Ant-Man’s (Paul Rudd) third standalone outing confirms his status as among the Marvel machine’s most reliably entertaining, if middling, product lines. Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania may be lacking in any discernible drama or emotional stakes but it is easily one of the most solidly entertaining and spectacular of Marvel’s ‘Phase 4’ run of film and television.
After an accident with his daughter’s science experiment, Ant-Man aka Scott Lang once again finds himself trapped in the Quantum Realm, the subatomic dimension that exists outside time and space. This time he’s there with daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), girlfriend Hope / superhero partner The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents, original Ant-Man and Wasp team Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). They’re not alone either: previously seen in television series Loki, Kang (Jonathan Majors) is stuck down here too, brooding and gathering an army to conquer not just our realm, but the entire multiverse. Broadening this threequel out into an ensemble piece is one of director Peyton Reed’s best touches – and indeed is one of the MCU’s strongest suits – and certainly helps to paper over some of this film’s shortcomings.
Much of Marvel’s stable has been built around relatable, well-rounded characters while its action and visuals have historically played second fiddle, but the opposite here is true. Aside from some iffy compositing in a few shots, the special effects here are often astonishing, both technically and in their inventiveness, wit and humour, marshalled by the accomplished hand of cinematographer Bill Pope. Indeed, it’s a minor miracle that the CGI looks as good as they do given the disgraceful way that Marvel and Disney reportedly exploit the numerous visual effects houses in their employ. Still, a lot of the editing is choppy, especially during action sequences which relies too heavily on hasty, disorienting cuts in close up.
Beyond the overall visual pizazz, it’s the drama that falls short for Quantumania, with a script that’s heavy on plot but light on character and story. It’s certainly tightly structured, never less than entertaining and by now these performers could play their roles in their sleep. There are the obligatory cameos for the fans, a very funny sight gag involving a big giant head and at just over two hours, the thing rattles along nicely without overstaying its welcome. Anyone keeping up with the Ant-Man films will understand the interpersonal relationships between Scott, Cassie, et al, and screenwriter Jeff Loveness is deft enough to give everyone enough to do without leaving anyone feeling redundant. Nevertheless, too often we are left to remember how these characters feel about each other, much less told how they do. Quaint ideas like themes, motivations or character growth are at best paid lip service to and forgotten, presumably victims of rewrites, reshoots or whatever new corporate direction the MCU needs to head in mid-production.
As a mechanism the film functions very well indeed – but as a film, as “a machine that generates empathy” as Roger Ebert had it, Quantumania falls vastly short. Still, one might argue that we do not board roller coasters expecting art, and so as an entertainment at that level it is hard to deny that this latest entry fulfils its purpose handsomely, providing all the thrills and spills of the fair. And of course on exiting the ride, there stands Kevin Feige in his red and white stripy suit and straw hat, hawking the next entertainment, and the next. It’s up to audiences to decide how many more rollercoasters and bags of candy floss we are prepared to stomach. But perhaps at some point we might decide whether we might like something a little more substantial.