerable charisma and self-deprecating humor, and also provides a fascinating glimpse into what the post-Avengers: Endgame world is like for our heroes. It’s also a rare moment of happiness and peace in a superhero story. By their nature, Marvel films are heavy on action, and especially lately, have quite a bit of loss and suffering. Coming off of Wakanda Forever, which might have been Marvel’s most emotionally heavy film ever, Quantumania is a pleasing change of pace. Of course, the tranquility doesn’t last, as it becomes clear that Lang isn’t merely enjoying the fruits of his labors, but hiding behind them to avoid more superhero responsibilities.
Lang’s inner conflict is a welcome look inside the psyche of a hero who survived countless life-threatening and life-altering situations. Outside of Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 and Clint Barton in Hawkeye, the MCU hasn’t really considered much of how being a real world superhero would impact the very human characters in these stories. Lang isn’t visibly disturbed or upset, but he clearly isn’t thrilled to get back in the game any time soon.
He doesn’t have much of a choice when Cassie reveals that she’s been experimenting with the Quantum Realm, which ultimately triggers an event that literally sucks the entire Ant-family into the bizarre world and takes them on an thrilling, but harrowing, action-adventure.
Quantumania has several praiseworthy performances, starting with Rudd, who is predictably fantastic once again as Lang. With four Marvel films under his belt, Rudd is very comfortable in his superhero suit, and he exudes a calm assurance that audiences can feel. In addition to Rudd, newcomer Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang is a seamless addition to the MCU. Marvel took a risk, recasting Abby Ryder Fortson, who played a younger Cassie in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Emma Fuhrmann, who played an older Cassie in Avengers: Endgame, but it looks to have paid off. All credit to both talented actors but Marvel clearly has a vision for a more experienced actor who can hold her own in the action sequences and likely fits into a larger plan going forward. Sure enough, it’s hard not to think about Cassie’s potential Young Avengers future as you watch this film. Newton has great chemistry with Rudd and the rest of the cast, and is remarkably able to avoid being overshadowed while sharing the screen with the likes of Rudd, Pfeiffer, Douglas and Jonathan Majors.
Speaking of Majors, Quantumania is as much a spotlight of Majors’ Kang as it is a capping of a trilogy. First introduced as “He Who Remains” in Loki, Majors makes his highly anticipated return to the MCU as a fully realized Kang. He is fierce, evil and terrifying. Majors plays Kang with a brilliant mix of vulnerability, emotion and earned arrogance. His line delivery is exquisite, as nearly every line Kang says has an unmistakable weight. Upon first meeting Kang, Lang tries to intimidate him with bluster, saying that he’s made a mistake in capturing an Avenger. Kang is unmoved and ends their exchange declaring simply, “You’re out of your league…Ant-Man.” He’s right, and we may all be out of Majors’ league. Quantumania is worth watching even just for Kang, who commands every scene and leaves you wanting more (which we are clearly getting).
It’s worth noting too that both Pfeiffer and Douglas get a significant amount of screen time and play critical roles in the story. The MCU and superhero films in general don’t often feature older characters, and it’s great to see the two veterans get the opportunity to prove that they can still carry action sequences.
As any franchise progresses, there’s this inherent pressure to make the next film bigger. But bigger doesn’t always mean better. Nearly every trilogy suffers from the weight of that pressure and that goal is disappointingly apparent in Quantumania. After two films that made very amusing and creative use of having size-changing heroes in our world, Quantumania goes Fast & Furious big and dives head on into the Quantum Realm, which is where almost all of the story takes place. Unfortunately, having the film set in an overwhelmingly CGI setting strips the story of its unique appeal (watching tiny heroes run around in a familiar world), and also hamstrings some of Rudd’s charm. Lang is great fun interacting with both normal human characters and superhuman heroes because he’s so regular. There’s a reason that one of Scott Lang’s most memorable scenes involves him geeking out over meeting Steve Rogers in Captain America: Civil War. When you take Lang and his family away from the real world setting and dump them into a cosmic fantasy world that belongs in Star Wars or Dune, Lang feels out of place.
To director Peyton Reed’s credit, Quantumania is extremely ambitious. He clearly wanted to make an Ant-Man film that is unlike either of its predecessors. However, much of how that ambitiousness undermined the film is symbolized in the character of MODOK. Admittedly, MODOK is a completely absurd character, but I actually thought that his design from the trailer was excellent. The potential was there. However, while Quantumania attempts to lean fully into the ridiculousness of MODOK, it doesn’t manage to find the necessary balance of humor and effectiveness. The result is eye-roll inducing, as is much of the film’s third act.
Quantumania is disappointingly lacking in diversity and it is noticeable. Especially considering how wonderfully diverse Phase 4 of the MCU has been, Quantumania feels like a relic. In some ways it is, as the first Ant-Man film was released 8 years ago. Still, the franchise has had ample opportunity over the last two films to add diversity but failed to do so in meaningful ways, and has even taken a step back with the notable absence of some previously introduced characters.
Thankfully, Jonathan Majors buoys both the film as a whole and the franchise’s lack of diversity. Majors is truly an artist, and writer Jeff Loveness’ script and Reed’s direction allow him to explore the character of Kang in ways that we don’t often see in villians. However, as incredible as Majors is, should the Ant-Man franchise continue, one can only hope that more diversity in front of, and behind, the camera is included.
THE RATING – 3/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.