There’s a lot of weight on the tiny shoulders of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). This, apparently, is the beginning of the so-called ‘phase five’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase four, from Black Widow to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, represented a dreary period for a franchise in need of a reset. But Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is the same old formula, rather than a bold new beginning.
It’s misguided from the beginning. For one thing, giving The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) equal billing is to wildly overstate her involvement. She just buzzes at the edge of the story. The appeal of Ant-Man was always that he was the least impressive Avenger, a goofy dad who knew he shouldn’t really be there but did his very best. This tries to elevate him to a dramatic superhero. It doesn’t work. Rudd’s charm is dimmed by largely stripping him of comedy bits and there’s no fun to be had with Ant-Man’s changes in size. There’s too much man, not enough ant.
Scott Lang (Ant-Man’s alter ego) is very happy in his post-Avengers life. He, Hope (Lilly), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and in-laws Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) are all living cheerfully, until one of Cassie’s scientific experiments gets them all dragged into the ‘Quantum Realm’, a hidden universe of alien worlds and sentient blobs. The whole Quantum Realm lives in fear of Kang (Jonathan Majors), a being with whom Janet has a secret history.
Janet drives the plot – such as it is – drip-feeding details of her murky past excruciatingly slowly. Pfeiffer is a solid gold movie star and it’s a pleasure to see her anchoring a blockbuster again, but even she can’t turn worried side glances into narrative momentum.
And even by superhero movie standards, Quantumania is an extraordinarily CGI-heavy movie. It’s often reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels – technically impressive but soulless, with a universe that feels fake rather than lived-in. Director Peyton Reed seems lost in its brooding world.
The new villain, Kang, is everywhere and will always be – like a handy metaphor for Marvel movies
If there’s a near-saving grace, it’s Kang, a villain with potential. He’s a multidimensional being who exists outside time. He is everywhere and will always be, like a handy metaphor for the entire MCU. The part doesn’t ask a lot of Jonathan Majors, who has already shown his star quality in Lovecraft Country and The Harder They Fall, but he finds interesting moments and there’s something chilly and occasionally frightening about the almost bored way he behaves.
There’s a lot more Majors to come in future Marvel films and he’s really the only thing here that makes a continued story look even vaguely enticing. With this functional sequel Marvel is still on a dud streak. They now have the whole multiverse to explore. But can they settle into a reality where their films are fun again?
In cinemas worldwide Fri Feb 17.