In the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe series, there are sometimes movies that set up what is to come. Iron Man 2 did legwork for The Avengers and Age of Ultron set up a lot of Phase 3 of the MCU. Those movies tend to get tagged, somewhat unfairly, as just being ads for the next chunk of Marvel content, but they work on their own. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania features setup although it works as a singular, sci-fi adventure. It mostly discards the smaller heist movie antics from the first two films and instead goes full intergalactic zaniness. Quantumania is still amusing and has a fantastically menacing bad guy going up against literally the smallest Avenger, as the pull between the unstoppable time god vs the little guy is what gives it dramatic heft.
Superhero / author / father Scott Lang, the Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), is promoting his autobiography and getting along with his love Hope aka The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Although things are difficult with his headstrong daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) who is disappointed in his lack of superheroics. Cassie has developed a way to investigate another reality, the Quantum Realm, although as Janet spent 30 years trapped there, she isn’t enthusiastic about the notion. Things go wrong when all four of them are sucked into the Quantum Realm to discover a world of alien creatures. Shockingly, Janet has a history with a dangerous resident, the time manipulating Kang the Conqueror (Johnathan Majors). And he wants Ant-Man to find something that will free him from his Quantum prison or Kang will harm everyone Scott loves.
The Quantumania isn’t quite the same as the first two Ant-Man movies, those were heist movies with a superhero size shifting twist. But the Quantum Realm has been teased out since the first movie so it’s not as if going sci-fi worldbuilding is a cheat. There is still a lot of funny stuff in here, although it is missing the antagonistic spark of the first two movies between Hank, Scott and Hope. Also, Scott’s sidekicks are completely MIA here, which is a shame because Michael Pena’s Luis in the first two movies, with rambling speeches about what is going on, was totally fantastic.
They get some new Quantum Realm sidekicks here; Bill Murray shows up to talk about what Janet was up to in her years in the Quantum Realm. Murray throws in a few oddball line deliveries as he’s chowing down on cute little alien creatures which leads to a great comeuppance later. Also, another new addition is the alien goo guy, voiced by David Dastmalchian, who gets an especially freaky introduction. There’s also a mind-reading guy, Quaz (William Jackson Harper) who has a few funny bits about how uncomfortable mind-reading is, and Katy M. O'Brian as a somewhat generic tough badass. It fills in the comedy sidekick gap left by ditching Scott’s crew but not as funny.
Rudd’s Ant-Man makes for a unique superhero to put against a villain as powerful as Kang but Scott proves up to the task. Hank and Hope just kind of tag along, with Lilly’s Hope providing last minute saves, and Douglas gets a big superhero moment in the finale. Newton’s Cassie is sort of a standard snarky teenage character, but she has some fun bits. Pfeiffer’s Janet is basically there for backstory delivery, but she sells it convincingly. An unexpected return is Corey Stoll as Darren Cross who has been turned into a floating killer mechanical head called M.O.D.O.K. The movie leans into M.O.D.O.K.’s freakiness, with everyone shocked he’s alive and now a giant baby head. His exit where he’s outpouring emotion that is entirely uncalled for to Scott is hilarious.
The newest bad is Majors’ Kang the Conqueror. Kang, or a version of him, was first introduced in the season finale of the TV show Loki, and while that final episode isn’t exactly required viewing it’s more essential to this movie than the preceding Ant-Man flicks. He’s very nasty and every line Majors has is seething with menace, like when he disdainfully mentions that he is a multiverse conqueror and Scott can only talk to ants. Kang leaving could have dire consequences for all creation, so it’s about Scott and company trying to keep the monster contained. While he is set up as a larger multi-installment threat, he works as a single, daunting antagonist to go up against Ant-Man.
Visually, the movie has lots of trippy moments, like when a gooey flying creature splits off into multiple parts, or buildings that are alive, or a broccoli headed alien guy. Also, one of the movie’s best bits is when Scott is caught in a “probability storm” where alternate versions of him all start climbing on top of each other, including a version of Scott’s post-convict days as a Baskin Robbins employee. The finale features a big battle between the two armies that ultimately is just a backdrop for Kang and Ant-Man’s intense throwdown.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania still has funny weirdness although it may forget the smaller stakes that gave the first two movies their charm, but adding spectacle gives it a different feel. Seeing the smallest guy take on a big threat gives it scope Ant-Man hasn’t had on its own.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O'Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll and Michael Douglas