REVIEW – ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ loses sight of what made its two predecessors so breezily enjoyable

Kudos to Marvel Studios for sticking by its heroes. When the MCU began over a decade ago, no one ever really expected the tiny titular hero Ant-Man would be given his own stand-alone film, let alone two of them. With Captain America and Iron Man now fading further in the distance and the first two Ant-Man movies earning a combined total of $1 billion at the worldwide box office, we’ve arrived at the third outing of nobody’s favourite Avenger.

While there’s a kooky, psychedelic feel to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania that brings on echoes of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, it falls under the weight of its own ambition and loses sight of what made its two predecessors so breezily enjoyable. Awash with a cacophony of relentless CGI and archetypal set pieces and damaged by mawkish dialogue and endless exposition, this is a textbook example of why going bigger is rarely better.

Life is pretty great for Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) aka Ant-Man and the Wasp. After saving the world a couple of times now, Scott has settled into a quiet life promoting his new autobiography, “Look Out for the Little Guy” and enjoying the spoils of being a celebrity. Hope has taken control of the Pym van Dyne Foundation, which now uses the Pym Particles for humanitarian efforts. Her parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) have settled back into married bliss after being reunited in the previous film, although Janet is still reluctant to discuss her 30 years trapped in the mysterious Quantum Realm.

The only minor thorn in Scott’s side is his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who’s clearly inherited her father’s rebellious heroic streak and keeps getting arrested for sticking up for those left homeless after “the Blip.” But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in other ways with Cassie taking a keen interest in science and technology. Under the secret tutelage of Hank, she’s developed a device that can seemingly safely map the Quantum Realm without the need to venture into the volatile minuscule dimension.

Naturally, everything goes pear-shaped the moment Cassie first turns on her device and the entire Lang/van Dyne family is immediately sucked (and trapped) inside the Quantum Realm. They soon discover this subatomic universe is ruled with an iron fist by Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), an exiled traveller with a mysterious history with Janet whose lust for power and knowledge of the multiverse could have severe ramifications for Earth if he ever escaped the Quantum Realm.

One of the elements that made the first two Ant-Man films such a goofy guilty pleasure was the delicious ways the action sequences played with the scale of common objects. Sadly, that’s no longer present in this threequel as we enter the strange CGI-heavy world of the Quantum Realm barely ten minutes into the film and stay there for the next two hours. Sure, Scott and Hope still grow bigger and smaller throughout the proceedings, but it’s only ever for the sake of completing missions or dispatching a series of goons. It’s missing that contextualization and crucial concept of size that provided such levity and ingenuity.

Instead, we’re plonked into a bizarre alien land that resembles Avatar‘s Pandora without the sweeping majesty and bright colours and inhabitants that look like leftovers from a Star Wars film. A gelatinous blob who’s obsessed with how many “holes” everyone else has. A giant mechanical floating head with baby arms and legs. Sentient buildings that can walk and fight during combat. Stingray-like creatures that double as transportation devices. A spaceship featuring two large worms that suck onto your arms for steering purposes. A creature with broccoli for a head. It’s all here and it’s all very, very weird.

To its credit, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania embraces its oddity and silliness with full vigour. There’s a playful vibe that’s easy to dig and its entire visual aesthetic is unlike anything in the MCU thus far, and that has to count for something. But it’s drowning in so much muddy, sludgy CGI that it all just becomes far too much. It brings back all those awful memories of the George Lucas Star Wars prequel trilogy where you just wish someone had told him less can be more. It’s that timeless adage of just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

It leaves our titular duo to become almost lost in a film that’s supposedly their own, particularly Hope who’s relegated to nothing more than a generic sidekick this time around. Rudd is typically charming and reliable, but even he and the usually-terrific Newton can’t bring to life screenwriter Jeff Loveless‘ forced attempts at a father-daughter narrative that just never really gets off the ground. Perhaps that’s one of the foibles of recasting Cassie. We’re asked to believe their tight bond within mere moments of meeting this new incarnation of someone we’ve only previously seen as a child and their lack of familial chemistry never really sells it effectively.

Douglas takes a big back seat to Pfeiffer, who genuinely shines as always. As we delve into Janet’s past, we feel her crushing guilt over decisions made in the Quantum Realm that caused vast ramifications for those stuck living in this microscopic world. The plot inherently revolves around Janet’s connection to Kang and her valiant attempts to set everything right, gifting Pfeiffer the opportunity to completely steal this film as only she can. Her scenes with Majors are the film’s highlights in quieter conversational moments where it focuses on humanity and emotion rather than whatever the CGI wizards have cooked up in their computers.

The sublime Majors makes a glorious entrance into the MCU that hints at larger things to come. His line delivery and overall presence are genuinely menacing and he’s rather enthralling to watch. Kang is a formidable foe and one that Majors instil with an equal measure of unsettling calmness and terrifying fury. Majors understands the assignment and eats it all up with gleeful joy. His performance is worth the price of admission alone.

It’s just a shame almost everything else falls rather flat. The humour and sarcasm of the first two Ant-Man adventures are both practically non-existent here. It doesn’t help that a great levity-injecting supporting character like Michael Peña’s Luis is nowhere to be found. It often feels like this film exists as nothing more than an introduction for Kang with a generic Ant-Man story built around it. It doesn’t explore its existing characters or offer them anything new to do. It’s merely lazily laying the foundations for future chapters without standing on its own two feet and it’s a rather tepid way of kicking off Phase Five of the MCU.

Distributor: Disney
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, William Jackson Harper, Katy O’Brian, Bill Murray
Director: Peyton Reed
Producers: Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard
Screenplay: Jeff Loveless
Cinematography: William Pope
Production Design: Will Htay
Costume Design: Sammy Sheldon
Music: Christophe Beck
Editor: Adam Gerstel, Laura Jennings
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: 16th February 2023 (Australia)

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