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‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ review: Uneven tones hinder this phase five introduction

The third film in the Ant-Man story keeps the things you love and struggles to progress beyond that.

Jay Maidment

Throughout the 17 stories of Marvel’s phase four, we’ve seen our heroes deal with a full assortment of grief and loss. But not Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). At the beginning of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Lang is thriving – washing in praise of being an Avenger, complete with an autobiography and visits to the coffee shop where he doesn’t have to pay for anything. He got Hope (Evangeline Lilly), excelling in her own right, taking over her father’s company and using pym particles for various humanitarian efforts. Everything seems excellent – except one thing.

Quantumania, officially kicking off Phase five, wants to progress the multiversal riff that’s been going on at large. Director Peyton Reed has a lot of ideas (and themes) in how he wants to show this. It’s an intergalactic ensemble film akin to Star Wars, a comedy, and drama, all complete with a foreboding, stoic villain. Many of these tones get in the way of the ultimate the film is trying to say. Considering Scott has been in jail, caught in the quantum realm, and at the helm of the blip, he regrets not spending enough time with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) – a rebellious teenager whose heart is in the right place when trying to help others. While Scott was M.I.A., Cassie and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) worked on a device to send signals to the quantum realm. This sends Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) into a frantic frenzy because of something in her past. When the machine goes haywire, all five characters get pulled into the trippy, psychedelic world of the quantum realm.

For the majority of Quantumania, this mind-melting world is where the film takes place - ranging from visually interesting to somewhat lacking. Reed and writer Jeff Loveness decide to split the characters up, a trope that goes along with many sci-fi films before it. Rudd and Newton work great together as a father and daughter, trying to make up for lost time. There is a smaller storyline between them based on Scott’s comfortable life and Cassie’s perception that heroes always need to act to help out “the little guy.” Janet’s plight takes precedence over the development of Hank and Hope – they are more there to listen and learn about Janet’s past in the quantum realm and what she’s so afraid of.

Where people may feel the fissures in the film's story comes in its ultimate conflict and the many flavors shown. The Ant-Man films in the MCU are ultimately more light-hearted outings (if you needed a break from the heaviness of phase four, here you go). There are many jokes, given the different alien characters Scott and Cassie interact with. However, this becomes uneven with the introduction of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Majors himself is terrific and menacing, as the next ultra-bad of the MCU should be.

Ultimately, Kang is trapped in the Quantum Realm because he’s perceived as too dangerous for the multiverse. In his search for a way out, Kang’s intellect has made him an empirical figure who has put the very citizens in that land under the harsh rule. Each scene Majors is it feels like it’s another film within its own – Kang commands this aura of inevitable despair. However, some parts get undercut by M.O.D.O.K. or Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing (Corey Stoll). His character is the perfect personification of two main ideas at war. At one point, he’s Kang’s killing machine, and then in others, he’s joking around with the characters about their history. There’s a build-up to a rebellion that’s not necessarily earned like a Return of the Jedi because the audience spends little time establishing the broader stakes.

That attachment to what the essence of Ant-Man is to the entire MCU clouds how dire the circumstances are. Kang is a great character, and I’m sure his inclusion will get people excited about his journey in the next phase of projects. With that being said, this is not like Thanos in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, where he got to have his moment and not clash with the overall objective. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania still has charm, but buckles under the weight of being the first introduction into an entirely new collection of tales.