Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is visually stunning but emotionally empty
by Chuck Duncan
It’s been five years since we last saw Scott Lang, Hope Van Dyne, and their various family members together in their own film (although most of them did appear in Avengers: Endgame), but now they are back for a third time without the assistance of any of the roster of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) heroes to take on a “new” baddie in the Marvel realm, one that could have even larger implications moving forward than Thanos (of course, this “Big Bad” has already been introduced, unnamed, on the small screen in the Season 1 finale of the Disney+ series Loki but everyone knew who he was).
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania takes place some time after The Blip with Scott (Paul Rudd) enjoying some measure of celebrity in San Francisco (although some people think he’s another insect-monikered superhero), getting free coffee and ice cream, and doing readings of his book for adoring fans at the local bookstore. Scott’s home life seems to be going well, even with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) becoming a bit of a rebel and getting herself arrested – more than once – for trying to save the world. Scott is concerned and upset that no one told him she’d been arrested once before, but it seems Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank (Michael Douglas), and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) think Scott has become a bit too full of himself especially when he constantly brings up how he saved the world (taking digs at him that maybe he should write a book about it). He becomes even more upset when he learns that Cassie and Hank have been working on a device to map out the Quantum Universe, and that Cassie even has her own suit to shrink her down to ant size. Scott’s upset is trumped by Janet’s when she realizes they have been sending a signal to the Quantum Realm and demands they stop before something receives it and responds. What that something is she refuses to divulge but she really doesn’t have time because it responds and they are all sucked into the Quantum Universe. Janet is eventually forced to reveal that she wasn’t alone there for those 30 years, finding another man who had seemingly crash landed there somehow, with the two working for decades to repair the power source for his ship so they could both return home. Janet eventually learned the man she was helping was a monster named Kang, and knew she could not allow him to escape this world into which he’d been exiled. Her betrayal has come with a price that they, and the myriad beings of the Quantum Realm, must pay.
Being set mostly in the Quantum Realm, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is one of Marvel’s most visually stunning productions to date, allowing the craftspeople behind the scenes to create not only worlds but a collection of beings never before seen outside of a comic book (but … why do almost all of them come with humanoid bodies – a torso, two arms and two legs – but just weird heads?). The Quantum Realm is vibrantly colorful to put it mildly, and had this movie been released back in the late 1960s / early 1970s, I’m sure it would have become something to experience with some illicit drugs to get the whole “psychedelic experience” (movies like Fantasia and 2001: A Space Odyssey even courted the LSD crowd at one point). While the visuals are wildly inventive, though, it’s the story that lacks any real punch.
A lot of fans of the MCU films have expected Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania to have an emotional payoff for Scott Lang / Ant-Man (i.e. death), but – spoiler alert! – no one dies. No one. There is no emotional pay-off at the end because Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is basically just a set-up movie, the starting point for Phase 5 of the MCU that serves to introduce Kang the Conqueror into the MCU proper, after a tease at the conclusion of Loki. Not even the key Quantum Realm characters who are introduced, such as Jentorra, Quaz or Veb, suffer any dire consequences and we may never even see them again. There is only one brief moment during a fight between Ant-Man and Kang where it seems that Scott’s life is in danger of ending but it all just lacks a payoff. Well, there is one final “death” at the end but that is pretty much undone by the two post-credits scenes (one of which also sets up Season 2 of Loki). The movie does have some humor, lots of action, and a great villain in Kang (thanks to the performance of Jonathan Majors), and the already established cast wear their roles well … but, man, this movie needed more heart. It just left me feeling empty at the end, which replaced the feeling of frustration I had during the movie. The reason for that is because the entire premise hinges on the fact that Janet did not, has not, and will not divulge her experiences in the Quantum Realm with anyone. Not when she tells them to shut down the signal, not when they get sucked into it, only giving key information when it is needed to move the story along just a little further. It really is a slim thread upon which to hang a two-hour-plus movie that begins a whole new chapter for Marvel.
So do I recommend the movie? Sure, especially if you are a fan of the MCU or Ant-Man or both. Just know that this is simply a first chapter, mostly all set-up for the 11 projects (both film and TV) to come in Phase 5, and the ten projects set for Phase 6, including Avengers: The Kang Dynasty in 2025, ending with Avengers: Secret Wars in 2026. Buckle up!
- Chuck Duncan has been the film critic for Baltimore OUTloud and its various incarnations for 20 years. He was previously a film and TV critic for CliqueClack.com and now owns the pop culture website Hotchka.com where he reviews films, TV shows and theatre. Chuck is the head judge for the annual 29 Days Later Film Project, and works for Anne Arundel County's PEG Studio