'Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania': A Middling MCU Adventure
The Ant-Man movies have held a fascinating place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as they are largely self-contained and have a lighter, more comedic tone compared to the rest of the franchise. While these films do make references to the events of other MCU films, they don't feel as directly connected to the overarching narrative of The Infinity Saga. Ant-Man is largely a secondary superhero outside of his own films, but with the MCU beginning a new era, he has the potential to become more a more integral part of it. It appears that Marvel wants to test the waters with this, as Ant-Man's latest adventure, Quantumania, brings him into what they are setting up with The Multiverse Saga, and opens the door for him to have a more substantial role in the franchise. While the prospect of this is somewhat interesting, it is a bit of a jarring shift for the character, as it downplays the lighthearted nature of the previous two films quite significantly. The result is a film that has glimmers of what makes the Ant-Man films feel different from the rest of the MCU, but ultimately gives in to the worst aspects of the franchise as a whole.
Picking up post-Endgame, the film begins with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) settling into a new lifestyle, as he is more well-known and beloved than ever before. This bothers his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and causes a rift between the two. While visiting Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) it is revealed that she has been working on a device that can establish contact with the Quantum Realm. This opens up a portal that transports all of them, along with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to the Quantum Realm. Upon arriving, they find out that the world has been devastated due the actions of Kang (Jonathan Majors) a villainous man who has become the ruler of the realm. This leads to our heroes having to work together to defeat Kang, save the Quantum Realm, and quite possibly, the world as we know it.
After a year that has seen incredible big-budget films that have utilized their visual effects well, seeing something like Quantumania feels like a major step-down in terms of spectacle. I don't want to fault the VFX team too much, considering that it has been widely reported that they have been mistreated and given unrealistic deadlines to complete their work. However, I can't get past how fake and cheap this film looks, despite being made on a 200 million dollar budget. It uses the Stagecraft technology used for The Mandalorian, and it is quite obvious in many moments of the film. It gives the film a distractingly artificial aesthetic, and takes away from how immersive and intriguing it could have made the Quantum Realm. Obviously, the film was always going to need digital effects in order to properly depict the Quantum Realm and its inhabitants, but its as if the film uses these as a crutch and keeps the use of practical effects to an absolute minimum. This hinders the film, as some of the VFX look terrible, and are rather distracting. It's even more disappointing that Bill Pope, the legendary cinematographer who worked on films such as The Matrix and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, can't even save this, as the film squanders his talent, and ends up looking rather dull for the most part. It's an unfortunate trend that has plagued the MCU for the past several installments, but this might be the worst of them all in this regard.
I personally appreciate the lighter tone of the previous two Ant-Man films, as they feel a bit more genuine than some of the other MCU entries. The humor usually lands better in these films, as they are less reliant on quips to get laughs. This film does have some humorous moments, but the film feels far more serious than it should be. For a film that takes place in a universe of multiple possibilities and strange creatures, it seems to play things rather straight. Considering this, you'd think it would capitalize on some of the goofier energy of the other Ant-Man movies, but it keeps this relatively minimal. It feels more expository, as it is focused more on setting up the future of the MCU than anything else. However, this clashes with the breezier nature of the character, and makes the film feel like more of a hodgepodge. The sillier moments clash with the more serious ones, leading the film to feel at war with itself. Despite this, there are moments where the film does find its footing. The film starts off nicely, and the final moments (not counting post-credits scenes) aren't half bad, but everything in the middle is very hit or miss.
What keeps the film from being an outright disaster is its cast. Paul Rudd is charming as always, and this film does give him more room to be more of an action hero. He clearly relishes this, and is honestly quite good all throughout the film. I'd argue that he's one of the more consistently solid actors in the entire MCU, and its a testament to him as an actor that he is able to salvage some of the weaker aspects of the film. Jonathan Majors is also quite good, although I wanted to see more from him. There is so much about Kang that we don't know, which adds an air of mystery to him, but it also leaves the character feeling a bit underdeveloped. Majors does take a fascinating approach to him, however, and his work here has me curious to see what direction his character takes in future MCU installments. Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer make good use of their screen time, but considering that they are both seasoned pros, this isn't all that surprising. Pfeiffer is especially good at several points in the film, and reminds us that she is one of our finest living actors. I also enjoyed David Dastmalchian's voice performance as the slime creature Veb, and William Jackson Harper's turn as Quaz, an telepath who teams up with Ant-Man.
Perhaps the weakest links are Evangeline Lilly and Kathryn Newton. Lilly is sidelined for much of the film, which is surprising given that her character is literally in the title of the film. She's given rather little here, and doesn't add all that much to the overall film either. It's easily her weakest outing as the Wasp, and is perhaps my least favorite perfromance in the film. Newton is a little more surprising, as she has proven herself to be quite talented before. She comes across as bland in some scenes, which is partially due to the script, but she didn't really do much for me with her performance.
There is no denying that Quantumania is quite flawed, but I wouldn't go as far as saying that its the absolute worst of the MCU either. I'd certainly rank it lower than the vast majority of the franchise, but it does manage to be fun in certain moments. I wish it would have retained more of the lighter tone of the previous films, or that it would have owned its seriousness a little more than it does, as its unevenness is one of its biggest downfalls. This, coupled with its weak visual effects, are its most blatant issues, but it does come together here and there. I am curious to see where the MCU goes from here, but I am a bit more trepidatious after watching this film. I can't help but feel that the franchise at large is suffering some fatigue, which may have a negative impact on future installments. As for this film, it is a bit of a misfire in some regards, but it's still mildly enjoyable at the very least.