In many ways, fellow Avengers Thor and Ant-Man have quite a bit in common, as referenced in the first chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 5 film, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Before the start of their first solo movies, both were honourable but less than altruistic or heroic, and needed to be taken down a peg or two by a silver-haired older gent. After a rather incredulous hero’s journey, both are now wiser, especially having saved the universe before.
And while the first two Thor movies were more dramatic in nature, the third, Ragnarok, leaned more towards comedy. It’s the opposite here, where 2015’s Ant-Man and its 2018 sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, were more comedic but in this third outing, director Peyton Reed has opted to mix in slightly more drama and tension, to varying levels of success.
After a mix of films that introduced new characters, closed the chapter on old ones and brought established ones into a post Avengers: Endgame world in Phase 4, the start of Phase 5 goes big with the debut of Kang the Conqueror, a storied villain in Marvel Comics and the next universe, or should we say, multiverse conqueror in the MCU. But instead of facing off against the World’s Mightiest Heroes, the time manipulator has to contend with a family of pint-sized heroes – Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man/Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly’s Hope, daughter of Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne, as well as Lang’s now grown up little girl, Cassie, played by newcomer Kathryn Newton.
Through some experiments by Cassie into the Quantum Realm, aka the inner world where Janet was once trapped for 30 years and where Scott figured out that time rolled differently and used it to save the universe in Endgame, the family gets sucked back in where its revealed that Janet has been keeping a huge secret – the identity and location of Kang. Separated into two groups, the Pyms have to depend on Janet’s old network of Quantum Realm contacts to locate the Langs, while the Langs get rounded up by, well, an old friend, and get brought to Kang.
If you haven’t already been presented with what life is like in miniaturised city during the last few visits, make a return to a familiar new world where rules don’t apply, as Hope finds out more about her mother that she might not care for, while Scott discovers that his pigheaded daughter didn’t fall far from the apple tree.
Reed doesn’t deviate far from the tried and tested MCU formula, with special effects that look as if the minds of Moebius went drinking with that of Frank Frazetta, and took a detour with Vincent Di Fate. Unlike last year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home, which had ties to the multiverse and alternate versions of popular characters, the multiverse is present but not all encompassing, preferring to tell a straight up adventure story instead.
Where the audience might get lost in though, is that Quantumania might seem like a very familiar film that pulls across different franchises within and outside of the MCU. The strange folks entering a new world and discovering a whole new realm? That’s Thor: Ragnarok. The keeping of secrets that might tear relationships apart? Captain America: Winter Soldier. The climatic end battle that sees armies across both sides rise up to do battle? Avengers: Endgame. The sense of almost losing, but sending out a last minute SOS for help that comes with guns blazing at the last minute? Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker. Having that huge army descend to save our heroes at the last moment? How very The Lord of the Rings.
Reed does his best to manage a huge family of characters, even as he is also tasked to make the big screen debut of Kang, and is helped a lot by the masterful and eerie presence of Jonathan Majors. Majors previously starred as a variant of the same character, He Who Remains, in the final episode of Disney+’s Loki Season 1, and if the end of the film is anything to go by, we are going to be seeing a whole lot more of the rising star.
Kang’s grand scheme is kept hidden here, as he talks a lot about destroying those who trapped him in the Quantum Realm, leaving it to decide if he’s a victim or hero in this tale. Sure, he acts like a villain, but there’s a part of how Majors choose to depict Kang, especially in the flashback scenes across Pfeiffer, who started helping Kang without realising who he is. Unlike Thanos, whom we only see in full character in the last two Avengers films, Kang’s debut here, especially for those who know their Marvel Comics lore, sets the stage for truly magnificent Phase 5 and Phase 6. If you have question about how Kang ended up here, and who trapped him, the films answers little but sets up a lot.
Where Reed falters though is his need to mix in drama with several oddly placed bouts of humour. We get the father and daughter drama, and the mother and daughter tension, and it’s amazing how Lang has gone from being a thief, to that of a world-class Avenger, but some of the narrative choices seem odd in the larger scheme of things. Surely the elder Pym and Lang know of the dangers of the Quantum Realm, so why would Pym allow Cassie to experiment with it? If Janet knows who’s really trapped there, wouldn’t she make sure that enough people know enough, to keep Kang locked up?
And upon getting sucked into the Quantum Realm, Hope is the only smart one to suit up, because you never know what you’re going to face, but she’s the only one, even when it’s later shown that at least two others have their costumes on hand.
Comic book fans will also likely stare disapprovingly at the debut of M.O.D.O.K. in the MCU, as this is not the big headed genius from the comics, but something else entirely. In the comics, M.O.D.O.K. is a gigantic face on a moving, floating platform plotting to take over Earth and here, the character and his origin are mainly played for laughs, even to the very end where it’s totally unnecessary.
What works well are the character moments that show why the Pyms and Langs are the first family of the MCU. Janet will do all she can to save the universe and her family, while Hank finally gets his moment as he rallies his army towards the end, to take on overwhelming odds. Hope doesn’t get many opportunities to shine, but she performs best when she is paired with Pfeiffer, Douglas or Rudd on screen. As for Rudd, look at him. Who would have thought that the fresh-faced actor would end up as an important aspect of the MCU?
Newton is the only odd one out, not because audiences are unfamiliar with her, but her journey as a hero is an underserved one, where she doesn’t understand the sacrifice of her father, and comes across more as a Nepo Baby than Young Avenger. The film also introduces several supporting characters, including William Jackson Harper as telepath Quaz, and Katy O’Brian as freedom fighter/leader Jentorra, but sadly, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see them again after this.
What’s missing from this movie are actually two important elements from the first two films. This third outing isn’t a heist movie, and while sticking to a formula isn’t always the best way forward, Quantumania doesn’t make a good showing of outwitting Kang. The other is Michael Peña as Lang’s good friend, Luis. He might not be a leading character, but Luis can probably summarise things a lot better.
Ultimately, this is merely the first part of a multi-act story, so stay for the key post-credit scenes, and tell yourself that there is more to come. Who knows? Phase 5 just might grow on you.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Exactly how many miniaturised items can Ant-Man and family keep in their suits? Like a magic act, the tricks keep coming but you know that this is merely the opening act for the main show that has yet to reveal itself.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 8.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10