One of the great joys of the first two Ant-Man movies is that those films never took themselves seriously. They were silly romps that lived in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but never felt married to it. Ant-Man and Ant-Man and The Wasp could have easily existed as its own franchise. That would have been fine. Pure escapist fun can be fabulous entertainment.
Paul Rudd has always played Scott Lang with a playful wink to the audience. As if, ‘Watch as I bound from one ridiculous scenario to another, all while flashing a smile. Isn’t this awesome?’
Sadly, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania misses the charm and fun of the first two installments. Instead, they have replaced the joy with too much CGI and too much dread. The more time we spend in the Quantum Realm, the more nauseous and depressed we feel, like an amusement park ride gone horribly wrong.
We want to see Ant-Man do extraordinary, shrinking things in the ‘real world’ with fantastic set pieces in San Francisco. That strategy worked fabulously well in Ant-Man and The Wasp, one of the most entertaining films of 2018. But with Rudd stuck in front of green screens populated by the weird, half-baked beings of the Quantum Realm, Ant-Man seems a lot less compelling. He’s just a guy in a suit.
Quantumania seems more interested in setting up future MCU movies than focusing on the present one. It spends plenty of screen time re-establishing Cassie Lang, who has grown up to be a rebellious teenager and is played by a different actor (Kathryn Newton replaces Abby Ryder Fortson). Quantumania makes it obvious that she’s expected to carry the torch of the next generation of Ant-Man movies. OK. But the more time we spend developing Cassie’s character, the more the action tends to slow down.
Then there’s the villain. Jonathan Majors is an exceptional actor who first got noticed in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Majors brings a sense of purpose and nuance with a deliberate acting method that makes you believe every word he speaks is vitally important. His Kang the Conqueror is arguably Marvel’s best bad guy since Killmonger from Black Panther. Majors is such a thespian that it seems like Rudd is struggling to figure out how to effectively play off him in this movie.
This is not meant as a criticism of Majors or Rudd. It’s up to director Peyton Reed to make this pairing work, and he doesn’t stick the landing. Every scene with them feels dark, which favors Majors but puts Rudd at a disadvantage. Rudd can’t use his biggest strength, which is his humor. Reed leans into Kang’s sinisterness which will pay off in future MCU films. However, it takes a lot of the joy out of this Ant-Man project.
There are some positives for Quantumania. Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet Van Dyne) gets more to do, and her scenes with Majors are fascinating. There are also several surprises, including one big cameo. A callback from the first Ant-Man leads Cassie to utter one of the movie’s best lines. But we don’t get enough of those moments. Instead, a sense of foreboding dominates. And that’s not what viewers have come to expect from an Ant-Man movie.
What happened to the fun? Did Marvel forget? Or did Kang kill that too?
[Photo Credit: Marvel Studios]