The multiverse and quantum world collide with some purported consequence in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which opens worldwide this weekend to kick of the MCU‘s Phase Five. A bloated spectacle that spends most of its running time on toothless other-world exposition, Quantumania is a significant step down from the previous two Ant-Man movies but remains appealing thanks to an ingratiating central performance from Paul Rudd.
Rudd stars as Scott Lang, who opens and closes Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania with an inner dialogue as he jovially walks the streets of San Francisco. These two bookend scenes total about ten minutes and might be enough to convince you the film you just saw was more enjoyable than it actually was.
For the 100+ minutes in the middle of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, we have a movie drowning in world-building as Lang, daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and once and future Wasps Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) accidentally get sucked into the quantum realm.
At least, the film tells us it’s the quantum realm. Beyond the initial appearance of a Godzilla-sized protozoa, the movie never seems to take advantage of its microcosmos setting, content to deliver a generic alien world full of (mostly) humanoid creatures. Going by the barely-discernible red-tinged CGI backdrops, this might be Hell, Mars, or any number of Star Wars planets.
The quantum realm is at war, for some reason, with Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) and an army of blue-faced robots leading something like Star Wars’ galactic empire. Kang has also resurrected Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), sent to the quantum realm in the first Ant-Man film, and reinvented him as the floating head killing machine M.O.D.O.K., an effect that never really works as it did in the comics.
Among the disparate rabble rebelling against Kang’s empire is warrior woman Jentorra (Katy M. O’Brian), mind reader Quaz (William Jackson Harper), a gelatinous glob of goo voiced by David Dastmalchian, another character with a plasma cannon for a head, a walking stalk of broccoli, and other wild creations. Bill Murray shows up for two minutes playing a character named Krylar, though he might as well be playing himself as he did in Zombieland.
Lang and co. get caught up in all the action, no thanks to Janet, who has a complicated history with the quantum realm. Kang, meanwhile, needs some of their Pym Particles so he can repair his spaceship and break out of the quantum realm to destroy some worlds. Or was it to prevent worlds from being destroyed?
By the time Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has established the setup, run through the basics of the quantum realm, and added in some backstory with these new characters, we have about 20 minutes left for a big action set piece awash in underlit CGI. What’s sorely missing in this strange new world is any sense of fun: despite being overstuffed with wild creations, Quantumania never takes the time to explore them.
But the worst part of Quantumania is that for all the time spent on exposition, we never really understand this new world and how it works. There’s a flippant, go-for-broke approach to the quantum realm in the film’s script (credited to head writer Jeff Loveless, who wrote and produced for Rick and Morty) that never explores what we’re seeing in any kind of depth.
Compared to Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water, or both Wakanda and Talokan in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania misses the chance to deliver a real and tangible world.
The Kang character, too, is kept at arm’s length from the audience: he’s set up to be the next Thanos, but his backstory, motives, and even abilities largely remain a mystery. He’s been exiled from a universe of other Kangs, but Quantumania never tells us why.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is still fun, largely thanks to Rudd’s Lang, one of the most fully-realized human characters to come out of the MCU: he’s just a dad trying to do better, who also happens to have the weight of the world on his miniature shoulders. Pfeiffer and Douglas also get more to do here than in previous movies, and make the most of their screen time.
But as the MCU expands its scope, it’s losing its humanity. The last Thor movie explored the galaxies, Doctor Strange took on the multiverse, and now Ant-Man delves into the quantum realm; all three films have been clear misfires, giving audiences diminishing returns for time invested in exploring strange but ultimately inconsequential new worlds.
For all of the inventive weirdness of the quantum realm in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, we’d rather be in San Francisco with Lang’s old crew. Michael Peña‘s Luis is sorely missed this time around.