Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania review: It’s a small world after all

Paul Rudd’s titular hero shrinks down to microscopic proportions in the lively and delightfully chaotic third installment of the franchise.

In “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” Paul Rudd’s character becomes the miniature hero of the multiverse, making him one of the smallest figures in Marvel’s expansive universe. When Ant-Man first graced the screen in his standalone film back in 2015, much of his charm stemmed from the human-scale nature of the story. It was a lighthearted and comedic adventure, with superhero elements seamlessly woven in, not to mention the enduring charm of Paul Rudd’s dimples.

Director Peyton Reed’s frenetic 2018 sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” expanded the scope and scale of the franchise, ultimately losing some of the charm of the original. However, with the trailer and subtitle of the third installment, “Quantumania,” hinting at what’s in store, it’s clear that small has taken a psychedelic turn. The film promises to be a flamboyant blend of analog Old Hollywood, featuring stars like Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas, along with the trademark Marvel IP and cosmic spectacle.

For a brief moment of exposition, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang returns to being just Scott Lang, described as a “divorced-dad ex-con” who famously helped save the world from Thanos. Now, he’s authored a cheery memoir titled “Look Out for the Little Guy” recounting his version of those events. Scott still maintains his devoted long-time girlfriend, Hope (played by Evangeline Lilly), also known as the Wasp, and their teenage daughter, Cassie (portrayed by Kathryn Newton). Even Scott’s former in-laws, the brilliant scientists Hank and Janet (played by Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer), have settled into a relaxed domestic life.

Despite appearances, Hank and Janet’s domestic tranquility is disrupted by Janet’s lingering trauma from her time in the Quantum Realm, where she was stranded for three decades. Although Janet avoids discussing her experiences, she remains haunted by them. Unbeknownst to her, Hank has been assisting Cassie in constructing a homemade portal to the Quantum Realm in their basement. When a mishap occurs with the portal, all five characters are inadvertently pulled into the Realm, setting off a series of chaotic events in the microverse.

To their surprise, the group discovers that the Quantum Realm is not the desolate place Janet described, but rather a vibrant microcosm teeming with extraterrestrial lifeforms and diverse landscapes reminiscent of a sprawling Star Wars cantina. However, their exploration takes a sinister turn when they encounter a formidable adversary known as Kang the Conqueror, portrayed by Jonathan Majors (known for his role in “Lovecraft Country”), a character familiar to Janet and those who have watched the Disney+ series “Loki.”

After thirty films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become akin to a box of chocolates; while the high-fructose coating is guaranteed, the flavors and textures vary. The original “Ant-Man,” co-written by Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “The Big Short”) and Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), boasted a rapid-fire comedic style more akin to multiplex comedy than epic mythology. In contrast, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is penned solely by Jeff Loveness, known for his work on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Rick and Morty,” resulting in a script that is both louder and more blatantly absurd. It’s akin to a spinning Gravitron ride, offering wry one-liners, frenetic CG fight sequences, and unabashed sentimentality in equal, if chaotic, measure. Like another prominent franchise, the film emphasizes the importance of family above all else.

Paul Rudd, with his age-defying charm, effortlessly embodies the twinkly Everyman persona, albeit with a slight buff that adds to his affable appeal. It still feels somewhat surreal that this character is both a skilled thief and a top-tier Avenger, but that counterintuitive casting is part of the charm. Kathryn Newton portrays a typical plucky teenage character, while seasoned actors like Bill Murray and Corey Stoll (reprising his role as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket) relish in delivering the quirky dialogue they’re given.

The standout performance amidst the lighthearted antics comes from Jonathan Majors, an actor known for his upcoming roles in more serious dramas like “Creed III” and “Magazine Dreams.” Majors’ portrayal of Kang is marked by scars that accentuate his brow bone and cascade down his cheeks, resembling a trail of tears. His Kang embodies elements of both Othello and Iago from Shakespearean tragedy—a tragic villain who fervently believes in his own righteousness. This nuanced portrayal sometimes feels tonally at odds with the film’s pure entertainment focus, leading one to question why there’s a touch of Shakespeare amidst the lighthearted fare.

Despite the lack of explanation for much of Kang’s origin story, his character remains effective, hinting at deeper complexities that will likely be explored in future sequels. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” like many films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, frequently references other MCU events and characters without offering extensive explanations for newcomers or casual fans. While this approach may leave some viewers feeling a bit lost, the film assumes a certain level of familiarity with the MCU universe, suggesting that narrative hand-holding may not be necessary for its target audience.

Returning director Peyton Reed, known for his work on films like “Bring It On” and “Yes Man,” occasionally struggles to maintain control amidst the swirling spectacle of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” At times, he seems overwhelmed by the pew-pew battles and fantastical elements, akin to a ringmaster overtaken by the chaos of the circus. However, with a runtime of just over 120 minutes—a mere blink in Marvel time—the film strikes a balance between cleverness and entertainment, wisely avoiding overstaying its welcome. Indeed, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” understands the value of keeping things small, ensuring a satisfying and enjoyable experience for audiences.

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