Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania brings the number of entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to 31 after it began with Iron Man fifteen years ago. Superhero fatigue, an idea or concept that seemed all but impossible to even die-hard Marvelites four or five years ago, gets ever closer to becoming a reality for even more of moviegoers. A certain level of sameness, repetition, and predictability has undeniably crept into the MCU. Unfortunately, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania won’t do anything to dispel the overwhelming feeling that the MCU is living on borrowed time.
Time, once again, plays a central, even crucial role in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Or, it at least does where Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), the latest MCU foe to don a cape and brood on a self-made throne, is concerned. The time- and multi-verse travelling super-villain is exiled to the farthest reaches of the subatomic universe, the Quantum Realm. We’re told the this place exists “outside space and time.” Persons unknown for equally unknown crimes who didn’t care for Kang’s life choices saw him as a threat on a gargantuan scale and decided that exile was the only option. (Capital punishment, we can presume, wasn’t an alternative.)
That all happens a bit later in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, though. When we catch up to one-half of the Ant-Man and Wasp superhero duo, Scott Lang / Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), he’s enjoying the not-so-quite-hard-won fruits of saving the world from Thanos. He’s popular in his ‘hood, acknowledging head nods with one of his own. He eagerly accepts free coffee from the local cafe (although he’s confused for Spider-Man), and has even managed to parlay his nascent popularity into a best-selling novel and a book-reading at a local bookstore where he can bask in the adulation of his devoted fans.
Said book-reading ends, though, when Scott gets the call every parent dreads: his teen daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), has been jailed for overzealously protesting the city’s anti-homeless policies. It’s enough for Scott, a one-time felon, to go into overprotective parent mode. However, Cassie is as stubborn, strong-willed, and smart as her father. (Possibly smarter.) She pushes back on Scott’s decision to take time off from being a superhero to enjoy semi-retirement even as the world — not to mention his teen daughter — needs him.
Scott’s longtime romantic/superhero partner, Hope Van Dyne / Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), has turned control of her father’s multinational corporation into an actual force for good, pushing renewable technologies, building new homes for the unhoused (apparently not fast enough for Cassie), and otherwise being a good corporate-capitalist CEO and leader. For their part, Hope’s parents, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) spend most of their time avoiding the discussion Hank wants and Janet doesn’t: What actually happened during Janet’s thirty-year stay in the Quantum Realm?
We find out the answers to that question and more when one of Cassie’s experiments goes awry. She inadvertently sends the entire Lang-Van Dyne-Pym clan into the Quantum Realm without an easy way out. The screenplay by Jeff Loveness (Rick and Morty, Miracle Workers) separates the travelers into two groups, dropping Scott and Cassie into one flora- and fauna-filled area of the Quantum Realm, and Hope, Janet, and Hank into another. This split sets up a relatively straightforward goal: Meet up, get out, and return to the regular-scaled world.
As strangers in a decidedly strange land and audience stand-ins, the two groups meet all kinds of creatures. Some are animal-like, others are bipedal and humanoid. The latter have colours, textures, and shapes of their own. Eventually, Scott and Cassie fall into Kang’s orbit, while Janet, Hope, and Hank discover that there’s a rebellion brewing against Kang’s repressive, dictatorial rule. Decisions good, bad, and consequential follow.
That alone will remind audiences of another Disney-owned property, Star Wars, but the comparisons and influences certainly don’t stop there. They stretch back into the 19th century and Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp classic, At the Earth’s Core, and right on through to Star Wars, Tron: Legacy, and more recently, Guardians of the Galaxy. To be fair, though, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania generally wears those influences lightly. That’s a plus given the set-up for future entries assumed by Kang and all he hopes to conquer in the future.
Undermined like too many recent MCU entries by murky, muddy visuals (somewhat understandable given the environment), an under-motivated, underdeveloped super-villain, a script light on humour and long on family drama, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania at least benefits from an unsurprisingly strong cast.. They’re pros one and all. There’s another winning performance by Rudd as the Most Likable Felon in the MCU. Newton gives a strong turn as Scott’s socially conscious and politically active daughter. Finally, an ultra-committed Majors elevates the underwritten Kang to near Shakespearean heights.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens theatrically on Friday, February 17th.