“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (2023) – “The cracks between the paving stones, like rivers of flowing veins. Strange people who know me, peeping behind every windowpane.” – “The Real Me” (1973) by The Who
“The Real Me” is a track from “Quadrophenia”, which quasi-shares a connection to the third Ant-Man film, a movie that kicks off the MCU’s fifth phase. The aforementioned lyrics almost describe the setting – the Quantum Realm – of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”.
The locale is a bizarre spot, a micro-universe on a subatomic scale that resembles a twisty, disconnected topography of misshapen stalactites and stalagmites, gravity-defying land masses, and igneous rock formations delivered through a forced alliance between Dr. Seuss and the Krofft Brothers, Sid and Marty.
It’s here that our heroes – Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) – find themselves, in a “The Lorax” meets “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” mash-up.
Even though the locale is a winding mess, the film’s plot is straightforward. The Langs and Pyms/Van Dynes need to discover a way back to modern-day San Francisco while dodging a dastardly villain, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), who rules over a great deal of these miniature, psychedelic beaches with thousands and thousands of Sneetches.
So, director Peyton Reed – who has helmed all three Ant-Man flicks – pilots his leads and us into a Journey-to-the-Center-of-the-Earthish tale. However, the film suffers from competing tones, subplots that spin in cul-de-sacs, and a physical environment with questionable personality, despite the painstaking detail exerted by the litany of digital artists that endlessly scroll during the ending credits.
Now, the first two Ant-Man flicks are pleasantly littered with humor, and Rudd – with his nice-guy, comedic background – fits into the role. Both “Ant-Man” (2015) and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018) carry low stakes, and even though lives were on the line (maybe?), these movies are remembered more for Scott Lang’s awkward journey to Ant-Man status and the progression of his relationship with Hope.
Who were the baddies in those movies again? Two businessmen (Corey Stoll and Walton Goggins), perhaps? Is that right?
However, Kang is the Big Bad in “Ant-Man 3”, and he’s apparently the long-term evildoer throughout the next MCU phase or two. The man can deliver punishment, physically and psychologically, through off-the-chart weapons based on future technologies. His array of armaments – which amounts to blue light emanating from his super suit – are, however, aren’t explained, so we never really know the extent of their destructive power or the length of his defenses. This becomes a muddled problem in sizing up the chaotic confrontations over the 2nd and 3rd acts. Still, he’s not afraid to lay waste to his enemies or slews of random innocents who stand at the wrong place and wrong…time.
(For the record, “time” looms large in this film.)
He’s a vicious overlord, and Majors plays him with cool bravado, defiance, and menace. Kang carries an element of an old-school James Bond-film antagonist and expends precious moments to explain his reprehensible plans, rather than just releasing the hounds…or sharks with lasers. In this case, his figurative “hounds” or “sharks” would not only cause global catastrophes but universe-shaking ones.
So, is Ant-Man, a hero who leans into jokes, an effective big-screen match for an existence-level threat? That character-concoction works for the Guardians of the Galaxy, but here, our insect-referenced hero is outmatched, and as an audience, we need to cope with shifting tones between Lang’s levity and Kang’s murderous intentions.
Meanwhile, the film’s primary thread is Scott’s father-daughter relationship with Cassie, as Dad attempts to make up for lost years and trains his young protégé to be a superhero. Naturally, Cassie soaks up the opportunity, and Reed and Newton often showcase the Young Lang’s “growing” pains of working with Pym particles (the sole basis for the Ant-Man technology).
Newton, 26 – who was terrific as a serial killer in the 2020 horror comedy “Freaky” – plays Cassie with the emotional maturity and general persona of a 15-year-old, and, hence, her frequent discoveries of new powers and battle tactics carry the theatrical weight of email spam.
(As a side note, Cassie also – seems to – unnecessarily address her dad – with “Dad” – in conversation throughout the picture. (i.e., “Why am I grounded?” versus “Why am I grounded, Dad?”) So much so, that her utterances of “Dad” can become a distraction and a possible genesis for a college drinking game. Please, as a warning, be responsible and assign a designated driver or call an Uber.)
Well, despite a formulaic adventure, “Ant-Man 3” carries some surprises.
The movie carves out worthwhile scenes for Pfeiffer and Douglas to shine because this eccentric trek is a family affair.
Kang has a devoted, insanely creepy-looking minion, a scoundrel that comic-book fans will instantly recognize. For those unfamiliar with him, you will never unsee his presence, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but in a revolting, unpleasant way.
A world-famous “Saturday Night Live” alumnus makes a welcome appearance but doesn’t return.
Large communities live in this beyond-microscopic land, and they probably have plenty of curious stories to tell. Unfortunately, writer Jeff Loveness (or film editors Adam Gerstel and Laura Jennings) needed to devote more minutes – to the their tales – for audience-character connections to form and stick.
Well, does “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” stick the landing? That’s for you to judge, but this MCU movie is the beginning of Phase 5. Enjoy or perhaps go home and find some 70s hits from The Who. Maybe turn to “Who’s Next” (1971).
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Reily” immediately come to mind.
⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Jeff Loveness
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas
Runtime: 125 minutes
Image credits: Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios