**1/2 out of ****
(for violence / action and language)
Released: February 17, 2023
Runtime: 125 minutes
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfieffer, Kathryn Newton, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, William Jackson Harper, Katy M. O’Brian, Randall Park, Bill Murray
I mean, yeah. Sure. Whatever. It’s another Marvel movie.
Okay, it’s not just any other Marvel movie. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the official kickoff of Phase 5 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That kind of event used to be significant and mean something, but after a post-Avengers Phase 4 that received a lukewarm reception at best (which included multiple feature films and various streaming series on Disney+), comic book fatigue is a real thing – even for Marvel. (They recently announced that they’re going to slow their rollout of new content, both in theaters and on streaming.)
Perhaps unfairly, Ant-Man 3 – with its 1950s B-movie spirit on a 21st century blockbuster budget – bears the brunt of that fatigue. And while it’s decent enough to not deserve that burden (especially for a solo MCU series that has always been more about being a fun tangent than a driving force of this ongoing, expanding saga), it’s not compelling enough to shoulder that burden either.
If anything, for a movie that dives into the subatomic “secret universe” of the Quantum Realm, it’s about as rote as you’d expect, right down to the Daddy / Daughter bonding arc that serves as the perfunctory heart.
Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man, who’s struggling to connect with his now-teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton, Freaky), a strong-willed political activist who’s also dabbled in accessing the Quantum Realm.
Just as she’s revealing this side project to her dad, his “Wasp” partner Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hope’s scientist-parents Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer), Janet confesses a dangerous truth about the Quantum Realm that she’s kept secret until now. It’s a bit too-little too-late, though, as they all get sucked into it. Thanks, Janet!
That secret is Kang, the MCU’s new post-Thanos archvillain (portrayed by a formidable Jonathan Majors). Although having debuted previously in the Phase 4 season finale episode of the Loki series, Kang makes his first big screen appearance here.
A nemesis designed specifically for the multiverse that will be explored in Phase 5 and beyond, Kang had been banished to the Quantum Realm long ago due to the threat he posed to the universe. And because Kang’s gonna Kang, he now rules the Quantum Realm with an iron fist. But with the appearance of the Ant crew, Kang may finally scheme an escape.
The film, then, becomes a two-fold fight, both to free those subjugated by Kang while also seeking to destroy the Power Core that Kang could use to break free of the Quantum Realm.
There’s solid genre work here – including by the ensemble cast (Majors and Newton especially, seasoned by a sardonically mischievous cameo from Bill Murray) – so much so that it seems unfair to be dismissive of it all…but it’s hard not to be.
It all unfolds in an entirely digital world that, while effectively rendered, never comes off as real or believable. You can virtually see the green-screened performances comped into the CGI environments, despite some rather seamless lighting between the two. It’s colorful, even imaginative, but also fake. Its stakes feel muted, too, including how it reduces a once-terrifying comic book foe of Captain America named MODOK to a goofy butt of jokes.
Ant-Man 3 is too familiar – different in setting yet doggedly the same in the main – with little reason to exist other than as a function to launch Phase 5. Quantumania is merely a bloated feature-length excursion to say that Kang is the villain now. Not Thanos. Kang.
Yet after all that Kang-building (which Majors does exceedingly well), the two end-credit bonus scenes undercut all of that by somehow making him more…cheesy? And the second of those two (which doesn’t appear until after the final credit has rolled) is the only part where the crowd I was with actually gasped with some sense of glee.
With that brief, solitary expression of excitement, it becomes abundantly clear that the MCU and its expanding multiverse is propped up strictly on the fumes of anticipation. It’s teasing promises that maybe it will deliver on at some point and, if you stick with it long enough, maybe, just maybe, it’ll even replicate the deep emotional satisfaction that capped off the first ten-year Avengers era.
But it won’t. It never will again.
So enjoy this new multiverse era of the MCU if you wish. Please do. But if you’re ready to finally bail, now would be the perfect time.