3.5 out of 5 stars

After a turbulent period that saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) spread to television, resulting in a plethora of new superheroes and stories that made everything feel more overwhelming than exciting, particularly as the apex of Avengers: Endgame (2019) made casual fimgoers question why the whole enterprise was even continuing, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania launches Phase 5 with the promise of a clearer sense of direction and purpose.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is now a global celebrity with an autobiography to sell after helping defeat Thanos alongside The Avengers, his relationship with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) has only strengthened, and he’s trying to reconnect with his now-teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) after being away for five years as she grew up to become an activist often landing herself in jail. There’s a great feeling of family in Scott’s life too, as Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) have fully accepted him, and it even seems Cassie’s taking after the Pym’s after creating her own super-suit and a device that can contact the mysterious Quantum Realm…

The activation of Cassie’s new gadget turns out to be a bad move, however, as Scott and his family are immediately sucked down into the subatomic realm, quickly realising Janet didn’t tell them everything about the three decades she spent living down there. It turns out there’s an entire civilisation of weird creatures and quirky characters, all oppressed by an exiled tyrant known as Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), who was aided in his attempt to return home by Janet before she learned the truth about him.

Quantumania is a departure from the Ant-Man films in terms of its tone and intentions, being less comical and more essential viewing. There are amusing moments throughout with the usual MCU-style quipping, but making audiences laugh isn’t the primary goal this time. It’s more of a straightforward adventure in the spirit of Thor: Ragnarok (2017), only with some Guardians of the Galaxy-esque weirdness that also evokes a live-action Rick & Morty episode. I enjoyed how bonkers it got compared to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), which had a wonderful title promising more than the creators delivered. It’s no surprise to learn that Quantumania’s screenwriter Jeff Loveness worked on Rick & Morty.

If you enjoyed Ant-Man for being relatively separate from the interconnected nature of the MCU, Quantumania still works as a self-contained story about a family finding themselves strangers in a strange land and having to inspire a revolution against a man using technology to subjugate them. By the end, it’s clear Kang is going to return and this was just an extended origin story for him. Or this incarnation of Kang. That alone is a big departure from ‘The Infinity Saga’, where Thanos was only glimpsed and whispered about until making his mark in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Kang is a more challenging character and villain to portray than a shadowy presence you can tease over multiple films again.

The so-called Marvel fatigue many are talking about perhaps won’t be entirely put to rest by Quantumania, as it’s fundamentally another MCU entry that relies on a formula that doesn’t seem to be evolving much. Scott Lang isn’t a character who entirely works as the sole lead, which is perhaps why Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) elevated Hope to co-lead status, and why Quantumania spends a surprising amount of time focusing on Janet van Dyne. Giving this story more of an ensemble feels works to its benefit, moving the family dynamic to the forefront in a way that works for the emotional stakes of what’s happening and who’s in jeopardy.

The production design and imagination on display in Quantumania is another strength, as the situation creates plenty of opportunities for the VFX and make-up teams to create fantastic creature designs and environments. The visuals are strong and I wasn’t taken out of the story with the abundance of false backdrops the actors are wandering through almost constantly (they utilised the same tech as The Mandalorian over traditional greenscreen, which helps light the actors more realistically), although I can understand those craving the real-world gravitas the previous Ant-Man adventures traded in. There are certainly times when the VFX lets the side down—cult villain M.O.D.O.K (Corey Stoll) and his giant face looks badly rendered and laughable—but knowing how overworked VFX artists are I think Quantumania looks great all things considered.

The standout performance comes from Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country) as Kang, even if this version of the character isn’t much of a departure from any number of superpowered autocrats we’ve seen in many other comic-book movies. Majors is nevertheless an effective bad guy with an intriguing backstory, who by the end shows a level of strength and ability that makes him an exciting prospect to see more of. And even if you’re unsatisfied that a low-rung Avenger like Ant-Man could go toe-to-toe with the MCU’s latest supervillain, the very nature of Kang as a multiversal being ensures he can always return with a different look and personality. This version of Kang could well have been the runt of the litter.

The theme of small people rising up against a despot also works well for an Ant-Man movie, as he’s a character who literally becomes tiny and is often seen as a joke by others, but is always being underestimated. Quantumania sees Scott Lang helping the tiniest of tiny people in a pocket universe nobody in our world even knows exists, and it also weaves in ideas about strength in numbers and cooperation as a key way to succeed against impossible odds; a sequence where multiple versions of Scott work together like a colony of ants is the best example of this. It’s a shame the themes aren’t more central because they get slightly overwhelmed by the wacky visuals and distractions like Bill Murray appearing for a fun scene, but they are there if you look.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania isn’t as great as it could have been, but I was more entertained than I’ve been with the MCU since Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). The Quantum Realm is overflowing with cool designs and strange beasts (even sentient buildings), Kang is a welcome departure from Thanos in how he’s going to function moving ahead, Pfeiffer carries a large part of the story very nicely, and the emphasis on adventure and drama is perhaps a good thing now the Marvel brand of humour has become so lazy (see: Thor: Love and Thunder). I still have concerns about the MCU’s future and longevity, but Phase 5 has launched on a firm footing.


Cast & Crew

director: Peyton Reed.
writer: Jeff Loveness (based on Marvel Comics).
starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll & Michael Douglas.