Look, it was cute how screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley gave Paul Rudd’s street-level hero Ant-Man something useful to do in Avengers: Endgame. His Pym particles and the gobbledegook of the vaunted Quantum Realm boosted the affable guy who was limited to his size changes that come in handy in a brawl. Delegating time travel duties to Scott Lang made Ant-Man semi-important and sold a few more action figures with different uniforms, but that’s it.
In a way, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is almost self-aware of that fact. Post-Endgame, Scott is an inactive Avenger with no attempts to work as a crimefighter, and couldn’t be more comfortable with that state. He has become Marvel’s own “San Francisco Treat,” living off the shimmer of victorious legacy described in a voiceover set to John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back.” Scott enjoys complementary coffees, honors from Baskin Robbins, and regales his adoring public with appearances, selfies, and bookstore readings of his autobiography “Look Out for the Little Guy.
Meanwhile, his teenage daughter Cassie (aged up to be played by Freaky’s Kathryn Newton) is really the one living up to that book’s title and her father’s former example. She is doing something that matters. Supported by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) in her endeavors, Cassie has rung up another arrest moonlighting with her own Pym tech to interject herself in local fights for good causes against the authorities. When Scott tries to scold her for these actions, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on as the guy who used to do the same, prison trips and all.
So far, so good, right? Staying local and rooted in family dynamics would make for an ideal Ant-Man movie and an escalator out of the grief management arcs of Phase 4, no? Wrong. Unfortunately, with a cinematic universe spiraling in a zillion rudderless directions of multiverse lunacy, the Marvel machine will not stand for that. Enlisting awards show and Rick and Morty writer Jeff Loveness (bask in that pedigree), Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania reaches so poorly with attempted relevancy.
Loveness, returning series director Peyton Reed, and the studio braintrust sat down and decided to let Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania introduce the portended Phase 5 villain Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors… but not really, though, because he already showed up in the Loki TV series. Oh, but it’s a different Kang than that one? Of course. Welcome back to the crutches of overplayed multiverse angles.
As it turns out, “He Who Remains” has crossed paths with the Ant-Man family before. In old history spun back in the first scene and continuing later, Janet encountered an exiled Kang during her three decades of confinement to the Quantum Realm. They saved each other’s lives and became confidantes for a time while trying to repair his ship. When Janet discovered his true monstrous intentions, she was rescued back to Earth, leaving the Quantum Realm to a re-powered Kang primed to take over.
Naturally, Janet has never spoken of her lost time in the Quantum Realm with her family, meaning no warnings exist about this massive threat. When probed, the shaken woman parries with “We’ll talk later,” often accompanied by, before or after, “I can’t talk about it right now.” When Cassie’s basement experiments to map and communicate the Quantum Realm trigger a portal that pulls everyone down into the subatomic universe, Janet’s dialogue becomes contagious and those same two lines of the-adults-are-talking deflection continue over and over again. Guess what? They never talk about it later. At some point, that’s not PTSD character shading in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. That’s lazy screenwriting bleeding through, pretending to save important conversations for later.
Returning to the Quantum Realm, Janet is back in her element only to find a completely different landscape of political and territorial control dominated by Kang. The Lang-Pym-Van Dyne gang take on Cassie’s fighting spirit to befriend a rag-tag group of alien rainbow revolutionaries (I dare you to remember any of their names after you walk out of the theater) in hopes of dethroning Kang, his top lieutenant of MODOK (played by a casting surprise), his armies, and living to tell about it. Conveniently, the Pym Particle technology is precisely what the tyrant needs to spring himself from the Quantum Realm.
Thank goodness for Jonathan Majors. Give him all the #KangGang fans he can amass. Not only does the upcoming Creed III opponent fill the part of a heavyweight from a beefy screen presence standpoint, but he speaks and emotes the soliloquies of the role perfectly. Majors is brilliant with modulations of volume, pause, inflection, and gazes to make Kang enigmatic and squeeze a weak script for every drop of weight he can. Taking a cue from President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick,” you hang on his every word with trepidation.
Like Christian Bale and other actors of ponderousness before him, Majors is here in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to be as serious as a heart attack. No one else, sadly, can keep up. Kang is there foretelling prophecies of “You still can’t see it” and “It’s never over.” All the movie can do to respond with shrug and more tabled missing meanings of explanations that never arrive.
Regrettably, Paul Rudd occupies that fluffed side of the balance. Kathryn Newton has a spark or two, but pitfalls are reduced in a hurry to a damsel that needs her dad to save her. Somehow, even Rudd’s sterling Everyman charisma is smudged and dulled by the parade of green screen mattes and surrounding creature created by the VFX team of supervisor Jesse James Chisholm (Captain Marvel) and producer Fiona Campbell Westgate (The Suicide Squad). When you’re already subatomic, the shrinking fun of big and small fighting moves loses its effect in an obscure aesthetic setting of borderline indecipherable weirdness.
All in all, how is something that is supposed to be small become something that is way, way, way too much? The reason goes back to the notion of actions mattering. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania begs for excuses to make a group of characters who were plenty engaging in their own world matter in a splintered multiverse that has blown past its many containers. To do so with stakes lighter than Cool Whip is not how to achieve pertinent purpose. Let the little guy stay the little guy.