For the past two years, the MCU looks as if the once-thriving franchise has waned. And until today, it remains a billion-dollar question whether the MCU has already peaked with the record-breaking ‘Avengers: Endgame’ in 2019. I mean, looking at the post-‘Endgame” era as seen in the overall Phase 4 of the MCU from the passable ‘Black Widow’ to the heavy-handed ‘Eternals’ and the surprisingly better-than-expected sequel of ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,’ I would say the result was pretty mixed.
This year marks a fresh start for the MCU as Phase 5 kicks off with ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’, which sees the third solo Ant-Man entry taking up the torch to carry on the Multiverse Saga since the last phase. The multiverse-centric concept has been teased and explored in both MCU films and television series seen in the likes of ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ as well as ‘WandaVision’ and ‘Loki.’
‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,’ in the meantime, finally introduced Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) – the next Big Bad of the MCU villain since Josh Brolin’s Thanos was out of the picture in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ He’s a destroyer and capable of moving through space and alternate timelines. A polar opposite from what we have saw Majors playing the variant role of He Who Remains in ‘Loki.’
The movie takes place predominantly in the Quantum Realm as we see Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is trapped alongside Hope Van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). They are trying to get home, but along their journey to the unknown, they subsequently find themselves facing Kang the Conqueror.
A story like that is no doubt a crucial one, and it was a refreshing change of pace to see an ‘Ant-Man’ film given a chance to start the phase instead of serving as fillers of sorts, which can be seen in the first two movies. Speaking of the previous two ‘Ant-Man’ movies, they were pretty much minor efforts, but the 2018 sequel – ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ – was an underwhelming follow-up that suffered from ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ storytelling syndrome. Enlisting as many as five screenwriters (Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, and yes, even Paul Rudd) and yet, the sequel came up short, making ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ among the lesser entries in the MCU.
This time, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ gave Jeff Loveness a shot to write the screenplay. He is, of course, the writer and producer behind the “Rick and Morty” animated series, which makes him an ideal fit to handle the phantasmagoric aspect of the Quantum Realm. From its colorful background to the otherworldly and sometimes strange-looking creatures, the movie is filled with characters like the blob with jutting eyes in a transparent jar-shaped head named Veb (David Dastmalchian) and the unusually big face-and-floating head combo nicknamed M.O.D.O.K. a.k.a. Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing. There’s even a character with a broccoli-shaped head, which gives me the feel and tone of a ‘Rick and Morty’-esque episode.
While I’m glad to see Jeff Loveness is in charge of the screenplay, the fact that Peyton Reed is handling the directing duty again doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Sure, he manages to keep the pace moving with a mix of sci-fi comedy and surprisingly bleak drama, where the latter turns out to be something you don’t usually see in an ‘Ant-Man’ film. It has a few worthwhile comedy moments, but Reed has a strange tendency to restrain the eccentricity of Loveness’ story instead of choosing to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Imagine how much fun this movie could have achieved, even though we do get some noteworthy set-pieces such as the ‘probability storm’ sequence – easily one of the best moments in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.’ And yet, more of this would be greatly appreciated.
Thankfully, the CGI-heavy background and everything else in this movie doesn’t make me feel like I’m watching another ugly-looking ‘Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over’ film. Reed, who previously showed some imaginative flair in the action department in the first two films, looks as if he’s running out of steam, with most of the action sequences are either incoherent or suffered from some blurry, pixelated mess.
Back to the dramatic part of the movie, the appearance of Kang the Conqueror largely changes the tone of the otherwise lightweight-style ‘Ant-Man’ franchise. I actually like the way Majors embodies a steely stare and brooding portrayal in his major antagonist role. But it’s only so much an actor can do if the movie doesn’t give him much room to expand his character. Reed does give us a backstory and motives, but it’s all superficially depicted, which in turn, misses the chance for Majors to aim higher, which could have placed him as one of the most memorable MCU villains since Josh Brolin’s Thanos.
As for the rest of the cast, Paul Rudd reprised his iconic Scott Lang/Ant-Man role with relative ease like the back of his hand after we last saw him play among the important roles in devising the Time Heist mission in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ His comedic charm remains one of the main reasons that made Scott Lang/Ant-Man uniquely his own in the first place. And that is not all, as we also get to witness Rudd effectively pull off a dramatic side of his otherwise laid-back acting style.
Kathryn Newton is a worthy addition to the movie, and she has that glowing, magnetic charm while doing a great job playing the spunky and rebellious Cassie. Michelle Pfeiffer, who has already made quite a lasting impression in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ is given a more substantial role, allowing her to stretch her excellent acting prowess as Janet Van Dyne. Too bad that Evangeline Lilly is strangely reduced to a role that doesn’t have much to do, despite appearing in a movie with the name ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ in the title.
Remember not to leave your seat just yet as ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ ends with not one but two stingers both in mid-credits and post-credits scenes.