In a weird way, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has wrought upon me a number of tantalizing existential questions that few other movies have. Namely: What’s this all for? What is the point of any of this stuff we see happening to our characters onscreen? Oh, a big bad guy wants to kill a lot of life in the universe(s)? There’s already been one of those and they won, but now there’s another big bad that wants to do more or less the same thing? Why do our heroes keep fighting in the face of evil that will never go away? Why do I keep watching, knowing this is all going to play out the same way as the last time? There are answers here, but man, they’re kind of sad to think about.
Anyway, new Ant-Man adventure! YAYYYY!!!!!
Entering Phase Five (citation needed, but at this point, who’s really keeping track?), QUANTUMANIA, the third entry in the official Ant-Man franchise seems to position itself as one of the more important appetizers of the recent MCU outputs. Mainly because, at least theatrically, we get the introduction of the universe’s new big bad: Kang (Jonathan Majors), a sort of infinite god-like entity hell-bent on uhh, destroying things, I guess. I don’t know what this guy’s deal is, and it doesn’t really seem like writer Jeff Loveness does either, but regardless, Kang’s the big bad and his first opponent is Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) (along with Ant-Man’s family and some Quantum realm B-characters). Indeed, like the lower quality MCU entries, QUANTUMANIA feels like a B-side story turned large as we see Lang and his family have split misadventures in the strange new world that is the Quantum Realm (the place, that if you don’t remember, is where Michelle Pfeiffer's, Janet spent most of her time in).
On paper, it would be cool to see the likes of Pfeiffer, who gets paired up in one side story with Michael Douglas’ Hank and Evangeline Lily’s Hope, get to get a little more meat to their characters but director Peyton Reed must instead focus on a lot of — you guessed it — universe setting which ultimately sacrifices any interesting character development. Even our hero, Scott, who gets paired with his daughter now played by Kathryn Newton, hardly really develops much. In QUANTUMANIA, Ant-Man and co. simply get sucked into a strange new world with a strange new bad guy and do the ole fisticuffs routine. Same as it ever was. Which is a shame because of all the franchise’s the MCU has conceived, the ANT-MAN franchise has been one of the few that had somewhat of a personality (mainly thanks to Rudd and even Reed’s comic backgrounds). It was no GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY for sure, but this franchise always seemed to be chill with kind of just hanging out in between all the other grander adventures, finding quality laughs and entertainment in its shaggy dog approach. This feeling never really materializes here and when it does, it doesn’t mesh well with the moments where Loveness’ script feels the need to reach towards more serious, grander storylines such as the end of the world.
Digging deeper into the material of QUANTUMANIA, it indeed feels like a lot of parts are just casually putting the work the in. All the performers are fine, but Rudd feels more muted here (again, not helped by dealing with more serious material that hasn’t earned its predetermined mood), and all the others feel mostly sidelined, which is strange for Pfeiffer's case as her character has a whole history with this new world that’s kind of casually brought up and addressed as the film moves forward towards its Kang appointment. Most disappointing however might be Ms. Newton’s introduction as Cassie Lang, a character, who despite being an obvious motivation for Scott as the film’s stakes raise, never feels fleshed out leaving Newton herself to deal with some flat lines that she can’t quite elevate. As the main antagonist, Majors is fine as Kang, with moments that showcase a performer trying in vain to find some sort of legitimate motivation for his so far basic actions, but overall the character of Kang is a typical bad guy bent on universal domination just because that’s what he says. Of course, this motivation may well be expanded on in other works but for now Majors is just here to chew scenery and show off a bit of his intimidating physicality.
So what are we left with? Well, some lower tier MCU gruel that’s just there to introduce the villain and apparently raise the stakes. But honestly, if that means taking out the miniscule amount of charm that ANT-MAN initially had, is it really worth it? Just as the questions above, the answers probably lean towards something disheartening.