The post-Endgame MCU has been dealing with a bit of turbulence. Phase 4 came and went with a couple of gems, like Spider-Man: No Way Home an Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but mostly middling efforts such as Black Widow and Eternals. A big part of the problem is that so much time was spent establishing the Multiverse, and weaving in eight (!!!) television shows that defining a singlular threat was nearly impossible. Well, that changes with the official kickoff to Phase 5, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which finally gives Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror his moment to shine.
Kang is one of a few highlights in a sluggish but entertaining film that feels too much like a set-up for future projects, and not like the possible finale to Ant-Man’s solo franchise. Paul Rudd’s diminutive Avenger deserves better than a story where Ant-Man is merely a passenger along for the ride. Scott Lang is riding high after the events of Endgame and his pivotal role in Thanos’ defeat. He’s written a book, Look Out for the Little Guy!, and is soaking in the adulation of the masses. But he’s also got daughter problems. Following the five-year “blip”, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is now a rebellious and brilliant teen. She’s gotten used to fighting the good fight on her own, and isn’t afraid to use the dangerous Pym Particles to do it.
With the help of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Cassie has developed a device that connects to the Quantum Realm, the microscopic universe Scott was sucked into in the first movie. Only Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) knows how deadly that place truly is, but she warns them about it too late. An accident zaps all of them down into the Quantum Realm, which turns out to be anything but the desolate place Janet claimed it to be.
The depiction of the Quantum Realm is the first sign that something is lacking in Quantumania. While it is colorful, full of weird creatures that resemble the marketplace scene in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, it lacks a distinct personality. Given his love for the Fantastic Four and long-held desire to direct that upcoming movie, you’d expect that director Peyton Reed would put more energy into making the Quantum Realm feel special, and not like it was cribbed from a variety of other sci-fi films. Bill Murray shows up as a former associate of Janet’s, and he temporarily ends a rut that finds her, Hank, and Hope aimlessly looking for a way back home.
Separated from the others, Scott and Cassie get some father/daughter bonding time as they find themselves in the middle of a civil war. The people of the Quantum Realm are facing extinction at the hands of Kang the Conqueror, whose technology is so far advanced nobody can understand it. Kang is a different type of villain than Thanos, and it’s refreshing to see the MCU with a new kind of threat. Arguably the most comics accurate villain Marvel has give us yet, Kang is brilliant, brutal, demonstrative, and arrogant. He speaks with the authority of someone who not only controls time, but understands it. He sees the widest possible picture. Majors, who has been packing on the muscle for a variety of physically-demanding roles, is perfectly cast as the intimidating Kang. He lends the role the gravitas that it needs to be taken seriously, even when large chunks of the film are very silly.
On equal footing with Majors, the ageless Paul Rudd proves again that nobody could’ve been better-suited to play Scott Lang. His scenes with Kathryn Newton are great, especially as Scott, who began all of this as a petty thief, imparts his heroic wisdon on his daughter. We’re seeing the beginnings of Cassie as a future hero, possibly an Avenger, and her arc is believable and fun to watch. With Janet taking on an outsized role here, it does sideline Hope, Hank, and even Scott to some degree. There are a ton of characters, including many, often humorous, rebel fighters to account for. Oh, and one MODOK. His appearance, especially in light of the popular animated series with Patton Oswalt, is sure to be divisive.
It’s hard to shake the Empire Strikes Back and Ready Player One vibes when everything starts to ramp up to a conclusion. But the final battle, which finds the entire….Ant Family (???) united as a force for the first time, is incredible and gives everyone their moment to be the hero. Ant-Man, like the franchise he’s been at the center of, has come a long way. No longer just a cute, somewhat tangential corner of the MCU, Ant-Man is now a key piece of the puzzle from which everything must build. But Scott Lang emerges more than ever the underdog everyman we love to root for, and Kang as the ultimate threat to end all threats. In terms of scale and importance, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is an enormous step forward, but there are some growing pains that come along with it.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens February 17th.