So many Marvel movies have been made that if you ran a mile for every one, you’d be well into your second marathon by now. That’s a long haul, and we haven’t even factored in the plethora of tangential shows on Disney+ yet. Now, Quantumania kicks off the next big phase of MCU flicks, complete with a new supervillain. (Of course, if you’ve watched Loki, he’s not that new.) At this point, it’s understandable to feel like Forrest Gump after multiple jogs back and forth across the country: Bearded, exhausted, and wondering just how you came to be standing where you are. “I’m pretty tired. Think I’ll go home now.”
But, to paraphrase the cliché, going home is harder than it sounds. Many of us keep trekking along, simply because, well…we’ve made it this far. For those keeping track, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the 31st MCU movie, the third Ant-Man flick, and the debut of Marvel’s Phase Five. I can only hope your eyes went as cross reading all that as mine did typing it.
The story kicks off a few years after Avengers: Endgame. With Thanos vanquished, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has settled into a life of casual celebrity: Passersby shoot him smiles and finger guns. They whisper about him in the coffee lines. He gets free stuff at the store–even if it comes with the salute, “We love you Spider-Man!” Yup, the smiley dude we see at the beginning of this movie seems ready to kick back and rest on his laurels.
Alas, it’s not meant to be. Just as Scott conducts a reading of his clunky memoir, his phone buzzes: Cassie (Kathryn Newton), his only child, has been arrested for disorderly conduct. Just like her dad, it seems Cassie just can’t keep herself out of the clinky-clink. Scott learns that Cassie was arrested for only doing what she thought was right. To his growing horror, she also tells him this isn’t her first trip to county.
Turns out, Scott’s extended family has been keeping Cassie’s double life a secret from him. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) see a like-minded idealist in Cassie, and they’ve been nurturing her superhero pursuits. Hank has even shown her how to contact the Quantum Realm, the subatomic universe where Janet spent decades trapped in supposed isolation.
This latest tidbit alarms Janet, who has been keeping crucial data about the Quantum Realm to herself for years. She implores Cassie to shut off her experiments, but it’s already too late. Once the signal is sent to the Realm, our heroes get Jumanji‘d down to the subatomic level. Even worse: Her daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who has assumed the mantle of Wasp, is marooned as well.
After a few minutes in the Quantum Realm, Janet’s inexplicable deception becomes clear: This isn’t a microscopic abyss, devoid of light and life. No, the Realm is a bizarre, beautiful oasis, teeming with its own expanse of otherworldly creatures. What’s more, many of these beings are humanoid, replete with their own languages and customs. Not only was Janet aware of this crowded ecosystem, she was a key player in its recent history. When the group crash-lands, Janet finds that her name has gained a fair amount of infamy.
I won’t spill any more of Ant-Man‘s beans, even though I feel like Marvel often leaks like a sieve. So, I’ll just say that the balance of the film sets up the next Avengers-level villain, and orients the MCU in a new direction. This new Big Bad is… just okay. Thanos and his Infinity Gems are gonna be a tough act to follow. I guess if you’ve seen one universe-ending monster, you’ve pretty much seen ’em all.
Most of Quantumania is an overblown, uneven mess. With each successive movie, it seems Marvel is having more difficulty stirring its trademark freewheeling comedy into the portentous, world-smashing drama. Much like Love and Thunder, the result is a big ol’ glass of oil and water.
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Visually, director Peyton Reed delivers a de facto Star Wars prequel, wherein every shot brims with more CGI than our brains can process. We see thousands of globular creatures, swimming, flying, gurgling, and splatting in every direction. Many of the film’s humanoid interactions feel like the Mos Eisley cantina, only a little bit louder and a little bit worse. The only thing missing from this digital orgy is sand, which we all know is coarse and irritating.
All this is too bad, as Ant-Meh has a few bright spots. Rudd carries much of the movie. He’s funny, likable, and can inject real emotion whenever he needs to. Newton adds some much-needed fun as the plucky daughter. Pfeiffer gets some well-deserved screen time, even if the filmmakers force her character to act in ways that don’t make sense. (Why wouldn’t she tell Hank about all the happenings in Realm, especially the threat of a major villain?) Douglas displays a relaxed sense of humor, for his part.
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Just like the dozens, maybe hundreds of MCU movies that proceeded it, Quantum-meh-nia ends in a massive, weightless special-effects battle. Armies of computerized creatures smash into each other, with stakes that couldn’t feel smaller. Once again, I’ll invoke my favorite Roger Ebert quote: “To the degree that I understand, I do not care.”
This movie leaves me in a bit of a pickle. I didn’t hate it, but I can’t recommend it, either. If you’ve run this far in the MCU marathon, you’re going to keep running. If you’re standing in the middle of nowhere, panting and confused, I couldn’t fault you for taking your Bubba Gump hat and going home, either. Whatever the case, just remember that with every new Phase, Marvel will keep moving that finish line a little further away. Even this brand new villain spends much of the movie railing about something even worse, out there on the horizon.
124 min. PG-13. In theaters.