Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) might have opened up plenty of storytelling opportunities, with the introduction of multiversal variants in 2021’s Disney+ series, Loki, before taking centre stage in 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home that introduced Spider-Man variants from two other realities. It also exploded across realities in 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, when Scarlet Witch traveled across the multiverse in search of her children, but elements for them were actually seeded much earlier.
While all of these could have led up to this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, fans should look back much earlier, in Phase 2 to be exact, to see where it all began, explains Marvel Studios’ head, Kevin Feige in a press conference for the movie.
More specifically, it’s when Paul Rudd first entered the MCU as Ant-Man/Scott Lang in 2015’s Ant-Man, the first movie of his current trilogy. The first film primed the MCU for its future phases when it introduced the Quantum Realm. Although that movie focused largely on stopping Darren Cross’ Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) from selling the secrets of miniaturisation to evil organisation Hydra, fans would recall that Ant-Man creator Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) warned Lang about overriding the Ant-Man suit’s ability to go sub-atomic, and mentioned that his wife Janet van Dyne aka The Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer) died in the Quantum Realm.
The movie ended with Scott defeating Darren by sending him into the Quantum Realm, and in the next Phase’s Avengers: Endgame (2019), Lang suggested traveling through space and time via the Quantum Realm in order to defeat Thanos, and it worked!
And there are still secrets to be garnered from that world.
“Well, we first saw it in the first Ant-Man film, and I was sort of reminded recently, that this was an idea that Paul had early on before we started filming the first Ant-Man film – What if we explore this, you know, quantum mechanics? Things act very differently at the quantum level, and Paul was talking about the amount of storytelling and imagination, and fun that you could have there,” said Feige.
“The first Ant-Man movie was mainly about meeting the characters and the origin story, of course, but at the very end of that, we got a taste of it, and that is what led to where we took it in Endgame,” he continued.
“[The Quantum Realm] is a place that is on the subatomic level where space and time act differently, and that allowed us to time travel at Scott Lang’s suggestion in Endgame, and it allowed us to have this entire manic quantumness in this film, where we go to a point where only Janet had ever seen before.”
Quantumania sees the return of the core cast of the Ant-Man franchise, including Rudd, Douglas and Pfeiffer, as well as Evangeline Lilly, who returns as Hope, daughter of the Pyms, and love interest of Lang. This time around, they are joined by Kathryn Newton, who becomes the third actress to take on the role of Cassie, Lang’s daughter, as the group gets sucked back into the Quantum Realm by forces unknown.
Or rather, unknown to everyone except Janet van Dyne.
To her character, Pfeiffer said, “After finally being rescued from the Quantum Realm after 30 years and reunited with her lovely husband Hank and daughter Hope, she is just savouring this time together and quite, decidedly so, secretive about her time down there and not really wanting to get into that until, of course, we all find ourselves down in the parallel universe and parallel world.”
“She is forced to come forth with the truth and in a place where she had hoped she would never see again. And, you know, 30 years is a long time. People have needs. And let’s not be judgmental. And so, I think there are a lot of surprises for the family.”
These surprises – without spoiling too much – include civilizations living in the realm, as well as the MCU’s new big bad, Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors. While Kang the Conqueror makes his big screen debut here, it’s not the actor’s debut as Majors played a Kang variant, He Who Remains, at the end of Loki.
“Phase 5 is about introducing a lot of new characters and new heroes to the world. We want to kick off Phase 5 with a third film of characters that were already beloved, which this team certainly is, and utilise them. And who better to face off against one of, if not the biggest villains the MCU’s ever faced than this family who you might think could not handle it?” teased Feige.
To his character, Majors added, “Kang is a time-traveling supervillain who is also a nexus being, which leads to this idea of variants. There are multiple versions of Kang. Versions being variants. They occupy different universes, and multiverses, they have different intentions,” says Majors, and believe it or not, this allows the actor an opportunity to refine his take on the character, since there are so many to portray.
“They are all different beings, and yet something that we’re still – and I’m still – working on, and continue to refine between them.”
When preparing for the role of Kang, Majors crafted him as an antagonist that is the opposite of Rudd’s Ant-Man. He did research on Lang’s personality, as well as his goals and dreams, so that he can portray the exact opposite.
“The prep really comes down to who my director is, and who my hero is because as an antagonist, we’re following our heroes. I look at them and I figure out, ‘Okay, you can’t antagonise somebody if you don’t know who they are. If you don’t know what’s the opposite of them. If you don’t know what their hopes and dreams are.’ My objective is to do that. Antagonize in order to get what I need to fulfill my life, my dream.” explained Majors.
“And so, in Loki, I’m dealing with Tom [Hiddleston]. He Who Remains and Tom. This opportunity came to me in lockdown and so I studied Tom Hiddleston for hours a day. And then when that was done, I went, ‘Okay, Paul Rudd, you’re up’ and I studied him and I studied all his hero colleagues and co-patriots. And the rest of it, there’s always bookwork.”
Accompanying Kang in the Quantum Realm are its locals, though not necessarily accomplices, introducing original characters Jentorra (Katy O’Brian), Quaz (William Jackson Harper) and Vebb (David Dastmalcian), all of whom are fighting Kang’s regime in the Quantum Realm.
“So when we arrive in the Quantum Realm, we kinda get thrust mid-story into an ongoing battle there because Kang the Conqueror has risen to power here in the Quantum Realm and we meet a group of freedom fighters, of locals, essentially, down there that are at the tip of the spear fighting back,” revealed producer Stephen Broussard.
“They are very serious about defending their territory down there and winning back their freedom and pushing back against everything they find themselves in.”
Much of the Quantum Realm was designed by director Peyton Reed, who took inspiration from various sources including magazines, electron micro-photography and sci-fi films from different time periods. It was a rather huge exploration and creative process for Reed, who also looked at art from artists from all around the world.
“For the Quantum Realm, we really drew from a lot of stuff, Flash Gordon, Barbarella, all these sorts of whacked-out things. Looking at the covers of old science fiction paperbacks from the ’60s and ’70s and into the ’80s. There are a lot of great artists who would paint the covers for these things and, you know, they would be in a newsstand and that cover had to grab you. And a lot of them were creating these really strange worlds,” explained Reeds.
“And again, Heavy Metal magazines from all over the world, artists from not only the States but France and Germany, everywhere. And again, looking at real-world microphotography, electron micro-photography, which takes things that are so, so incredibly small and then you print them out and they look like landscapes.”
As easy as it seemed, creating the Quantum Realm took a lot of figuring out. Reed is no scientist, but it was his priority that Quantum Realm not only looked unique but also had to feel real and in some ways, make logical sense.
“There’s a little sword and sorcery element, and then there’s a real Moebius element to it. None of the other Marvel movies have really dealt with it, and want to create this very vivid world that has its own internal history and internal logic. Who are the creatures there and who are the people there, and how do you travel? What are the laws of physics? All these things needed to be figured out,” he added.
All these elements are incredibly important because it is not just a location as the Quantum Realm is literally the driving force for one of the biggest character growths when Newton’s Cassie Lang becomes a hero.
“The Ant-Man movies have really always been about family. It is a generational story about a family of heroes, and Scott Lang, who is not a billionaire or super scientist or anything, getting sucked into this world, and Hope van Dyne who is the legacy daughter of two superheroes. So it’s this generational thing, and now young Cassie Lang, who is probably Scott’s biggest motivating factor of, like, having time with his daughter, wants to be a hero,” said Reed.
“At the beginning of the movie, very quickly we find out that maybe Janet hasn’t told the family about her 30 years in the Quantum Realm, and maybe Hope and Hank have not told Scott about what they’re working on with Cassie down in the basement, and maybe Cassie hasn’t told her dad about time she might’ve spent in jail. So everyone’s keeping secrets from Scott at the beginning of the movie, and suddenly, they’re thrust into the Quantum Realm, and they have to kind of work out these family dynamics while being in this bizarro, whacked-out world.”
The secrets also impact Lilly’s Hope, who has grown from being someone cold and distant, to one who happily loves, and is happily loved herself.
“Hope started the first Ant-Man film a very cold, detached, very isolated woman. She had a lot of broken relationships in her life, and over the course of these three films, I’ve had this incredible arc to be able to play where she has, in that time, repaired her relationship with her father. She’s reunited with her long-lost mother. She’s fallen madly in love with Scott, and she’s become a stepmom to Cassie. And so her life is just full of relationships, and it’s full of love, and she is really like a blossomed version of the woman that we met, and you see that in the work that she’s doing in the world,” said Lilly.
“She’s thriving and taking that love and spreading it around by trying to do right in the world and fix issues that are massive like global warming and housing crises, and she’s doing it with success. And there’s this little hiccup. There’s this little missing piece, which is that she had always fantasised about her mom coming home one day and I think that fantasy started when she was 8 years old, it was, like, ‘We’re gonna be best friends, and she’s gonna tell me everything, and we’re just gonna be so close!’ and then she really keeps Hope on the outside, and that’s a wound that is festering at the beginning of the film.”
Still, there’s not denying that the biggest change will happen with Cassie, who was seen as a child in the first film, and now played by 26-year-old Newton. Having been in plenty of movies since transitioning from being a golf prodigy, Newton shared that just like her character Cassie, being a Marvel superhero was everything she ever dreamed of.
“I told myself that I always wanted to be the biggest Marvel superhero of all time and I think it’s ironic that Cassie Lang grows 40 feet. So I’m proof that your dreams come true, ’cause mine did.”
Catch Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania when it releases 16 February 2023.