Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the third Ant-Man film and the first entry in Marvel’s Phase Five, has most of the things that movies typically do: pictures that look like they are moving, sounds, characters, music, “story.” It also has, at least superficially, most of the things that superhero stories do: protagonists in funny costumes, dad humor, hot people, and apocalyptic stakes. Despite containing most of the required parts, the newest Ant-Man isn’t really a superhero movie. And if the mere presence of the above combination of parts is the definition of a movie, then sure; it’s a movie. But if a movie is something more than the composite of its parts, then Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania better resembles the idea of a movie than a movie itself.
As shown in the trailer and revealed in the title, Scott Lang / Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), his daughter Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), the hardly noticeable Hope van Dyne / Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), standout Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the irrelevant Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) accidentally travel to the Quantum Realm in a science experiment gone wrong, only to find it’s not empty, as Janet had previously insisted, but beaming with creatures, cities, and even civilizations. Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), the goofy big bad from 2021’s Loki, is also somehow super small now and wants to, well, conquer things.
In her three decades trapped down below, Janet became a freedom fighter—rebelling against the ominous (but not really since we all already know) “him,” as he’s called for the majority of the runtime, referred to exclusively by his pronouns since the screenwriters really want you to understand how “god” like he is. She made a decision in her previous fight against Kang that can only be described by the Greek theological word “kenotic,” which describes the act of emptying the self. By all rights, she’s the film’s greatest hero.
Michelle Pfeiffer still has it, too: beautiful, brilliant, and smoldering. Her Janet looks like she’s experienced desire before, a rarity in the horrifyingly puritanical comic world. “I had needs, Hank,” as she explains away about her sexual escapades in their time apart. Only Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie desires more.
The second in the line of herodom is Cassie Lang, Scott’s 18-year-old daughter (played by the 26-year-old Newton—let’s stop this gross female exclusive age mismatching, please). She has a super suit now—but that’s not what makes her a superhero. Separated from the Pyms and her father, she leads a native Marxist-style revolution against the Kang Empire. Her revolutionary herodom, less genre trope than real world inspired, is welcome in the Marvel universe of establishment enforcers.
Alas, Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, is no hero. When push comes to shove, he’s forced to make the same decision that Janet faced decades ago but fails to follow in her footsteps. Kang presents him with a scenario that necessitates him choosing between saving his daughter, Cassie, and the entire multiverse. Without hesitation, Scott, and every version of him that he encounters in an underutilized “probability storm,” makes the same decision: Cassie. It may be the most human decision…but most humans aren’t heroes. When faced with a similar choice in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), the best film of the last phase, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man sacrifices his reality to save humanity; Scott Lang is willing to sacrifice all of humanity to save his daughter. Marvel wouldn’t offer us a daughter-killer Paul Rudd, but that doesn’t make this version of Scott a superhero. Give me the utilitarian Spider-Man over empty-chested Ant-Man any day of the week.
To add to the disaster, the CGI begs to be the worst I’ve seen in a modern Disney product. It’s incomplete, likely Pixel-fucked beyond repair. Per the usual, it’s not all bad, and the various special effects personnel aren’t to blame. The microscopic aliens, if I can call them that, look spectacular (even if they aren’t used well). The CGI scenery pulled the short stick and we don’t need to look hard for an example. The very first shot of the film, of Janet meeting Kang in her first go-around, stands out as no more than a 2-D cutout of Dune concept art. More often than not, the Volume, the same technology that James Cameron used to create some of the most beautiful backdrops of the 21st century in Avatar: The Way of Water, creates alien world ornamental-only wallpapers. In a typical “outdoor” scene, the characters are foregrounded, and the LED-generated background about as textured as Bikini Bottom haunts the exterior, with few intrusions into the visual planes between the foreground and background. I left the theater not even two hours before writing these words and I’m hard pressed to mentally reimagine a single “outdoor” scene. The world the film takes place in, the same world alluded to in the film’s title, is little more than an afterthought.
Unfortunately, Janet and Cassie can’t save Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania from itself.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
dir. Peyton Reed
Opens in theaters Friday, 2/17