Sunday, February 19, 2023


For those of us who complain the superhero spectacles of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are getting rote and bland, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania acknowledges our complaints with the sight of a supervillain admitting, of the Avengers, “they all blur together after a while.” Credit director Peyton Reed, then, for trying to keep his Ant-Man adventures a little distinct. The first two had their chintzy cross-overs and obligatory mega-franchise stewardship, but also had some panache as flimsy heist movies in which people and objects shrink and grow in clever, silly ways. This one plunges headfirst into a relatively straightforward adventure. Paul Rudd’s eponymous hero accidentally gets pulled into the Quantum Realm with his daughter (Kathryn Newton), his superhero girlfriend, Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer). The movie’s just about a journey to an exit that takes them through weird landscapes and kooky designs—talking goo, living buildings, fuzzily CG’d big-headed robot flunkies—on a collision course with an exiled multi-verse hopping conqueror. That’s Jonathan Majors’ Kang, last seen in the pretty fun Season 1 of Loki. This variant of the villain hopes to use Ant-Man tech to escape his sub-atomic prison. The result is diverting enough, a straightforward adventure through computer effects. 

It’s what, in the olden days, might’ve been a stop-motion odyssey through loosely adapted Greek myths or recreations of Jules Verne’s deep dives. Here, though, this weekend matinee approach is given over to Jack Kirby creatures in a vaguely Star Wars-ian side-quest plot captive to the MCU house style of functional blocking and brightly-lit fantasy. It strands likable actors in warehouse-sized virtual environments and has them interact with ping-ponging zaps and splats. The stakes are simple and the emotions paint-by-numbers—Rudd wants to protect his daughter; the rest want to help; the villain schemes and steams. But I found the whole project pleasant enough, at least less of a calamity than certain recent Marvel jumbles. It’s all of a piece, a direct line from beginning to end with a coherent energy and a streamlined style. I especially liked the easygoing heroes’ contrast with the heavy charisma of Majors, who sells the antagonist with enough sturdy screen presence that I won’t mind seeing him pop up in a half-dozen more of these. And Reed is allowed a few fine visual gambits—from a clever no-man’s land of multiplying possibilities that leaves a gazillion Ant-Men swarming on screen, to a reasonably satisfying ant-ex-machina to save the day. Sure, the MCU projects all blur together, but this one’s hardly the biggest failure.

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