For a while, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania finally feels like the realization of Scott Lang’s possibilities, as the third film in this series finally embraces the weirdness, the crazy tech, and the family bonds that gave those first two films promise. Quantumania becomes one part Fantastic Voyage, one part the Knowhere segments from Guardians of the Galaxy—an interesting blend that immediately makes this stand out from Ant-Man and Wasp’s (Evangeline Lilly) previous adventures.
But Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania isn’t just the third standalone film for Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne, it’s also the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Five, as well as the true introduction of Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror—a villain being set up as the next Thanos going forward. Which means that while with some focus, Quantumania could’ve finally given us the full possibility of what an Ant-Man and Wasp movie can be, instead, Reed’s third Ant-Man film has too much to set up to just be that.
In fact, we see Kang before we ever get to Scott Lang, as Quantumania starts within the Quantum Realm, as we learn that while she was stuck in this subatomic universe for thirty years, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) also had a run-in with the man we will come to know as Kang. Before Scott and Hope even have a chance to show up, Kang has already made claim to this film.
But back in the normal universe in the present day, Scott is a star, constantly noticed on the street, getting free coffee (even though the barista believes he’s Spider-Man), and now, he’s a published author with his book “Look Out For The Little Guy!” Scott’s daughter Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton)—proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree—was recently held in jail for helping the little guy, and has been working with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope on a way to explore the Quantum Realm without ever having to go back in. Cassie shows off her invention to the whole family, and Janet immediately makes them turn the device off, as it sends a signal to their location. But before they can stop sending out this signal, Scott, Hope, Hank, Janet, and Cassie are all sucked into the Quantum Realm, as they meet other creatures that inhabit this world as they try to once again escape.
The Ant-Man films have never fully incorporated the insane science of the Pym particle into the films, as we’re usually only given a taste of the possibilities. Sure, we might get a fight on a Thomas the Tank Engine track, or see a Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser blown up to absurd proportions, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania goes all-in with how odd this world truly can be. The Quantum Realm is a land that deserves further exploration, as we almost immediately meet a solid group of new characters, including the telepathic Quaz (William Jackson Harper), the freedom fighter Jentorra (Katy O’Brian), and a giant vat of goo obsessed with holes, voiced by David Dastmalchian (the closest we get to any of Scott’s friends coming back—sorry Michael Peña and T.I. fans). Just a few minutes in the Quantum Realm and we see this is far more interesting than anything in the previous two Ant-Man films.
Quantumania also does a good job at really honing in on the things that worked in the first two films and expanding them. For example, the tech is used throughout here in fun ways. We get smart ants, crazy ships that are apparently run by slime worms, and plenty of size-changing antics. We even get the return of Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, who now plays M.O.D.O.K., with a giant head that never stops being unnervingly creepy. Most of the Ant-Man powers are still relegated to Scott, Hope, and now Cassie shrinking down small, punching someone, then getting big again, but at least this world finally sees the prospects this world has.
But throwing a wrench into all this—for good and for bad—is Majors as Kang the Conquerer. Majors makes for an excellent villain, who brings nuance and subtlety to his character. Especially in the flashback moments with Janet, we see Kang as a character buried by the weight of knowing everything that can and will happen in all of time and in every multiverse. He believes his actions to be good because he knows how everything will shake out, yet the timelines have been wrecked by his knowledge. Majors makes this character likable in the beginning, but also never hides the menace and terror that he can cause at any moment. As we learned from Loki, there are many Kangs in the world, and this will certainly in the future lead to plenty of opportunities for Majors to play with the broadness, the minutiae, and the layers of this/these character(s). More than anything, Quantumania is a great introduction to what Majors will be doing with this character that we’ll be seeing a lot more of over the next few years, and it’s truly exciting to see what he’ll do with this character going forward.
That being said, that is the primary function of Quantumania—introducing the next big bad guy for the next few phases of the MCU’s master plan. Even though this story gets started with the cool tech and family dynamics being handled in a way that is more impactful than in any previous films, the film quickly becomes the Kang show. And that’s not entirely a bad thing, since Majors is absolutely the best part of this film, but it feels like a major character’s introduction glomming onto the first Scott Lang story that actually knows what it should be doing.
Which is a shame, because all the pieces are there for a solid Scott Lang/Hope van Dyne/Pym family adventure, and with these actors doing some of their best work in the MCU, but that story gets overtaken. While Scott has always been motivated by his daughter, here, Cassie and Scott’s bond is at the forefront, leading to some sweet exchanges and moments that make Ant-Man feel like more of a hero than a bit of a joke. There could also be just an entire film with Douglas and Pfeiffer, who are both excellent here. By allowing Douglas to embrace the strange Pym tech, we get some hilarious moments about his love of ants, and Pfeiffer finally gets to spend some time in the spotlight in this universe, especially when we flash back to her time in the Quantum Realm. Newton is also a fine addition to this superhero family, making yet another great new character in the MCU that could easily follow in the footsteps of one of our original heroes. And Lilly, well, she still feels lost in this series, especially considering the lack of chemistry between her and Rudd. But the tools are here to make a great Ant-Man film, but the larger MCU and the set-up for the future gets in the way. Reed and the film’s writer, Jeff Loveness, clearly think they can have it all, but it rarely feels like these two stories come together in an effective and powerful way.
For what it’s worth, as the set-up for where this universe is going, Quantumania is largely a success, as it’s hard to walk away from this and not focus primarily on what Majors is doing. But it’s easy to forget that this wasn’t his story, that this was supposed to be about Scott, his family, and his loved ones. There’s a fascinating world to explore here, and Ant-Man finally gets close to the full realization of the potential of his character and this concept, but it all, unfortunately, gets overtaken by the Conquerer. Quantumania is a promising, but shaky start for Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s just a shame it comes at the sake of the little guy.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania comes to theaters on February 16.