It has been a few months since Wakanda Forever was released, and so here we are again: another season, another “phase”, and another Marvel Studios feature. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the third in Marvel’s Ant-Man series, which to date has been an amiable albeit low-key franchise of action comedies starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfieffer. This third iteration quite is a surprise, as it abandons the more grounded nature of the earlier films in favour of an eye-popping planetary romance. Honestly, before the trailers starting running last year, I did not see this turn coming – and I like what I see. All due credit to director Peyton Reed, who pivots the style of the Ant-Man saga without breaking a sweat.
Quantumania begins with Scott Lang (Rudd) enjoying an effective retirement from his Ant-Man persona. Girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (Lilly) is busy running an advanced tech company, and Scott is spending his time reconnecting with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) and promoting his self-aggrandising autobiography. Disaster strikes: Cassie’s scientific project, a device that can interact with the mysterious Quantum Realm, backfires and drags the entire family – Scott, Cassie, Hope, Hank (Douglas), and Janet (Pfieffer) – inside.
This is a markedly different sort of science fiction to the first two Ant-Man features, and indeed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general. Quantumania introduces a hugely imaginative alternate world, packed with unusual landscapes, dizzying vistas, and bizarre alien creatures. It is the sort of environment that is a gift to conceptual designers, as well as to audiences. Every scene brings its own weird imagery: there is a character who doubles as a drinkable liquid, a house that is an angry gun-toting revolutionary, and some with broccoli for a head. It is all so strange that when actor Bill Murray turns up as a community leader he is barely worth a second glance. He simply fits in.
There is a clear Taika Waititi influence on the film – more Ragnarok than Love & Thunder thankfully – as well as James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which paved the way here via talking raccoons and walking trees. The film is overrun with computer-generated- well, everything really, but once you adjust to its aesthetic it is all rather wonderful to watch. If anything there is simply too much of it. One of the perennial faults of the MCU is that each individual feature simply feels too long, and that is certainly an issue here. Much of that unnecessary time is spent on an over-long climax and denouement, and the bulk of the latter is spent foreshadowing the entirety of the MCU Phases 5 and 6. It is quite nice to see all of the franchise-building packed into a smaller section. The disastrous Age of Ultron was largely ruined by constant reminders of upcoming sequels; here, as long as you ignore the portentous advertising, you can almost enjoy Quantumania as its own self-contained adventure.
There is good character work for each major character. Cassie gets a proper story for the first time, while Scott finds himself as a personal crossroads in terms of his future as an active superhero. As a scientist Hank gets to have a whale of a time, while Janet is revealed to have a whole new action-focused side to her personality. New supporting characters played by the likes of William Jackson Harper and Katy O’Brian are delightful.
The film, however, is all-but-stolen by Jonathan Majors as new villain Kang the Conqueror. Audiences have seen a variation of the character already, if they watched Disney+ serial Loki back in 2021. This ‘proper’ incarnation, however, is outstanding. Powerful, eloquent, and beautifully portrayed, he is the sort of muscular (in every sense) antagonist that Ant-Man has been lacking in previous films. He works brilliantly within the confines of Quantumania, but it is also clear that he will be returning to plague Scott and the Avengers in films to come. The recently completed ‘phase four’ of the MCU (Black Widow to Wakanda Forever) felt like a let-down. Thanks to Kang, Quantumania kicks everything into high gear again.
You would have thought Disney would run a mile from making a planetary romance feature, given that 2012’s John Carter – their high profile adaptation of A Princess of Mars.- lost the studio an estimated $200 million, and their more recent animated film Strange World lost another $100 million. I am happy they have, of course, since I love the genre and this is a really impressive attempt at it. What is particularly odd, however, is how this particular science fiction escapade has been plotted: characters being thrown by a technological device into an unfamiliar world, aided by a hero who spent decades trapped inside the alien landscape, where everything is ruled by a despotic duplicate of someone else with plans to invade the real world above? All it needs is a Daft Punk soundtrack and this would be a remake of Disney’s own Tron Legacy. I cannot lie, I vastly prefer the Tron version. That said, this is a winning progression for Ant-Man and a wonderfully enjoyable blockbuster. Phase 5 is off to an exciting start.