The charisma of Paul Rudd and Jonathan Majors struggles to carry Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania – here’s our review.
All the best threequels in all the best trilogies strike a balance between scale and storytelling. They want big, epic battles, but never at the expense of tying up the stories of the characters at the heart of the tale or giving them meaningful development. We love to watch a horde of orcs storm Gondor in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, but equally we need to see Sam hold Frodo’s hand once it’s all over.
This is one of the first places where Marvel’s latest – Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania – struggles. Paul Rudd’s third headline outing (as the title character, anyway) as the sometimes-really-small and sometimes-really-big superhero takes Scott Lang and his family into the strange and vast Quantum Realm. This is a world that exists kind of below/within ours – Michelle Pfeiffer relates the sci-fi jargon better than I could – where Lang and co face a scarily powerful new foe named Kang. It’s an adventure that’s theoretically high-stakes and big in scale, yet seems disinterested in its core characters.
Ironic for a film that constantly mentions “taking care of the little guy.”
We begin somewhere a lot more simple, though. In San Francisco, five years after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Scott and his family are living happily and rather uneventfully. Scott’s written a book and enjoys taking selfies with dogs, and takes the mick out of himself with ease – as does his family. Rudd delivers some sprightly and amusing voice-over dialogue for this introduction to his new life, but his quips have somewhat lost their charm compared to when they were fresh and new in Ant-Man.
This goes for much of Quantumania’s humour. It seems like a lot of Jeff Loveness’ script was written with comedy in mind – “how can we make this character/plot point etc. into a joke?” – and it hampers how much of an emotional connection you’re able to make with the film. More on that later.
In the meantime, Scott’s daughter Cassie (now an adult played by Kathryn Newton) is following in her father’s footsteps by getting herself in trouble for good causes and inventing quantum science-y things. One such thing is a satellite that can map out the Quantum Realm, and here comes the plot stuff. For little does she know (but Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne does) that it also acts as a beacon, sending a signal in the Quantum Realm. The movie promptly leaves Scott’s peaceful new reality behind, sucking the entire family, Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne included, into said Realm.
If that didn’t seem like enough sci-fi jargon, wait until the characters get inside the Realm and begin asking Janet questions about how it all works. It’s a little bit exhausting to keep up with.
But what’s more exhausting is the environment itself. I often hear fans say they’re fed up with Star Wars constantly setting films and shows in the barren, brown desert of Tatooine. Well, the Quantum Realm is Marvel’s Tatooine. With the exception of the bright lights emitted by the inhabitants’ advanced technology, the Quantum Realm is just brown. Maybe browney-orange on a good day. But as soon as the Langs arrive, everything is marred by what’s almost a sepia filter.
The creatures that inhabit that realm are slightly more interesting. They’re mostly gooey, bacteria-like organisms and insectoid creatures, and there’s also what looks to be a snail-horse hybrid. However, these types of creatures have been done before, even by Disney in its most recent animated adventure Strange World.
Which brings me to the most disappointing thing about Quantumania: a lack of imagination.
There are many different types of people living within the Quantum Realm, but they’re all science fiction stereotypes. As Scott and Cassie scramble to reunite themselves with Janet, Hope and Hank they come across a settlement of freedom fighters who are running from Kang’s growing influence over the realm. These people are a mixture of warriors dressed in typical tribal attire (complete with war paint), reptilian aliens, furry mammalian aliens and, as Hank points out, a guy who looks like broccoli.
All these people are meant to have been displaced by Kang, but it’s extremely difficult to feel any empathy for them when they seem to be designed with a joke and punchline in mind. It leads to the entire affair feeling shallow and meaningless.
Up until now I’ve been discussing everything except Marvel’s big new villain Kang, which is largely because the film seems to be keeping him away from us for as long as possible to facilitate a big reveal. It works. Jonathan Majors’ performance in the role is one of the few things that adds weight to the proceedings, with him choosing a quietly menacing approach that he can back up with his terrifying power if need be.
Kang’s story is largely detached from that of Scott and his family, but is connected just enough to justify his presence in an Ant-Man film. That’s part of the problem, too. Instead of pursuing the story and development of the Langs and van Dynes, Quanumania uses their tale to further the big picture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s where its heart is.
If you’ve watched the Disney+ show Loki, you know that Kang has been introduced before and is important to the overall story. If you’ve been keeping up with entertainment news, you’ll know that Kang is part of the grand plan leading up to the next Avengers team-up. It really does feel like a waste of likeable characters to use Quantumania as an excuse to tell a story that’s really all about Kang, and not so much about anyone else.
As the plot devolves into a(nother) jumble of CGI battles, it becomes clear that this particular Marvel film has prioritised scale, spectacle, and a constant stream of (not very good) jokes above storytelling and meaningful character arcs. And what are we left with? An Ant-Man film that feels completely and utterly disinterested in Ant-Man.
Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania is in cinemas from 17th February.
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