'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' loses way in sea of green screens
The third 'Ant-Man' film introduces a new villain to the Marvel universe but otherwise can't pull its own weight.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe gets its most CGI-heavy and most artificial-feeling movie yet with "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," a sloppy piece of world-building that takes everything that was once refreshing about Ant-Man and his place in the MCU and drowns it in garish green screen nonsense.
"Quantumania" is the Marvel entry that most resembles a "Star Wars" movie, in its setting and introduction of characters and creatures — including one guy who is a literal walking stalk of broccoli — that are not of this Earth. Those deeply immersed in the mythology of either the Marvel comics or the periphery of the MCU may be mildly amused; normies and casual Marvel watchers can feel free sitting this one out.
Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, the divorced ex-con and former Baskin Robbins employee turned Avenger who has the ability to shrink down to ant size or grow himself to be as tall as the Eiffel Tower.
Life is swell — he's just written a tell-all book, "Look Out for the Little Guy," about his world-saving adventures — and he and his partner, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka the Wasp, are enjoying their lives in San Francisco, taking in occasional views of the Bay from atop the Golden Gate Bridge.
But then Hope's mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) starts talking an awful lot about the Quantum Realm, in ominous ways that let you know they're all headed there sooner than later.
What is the Quantum Realm, you raise your hand and ask? It is described as "a place outside time and space" and "a secret universe beneath ours," and Janet once spent 30 years there learning her way around the place. She's not especially stoked to return: "You know how dangerous the Quantum Realm is" is an actual line of dialogue she speaks, followed shortly after, in the very same scene, by a distressed, "you're sending a signal down to the Quantum Realm?" It is fair to say she is not altogether pleased with this development.
Then it's off to the QR we go, as Ant-Man, the Wasp, Janet, Janet's husband (and ant specialist and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent) Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Ant-Man's teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) are sucked into the netherworld via some sort of scientific accident. There, they're confronted with creatures with fireball cannons for heads, a jelly being whose drinkable goo extract allows one to hear Quantum Realm language in English, the aforementioned Broccoli man, various other entities, and Bill Murray. (Murray is playing some sort of space lord named Krylar, but for all intents and purposes he's playing Bill Murray — and flatly, at that.)
The crew's goal, once they enter the Quantum Realm, is to exit. But the movie's larger piece of business is the introduction of Kang the Conqueror, "Quantumania's" baddie and a murderous supervillain (he has wiped out entire timelines of people, we're told and briefly shown, and is said to have killed trillions) who will hold great significance in the current Phase of Marvel films.
Kang is played with a quiet menace by Jonathan Majors ("Lovecraft Country"), a forceful actor who is having a bit of a moment, who also has upcoming roles in the boxing threequel "Creed III" and the bodybuilder psychodrama "Magazine Dreams."
Here, he takes a measured approach to his seething villainy, internalizing 98% of his outrage and delivering his words and actions with near-whispered tones and slight hand gestures. "You're out of your league, Ant-Man," he tells Lang, dismissing his existence with such casual flippancy that he might as well be making fun of the entire movie, as well as the two that came before it.
Those previous films, for what it's worth, were a lot more fun than "Quantumania." They were designed and almost played as both an antidote to and a flex on the Marvel formula up to that point: if they could make a character as minor as "Ant-Man" work, what couldn't they do?
But the small stakes and real-world feel of those films is gone in "Quantumania," which is shot almost entirely on green screens, and has nothing tangible or tactile about it. Director Peyton Reed, his action taking place almost entirely in the tiny universe of the Quantum Realm, even has difficulty rendering the size of his characters, switching between microscopic and giant so often that everything blurs together. And that's without even mentioning the M.O.D.A.K. character, a giant floating head outfitted with tiny arms and tiny legs, played by Corey Stoll, his head is stretched out and made to look like a disturbing special effects test gone wrong.
Everything besides the introduction of Kang feels perfunctory, and an MCU entry (this is No. 31, if you're keeping score) has never felt so rudderless. The usual stabs at humor fall short against such a phony looking and feeling backdrop, the themes of family never run any deeper than "family: you love them, even when you don't!" and Michael Peña, a presence in the first two films but gone here, is missed.
"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" kicks off the MCU's fifth phase of storytelling, coming off a beleaguered Phase 4 where enthusiasm, action and the general good vibes of the series started to flag. Rather than starting anew, this feels like more of the same, and the way it plays with the rules of time and space make even the rickety "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" feel coherent.
If this is where the MCU is headed, Kang can have it.
'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'
Rated PG-13: for violence/action, and language
Running time: 125 minutes