'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' Review: Big Imaginative Adventure Hampered by Little Stakes and Emotions

Four Star Rating: **½ 
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenplay: Jeff Loveness
Based on: Marvel Comics
Producers: Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Editor: Adam Gerstel, Laura Jennings
Music: Christophe Beck
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Distribution Company: Disney Studios
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Rated: PG (Ontario)/ PG-13 (United States) - Action violence and coarse language
Release Date: February 17, 2023
Runtime: 124 minutes

There have now been 31 MCU movies, and it has been the most influential and impactful series of pictures in modern cinema. The latest in the juggernaut franchise, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is a showcase of exactly what are the positive and negative influences of the MCU.

The biggest positive with the popularity of the MCU is the audience acceptance of strange and bizarre sci-fi and fantasy elements in giant mainstream entertainment. Quantumania delves deep in that direction with the fever dream that is the Quantum Realm that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) find themselves pulled into at the start of the picture. It is Pandora after consuming several highly-effective hallucinogens with rainbow paint splattered skies, chunky horses with bug-like heads, giant gelatinous Godzilla-sized blobs, a soldier with a spotlight for a head, a translucent walking and talking container of liquid obsessed with how many holes humans have, and enough other strangeness to make any sci-fi B movie fan giddy. The world is stuffed with bold visual wackiness that is a blast to soak up.

MCU has excelled at casting; Rudd continues to prove he is delightful in this world, and has an endearing father and daughter chemistry with Newton. A big theme of the picture is trying to recover lost time with parents desire to reconnect with their child, and Rudd and Newton have some sweet moments together that adds heart to the picture. 

Pfeiffer also gets some significant attention as she is the one with the experience with the Quantum Realm, though significant parts of her exposition and character arc is a retcon regarding what has previously been established regarding her prior time there. But Pfeiffer still gets to play a strong character who can navigate through the land and stand up against various threats. 

Douglas also is clearly having fun and gets to have a few moments where his character adds to the wackiness, especially in the final act. Unfortunately, despite her alter ego being one of the title characters, Hope has very little to do other than be an occasional saviour, and it feels the once integral character is being pushed aside for Cassie. But Lilly still makes the most of her screen time, and she has some nice sweet moments with Rudd and Pfeiffer.

The most memorable performance comes from Jonathan Major as the picture's big bad, Kang the Conqueror. Major seems to be channeling some classic Shakespearean tragedy with his methodical and somber line delivery with some spats of over-the-top rage. He comes off as dark and brooding, and it is his mere presence that makes him intimidating and frightening. It is a masterful command of the big screen worthy of the villain that is looking to shape the next few phases of the MCU. Major brings a sense of internal hurt and anguish that has birthed a villain obsessed with conquering the universe and time itself.

This leads to one of the major issues of the MCU and this movie, because at no point is a true motivation crafted for Kang. He kills and destroys because he is the villain but no other real explanation is given. He feels like an attempt to recreate Thanos without any of the pathos or justification. It is Majors own performance that brings all the depth and intrigue to the underwritten character.

The generic villain exposes the much bigger problem with the lack of stakes and urgency in the picture and the MCU as a whole. One of the biggest causes of that is the infamous Marvel humour that has gotten out of control like an army of mechanized ants. Any major emotional and serious moment shared between Scott and Cassie gets undercut by a need to throw in a one-liner. It is hard to shake that MCU mastermind Kevin Feige feels his audience just isn't interested in dealing with any heavy emotions during his movies, so jokes must come to the rescue any time the story deals with a serious issue. But sincere and earnest pictures like Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of the Water proved blockbusters can thrive with some real emotions spread throughout.

Director Peyton Reed keeps a light and breezy tone throughout, despite a villain threatening to destroy everything in his path. This means the stakes are lowered since we never really fear for the fate of our heroes even when Kang is threatening to kill Cassie in front of Scott. Despite the characters being pulled into the Quantum Realm against their will and Janet already having been trapped there for 30 years, they act more like it is a surprise vacation rather than being shaken and anxious over their being no assurance they can get home nor do they demonstrate much fear over their ability to survive this dangerous realm. Without characters ever really dealing with peril, it makes it much harder for the audience to be invested in their fate. It makes everything feel more like a theme park ride than an engaging story, even if it is a fun ride.

As much as the zaniness of the world is appealing, the movie does struggle a bit with some plot mechanics. Kang doesn't have the power to leave the Quantum Realm because reasons, but he is essentially all powerful in every other way striking fear in every citizen. The item that allows return to Earth feels like the most MacGuffin that ever did MacGuffin. It is all just things that happen for the sake of plot progression rather than actual acts that characters must use skill to accomplish. Of course, this is all topped with the usual MCU final act CGI light show that feels more like a showcase of special effects that anything the audience would can emotionally invest.

The special effects are mostly spectacular and help create the fascinating and odd world. But there are a few less special in the CGI department with comic favourite M.O.D.O.K looking a little rushed in the creation process. Most of the movie is a visual world worthy of the best sci-fi adventures, and has a lot of fun bizarre details plopping about in the background to enjoy.

Enjoyment is mostly what the MCU and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania deliver with a big-budget, imaginative, light and breezy adventure. Rudd is a delightful lead to follow as he encounters all the unique characters and adventures. But it is a picture without stakes and significant substance, so like a little bug crawling along your backyard deck, it will all mostly be forgotten after watching it.

Oh yeah, of course there is a mid-credit and post credit scene. Of course, it sets up a future show or movie. If you are prone to stick around or a completist with your Marvel entertainment then this will be all fine and dandy, but nothing really riveting or memorable comes from either scene. I feel like it has been eons since any of these post credit scenes actually had a payoff.