First there was Loki challenging the Avengers in phase 1, then came Ultron in phase 2 quickly followed by Thanos in Phase 3. In between were a few key villains that stood out among the mediocre rest of them like Vulture, Killmonger, the Red Skull and the more recent Wenwu. The MCU has always had a villain crisis, many of which are just mere psychopathic mirrored versions of the main hero they are going up against, ending up fading into obscurity once the next film releases. Now that is has been fully completed, there was no big bad guy looming over the universe in Phase 4 and the MCU suffered once again because of it.
Following Thanos and the performance Josh Brolin gave is a tall task – there are plenty of villains that deserve the same Avengers level threat of Thanos paired with the sympathy and perspective of seeing the universe or, in this case, the multiverse through their eyes. “Thanos was right” could be spotted throughout phase 4, many believing the universe was better off with the snap. With the directionless and divisive phase 4 firmly in the rearview, the first film of phase 5, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has the pleasure of introducing the next big bad – one that will over arch throughout the next two phases and into the next two avengers films, culminating in two grandiose team ups with multiverse implications that could change the MCU forever.
One of his name’s is Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) who first popped up in the season 1 finale of Loki as a variant of himself called He Who Remains. Where we meet him for a second time happens in the opening moments of Quantumania, crash landing in the Quantum Realm in close proximity to where Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) has taken shelter after being trapped there so many years ago – forming a partnership in the hope of returning home one day.
Outside of the Quantum Realm, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is living his best life after the events of Endgame. He’s written a memoir, is recognized wherever he goes (as Spider-Man by some) and even has reconciled with his former employer Baskin Robins. Scott is more involved with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) along with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). With a title like Quantumania, the majority of the narrative takes place in the sub-atomic realm – a vast unseen universe hidden from plain sight with so much undiscovered potential waiting to be explored.
Since this is an Ant-Man and the Wasp centered film, director Peyton Reed steps back into the director role to complete his trilogy, promising an Avengers level film rather than the palette cleanser the previous two films have delightfully been. Written by Jeff Loveness, writer of Rick and Morty, the first 50 of the 124 minutes resembles the smaller, shrunken world of Ant-Man we have come to know. Signature Scott Lang humor delivered exceptionally well by Paul Rudd and the rest of the ensemble gets sprinkled throughout and decreases in impact and variation the further down the Quantum Realm rabbit hole we go.
Everyone except for Jonathan Majors, that is. Majors holds Kang in a high regard bringing a businesslike respect to him. Kang has no time for games, no time for jokes or things that make Scott who he is. Jonathan Majors’ Kang is on a mission to control the multiverse and he will act on his threats. There will be no punches pulled when it comes time to get his hands dirty.
Whereas the “Wasp” of it all is absent from the opening montage of Scott’s journey to the films conclusion. It’s Evangeline Lilly’s 4th portrayal of Hope Van Dyne and once again she’s sidelined, showing up at the convenient moment with nothing to do, pretending to have taken part in the accomplishment of banishing Kang when all is said and done. Loveness gives more attention to Cassie instead – maybe the title should have been Ant-Man and Cassie. Just about everyone else in the main cast has more of an impact, Michael Douglas included.
Quantumania being a departure from its predecessors feels foreign – characters that have made an impact like Michael Peña’s Luis and the team of thieves including Clifford Harris and David Dastmalchian are sorely missed, though the latter voices a character in the Quantum Realm who is obsessed with human holes. One of Scotts funnier moments has him internally counting how many there actually are. Tasked with setting up the future of the MCU, Peyton Reed loses his grip on the film during the climactic 3rd act.
Like many MCU films, once the film transitions into the 3rd act, the heavy use of CGI and large sets takes over from the contained conflict that has been nurtured up to that point. Add in a universe sized Quantum Realm full of new creatures and locations and the realism no longer exists. 98% of Quantumania is devoid of verisimilitude due to the volume technology used to bring the realm to life. As advanced as the technology is and the benefits of using it as opposed to practical effects and on location shooting, most of the horizon is flat, you can feel the containment of the stage.
Despite being titled Ant-Man and the Wasp, its Jonathan Majors who overshadows everyone else. Before making a full appearance, his presence is felt, looming over the entire Quantum Realm. A whisper of his name is taboo, like Voldemort. Kang is everywhere, he can hear and can see everything and is at his most dangerous when Majors is softly speaking – playing the role with a stoic severity. “You’re an Avenger, have I killed you before” he says to Scott with ice in his veins. It’s Majors’ film and its treated as such – the next big villain has arrived and Loveness writes him that way with Majors up to the task of setting the standard for how a villain should be handled.
Quantumania will further divide fans down the middle on superhero fatigue and the direction the MCU is going down. At Least with Kang and Jonathan Majors fully committing to the infinite nuanced variations he could play, there is a shimmer of hope for the next two phases. The Ant-Man franchise is at its best when it sticks to its ant sized roots, focusing on the group of characters, being that palette cleanser and the comic relief, reassuring us that the universe doesn’t have to be so big.
Screenplay By: Jeff Loveness
Directed By: Peyton Reed
Music By: Christophe Beck
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll, Michael Douglas
Edited By: Adam Gerstel & Laura Jennings
Release Date: February 17, 2023
Running Time: 2 Hours 4 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%