You truly don’t know how much it pains me to have to write a negative Ant-Man review.
Though the Ant-Man franchise is often belittled (pun wholeheartedly intended) within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I have long been an advocate for the Ant-Man films. While the first installment, Ant-Man (2015), and Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018) are frequently overlooked in favor of the flashier films in Marvel’s catalog, their more simplistic story structures are precisely why I love them. Rather than relying too heartily on the viewer’s extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of the MCU, the first two Ant-Man films are fairly self-contained: They fight the big bad and keep the characters at the forefront; they don’t bite off more than they can chew; instead, they are content with telling straightforward superhero stories to the best of their abilities, focusing their attention on ensuring the audience is having fun rather than trying to break a tried and true formula.
Unfortunately, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania (2023) fails on nearly every front where its predecessors triumph.
Like Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy, the first two Ant-Man installments are as charming as can be, something which manifests naturally as a result of Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) steadfast devotion to his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) when he’s not off fighting evil as the film’s titular superhero. In these films, cheesy dad humor which might otherwise be considered groan-worthy is actually endearing, thanks in large part to Lang’s portrayal by an American sweetheart—Paul Rudd. When his classic effervescent charisma collides with Hope Van Dyne’s (Evangeline Lilly) sweethearted snark, the result is an adorable pairing you can’t help but fall in love with, especially once their relationship finally tips the scales from casual flirtation into budding romance.
While much of the franchise’s previous appeal lay in its ability to make superhero films which stand comfortably on their own two feet, Quantumania also stands alone—but in the most unpleasant sense of the term, feeling completely detached not just from the rest of the MCU but also from its own franchise. To put it plainly, this new installment just does not feel like an Ant-Man film at all.
In Quantumania, Scott, Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton), Hope, and Hope’s parents, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) Van Dyne, all become stuck in the Quantum Realm after Cassie’s plan to make contact with this alternate dimension from the comfort of Earth with a new gadget goes unsurprisingly awry. Once trapped, the remainder of the film follows our band of heroes on their quest to return home and save the realm’s inhabitants from the oppression of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) before their departure. Meanwhile, as the story unravels, shameful secrets from Janet’s thirty years spent in the Quantum Realm begin bubbling to the surface, including, worst of all, her naive assistance in Kang’s annihilation ambitions before discovering the true depths of his depravity.
This film dedicates a large portion of its run time to introducing the MCU’s new major (ha) villain. Majors’ portrayal of Kang is easily the best part of this film. His backstory is complex, his secret connection to Janet is compelling, and Majors’ acting gives Kang an unsettling methodical edge which, though perhaps a little too tonally similar to MCU mega-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), is truly terrifying. The script spends ample time framing him as a menacing, unprecedented new threat to the multiverse, making it clear that his time in the MCU is far from over.
Since this movie takes place in an entirely new setting, much of the run time is also devoted to fleshing out the Quantum Realm. However, unlike Kang’s development, “compelling” is not exactly the first word that comes to mind when describing this world—instead, it’s a myriad of squirming, squishy creatures whose entire gelatinous gimmick of oddity gets old after the first five minutes. While there are some fun elements in this new universe (for instance, the potable “ooze” which enables the realm’s inhabitants to overcome any language barriers was pretty cool), many of the quirky, “humorous” features of the world depend on randomness for the sake of randomness, frankly to a grating degree.
Furthermore, on the whole, the visual effects of this film were just…a lot. It’s not that they were necessarily bad; after all, according to IMDB a whopping 1,276 special effects artists were credited for this film. It’s more so that they were often somewhat unsettling (look no further than MODOK (Corey Stoll) who looks disturbingly similar to George Lopez’s Mr. Electric from The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005)). While the Quantum Realm is supposed to be one of the main sellings points of the movie, the viewer is given no reason to truly care about being there, and, in fact, is likely just as eager to get out as our heroes.
After spending so much time developing Kang and exploring the lackluster Quantum Realm, there is virtually no time leftover to give anyone in the main cast an interesting storyline. Whereas the previous Ant-Mans (“Ant Men”?) soar in their full utilization of Rudd’s effortless corny pizazz, this movie barely gives Scott anything to do aside from fretting about his daughter at every turn. Hope is by far the worst example of character neglect here. Despite being the Wasp of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, she is completely sidelined within this story, so much so that when the credits (finally) roll, it is difficult to remember a single memorable moment she had across the entire 2 hour and 5 minute run time.
Cassie has a slightly more pronounced arc than the titular leads (arguably a problem in and of itself), mostly centered around her newfound passion for social activism. Her character is used to demonstrate the importance of allyship, with Cassie even explicitly dropping the line “just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” While the message is undeniably important, the lack of subtlety and nuance in its portrayal dilutes its potency to something slightly cheesier than was likely intended. Though devoting ample time to flesh out Kang was crucial considering his coming ascendency within the MCU, there was undoubtedly a way to achieve this end without simultaneously leaving the main characters in the dust—a way the writing team utterly failed to find.
Speaking of the writing, the script itself is as limp and unpalatable as a french fry soaked in some Quantum Realm-typical ectoplasm, particularly in regards to the comedy. (Marvel, you are one of the largest media companies in the world—hire some better comedy writers! I’m pretty sure it’s in the budget.) Any movie starring Paul Rudd which does not fully utilize his panache does itself an incredible disservice. There were a few amusing moments, such as the innuendos embedded in Krylar’s (Bill Murray) dialogue with Janet and Hank. On the whole, though, much like the Quantum Realm, this script has too much “goop.” Much of the humor relies on absurdism and going for the easiest, most trite quips imaginable, making the tone feel frustratingly juvenile and gelatinous in its lack of a structural foundation. Desperate to enjoy myself regardless of this comedic drought, I found myself laughing at moments that probably weren’t intended to be funny, such as the scene in which Hank describes the ants living a thousand years in a single day at which point the camera cuts to a truly ridiculous portrait shot of an ant flailing wildly while being flung forward through time.
Rather than telling a stripped-down superhero tale which allows its cast to shine, Quantumania expands the scope of the world and the story so widely that all sense of focus on character development is tossed to the wayside. More generally, to reference an action sequence from the film, these days it can’t help but feel like Marvel is trapped in its own “possibility storm”: paralyzed by indecision amidst so many options for where to go next. After Endgame brought an over ten-year-long story arc to a close, Marvel has flailed like a fish out of water to figure out what its future will hold, resulting in a myriad of lackluster projects which feel directionless when viewed as a collective new generation. While not all of the recent Marvel releases have been disappointing (such as the stellar Wandavision (2021) and Spiderman: No Way Home (2021), to name a couple), unfortunately, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania fell into the same trap as Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness (2022) in its tarnishing of an otherwise promising franchise.
Though Quantumania was a rocky ride, I am hopeful that director Peyton Reed will have the chance to set Ant-Man’s story back on course sooner rather than later. Despite this heartbreaking bump in the road—as always—I’m gonna keep rooting for the little guy.