Reviews

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Review: Kang Is Ready for His Closeup

Life for Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is good. It’s been years since the blip and he’s settling into life comfortably as a published author and hero. His relationship with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is still going strong. Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) who since returning refuses to talk to anyone, not even her family, about that time, instead re-embracing a normal life with husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Since nothing major happened in the Quantum Realm, what’s the point of rehashing the past? Despite being separated for 30 years they are acting as if no time has passed between them, while Scott’s daughter, Cassie is growing into her own person, finally part of their day-to-day lives. Together they are the extended family Scott unknowingly longed for when we first met him in Ant-Man.

But even with the success of Look Out For The Little Guy! and saving the world from Thanos, what has Scott done with his time? He lost five years of his life but more importantly, he lost time as a father. Cassie, Hank, and Janet are finding joy in rebuilding the world for the everyday person; Pym Particles are changing the landscape of housing, food, and other resources that have been stretched thin for people who came back from the blip. No word yet if Falcon can finally get a bank loan.

While Scott is now recognized as an Avenger (even if it’s Thor or Spider-Man), there is still an emptiness he can’t shake. “What has he done that’s meaningful with his time since he’s been back? What is his purpose now that he has time? What is he willing to sacrifice to make sure he never loses it again?”

Scott Lang most like Ant-Man has never been taken seriously. Released eight years ago, Ant-Man like its size only took up a small corner of the MCU. After the events of Age of Ultron and Ant-Man and the Wasp, there were considered a “palate cleanser” releasing after the event of something major or depressing. Even when nice-guy divorced dad turned thief/ant whisperer was an official Avenger, Scott was never given significance in the overall story, nor did he carry the emotional weight of trying to save the world. Yes, when he returned after the blip, he was met with the sudden shock of his daughter no longer being the precocious 6-year-old that looked for his attention but that wasn’t the focus in a world that was forever changing and readjusting.

(L-R): Kathryn Newton as Cassandra “Cassie” Lang and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man in Marvel Studios’ ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo by Jay Maidment. © 2022 MARVEL.

Therefore, the biggest question that stood before director Peyton Reed was, “What would make Quantumania any different than the previous movies?” The answer was simple, go bigger or go home. He told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t want to be the palate cleanser anymore. I want to be the big Avengers movie.” With Quantumania trying to prove every action will have a direct reaction to the future. Reed was tasked with changing the landscape and affecting time as we know it. Will Scott be determined enough to carve his path? Even if he has to stand against or unknowingly next to someone trying to conquer their destiny?

Quantumania takes us into the world of a mutating sub-atomic sphere that exists outside our space-time continuum. Cassie, it turns out, shares her new family’s passion for science and technology—specifically with regard to the Quantum Realm. But her curiosity leads to an unexpected, one-way trip for them all to the vast subatomic world, where they encounter strange new creatures, a stricken society, and a master of time whose menacing undertaking has only just begun. With Scott and Cassie pulled in one direction and Hope, Janet, and Hank in another, they are lost in a world at war with no idea how or if they’ll ever find their way home again.

Using the familiarity of Rudd’s classic humor to lure us into an adventure we’ve never seen before where there are no rules; Quantumania transforms into a massive visual feast that’s even more dynamic than previous MCU films. Similar to the world building in Star Wars, Dune and sprinkles of Disney’s Strange World and Soul’s before-life, to establish a world of wonder. Every corner of the screen is alive with creatures roaming free in the sky and lands. There are suns that’ll grab you by their tentacles if you’re not fast enough. You’ll have to make your way through rough terrain as you pass a TV console. “Holy Shit, that looks like broccoli,” Hank utters in bemusement as a creature that looks like broccoli stares at him in bewilderment and maybe slight disgust.

But alongside the wonderment of the vastness of the Quantum Realm lies darkness. Creatures fleeing in every corner not because of the harshness of the land but from the deadliest threat of all, a man who has overstayed his welcome. Lives and landscapes have been destroyed because of him and this time everyone has had enough as a rebel alliance waiting decades to plan their attack against a cosmic genocidal megalomaniac — Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). A supervillain desperate for his time to shine once again.

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror in Marvel Studios’ ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo by Jay Maidment. © 2022 MARVEL.

While we are told of his murderous ways, what stands before us is a man alone. He is a traveler who crash-landed in the quantum realm. He is lost and just wants to go home, much like the family that found themselves in this strange world. But he needs help and Scott Lang’s technology can get them both out of there. As a reward, he can offer Scott the one thing he didn’t know he could obtain: more time. More time with his daughter. More time to make memories with the child he lost all those years ago. The offer is tempting but at what cost?

Such a generous offer couldn’t come from the same person who destroyed worlds and built his own army out of fear. Besides, if there was any danger in the Quantum Realm, Janet would have warned the family when she returned. At least that’s what Bruce Banner did after he was almost murdered by Thanos and watched Loki die. “Thanos is coming.” Janet would have at least done that. Right?

Kang shows a vastly different side than what’s been told to us in Loki. How is this the omnipotent being who can travel to — and destroy — any thread of the multiverse? Even if there’s something dark and sinister about him that runs a chill down your spine if you ever became his worst enemy.

Turns out, Kang is not technically stranded but was already an exile who’d been kicked to the Quantum Realm to halt his path of destruction. Janet who first encountered Kang 30 years ago, saw him as an equal…a friend to a charming person whose damaged technology was controlled by his consciousness.

(L-R): Jonathan Majors as Kang The Conqueror in Marvel Studios’ ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Was Kang misunderstood? Kang does mean well but who is his wellness for? Thanos saw nations fall and worlds battle each other which left him wanting to be a murderous humanitarian believing the only way to save the universe was to thin out the life in it, to eliminate conflict for resources that would otherwise lead to death and suffering. Kill some to save the many. But was he wrong? Now that millions have returned, people are still struggling over limited resources.

In a way, Kang is no different than Thanos’ misguided mission. Kang doesn’t live in a straight line. Every version of Kang has broken time, spreading their chaos across multiple timelines. Worlds and Kangs destroy each other. Wasting their time in endless fights have made them ungrateful and destructive. To stop this, Kang must burn the world, and burn timelines before they destroy it all. Kill the few to save the many. Right?

But unlike Thanos, Kang knows how this all ends. His mission is clear and correct. if not, he would not have gotten this far. Not if, he would have seen its unsuccessful outcome. “I’ve killed you before.” Kang knows how this will end. He’s sure of it. How can you stop someone who knows your every move in every universe before you can even think of it?

Kang is peak Jonathan Majors, who only touches the surface of what The Conqueror can do and who Kang can become to get what he wants. While it’s easy to yell and scream your way into scaring people and forcing them to do your bidding, stillness and using your words precisely, sends a stronger message. Imagine crossing him as he stares at you with a pensive scowl. You want to please him, you dare not enrage him, you hang on his every word. He makes mass genocide sound meaningful. His sheer imposing physicality forces Rudd to tap into Scott’s serious side, which is where he shines the most. Rudd and Majors brings levels of emotion to Quantumania that has never been seen in any of the Ant-Man movies. Previously Scott would endlessly ramble without saying much, here as he stands before Kang his words are purposefully and pensive. Deflection and immature antics don’t live here anymore.

(L-R): Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne/Wasp and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man in Marvel Studios’ ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

Quantumania comes to life in the third act during a battle sequence that feels like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which sees Kang fight a pissed-off rebel alliance and Scott’s family. There is a reason why Janet was The Wasp, as Pfeiffer pull off some of the movie’s showstopping fight scenes. The rest of the family gets into the action too as father and daughter team up in various sizes to take down an army. Again, rules don’t live here and if they do, they aren’t explained.

In a feat we would have never thought we would see in any of the Ant-Man movies, Scott becomes more determined and goes one-on-one with The Conqueror who shockingly takes a beating. This is where Scott finds his purpose. This is where Scott actually becomes a true hero by taking his power and using it to stop a deadly force even if that means risking it all. He isn’t just part of a team; he is their leader and carries the emotional weight of it all. This could be his Iron Man moment.

Quantumania is not without its flaws. While the script written by Jeff Loveness inspired by 1990s Robin Williams and Steve Martin movies is invested in the lives of Kang and its core characters, it struggles to find balance and relies on telling rather than showing. It’s hard to feel the weight of destruction and Kang’s true powers when it’s reduced to dialogue. How is Kang the Conqueror if we’re just told he conquerors? Conquering the Quantum Realm is a feat but the universe is a different story. How does Kang earn his respect back after being punched by Scott Lang? Once again, that’s to be answered in another movie or show.

New characters introduced are left to the wayside to fight for screentime, while others are given too much screentime despite not moving the story forward. We’re introduced to William Jackson Harper as a reluctant mind-reader who doesn’t really serve a purpose and whose powers are used for convenience or a comedic moment. Katy M. O’Brian as an intense warrior leads the charge against Kang but would have been just as effective as a random person charging into the movie’s final act. The latter two are overshadowed by a Jell-O-like being who upstages them all in a Kirby-like fight sequence.

(L-R): Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man in Marvel Studios’ ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

The most frustrating moments are Bill Murray’s Lord Krylar, a former rebel who now works for Kang who once shared a past and romance with Janet. The obscurity of this character in the comics creates seemingly endless possibilities for Murray’s involvement in the film and the MCU. Yet, he’s reduced to a forgettable appearance that doesn’t have a payoff or impact on the movie’s script. Maybe he’ll come back in another movie, at another time. But why not use him now? Why not use any of the characters effectively now? Time is of the essence.

Then there’s Corey Stoll’s Darren, the corporate villain from the first Ant-Man who took up the Yellowjacket mantle in Ant-Man and the Wasp. As M.O.D.O.K., a huge malevolent head encased in tin-pot armor with baby hands and legs. The character is just used for exaggerated comedic relief. This is disappointing because there’s so much that could’ve been done with him and his relationship with Kang. While the character was never taken seriously, M.O.D.O.K. is one of the smartest characters in all of the Marvel Universe, and pairing him with Kang is a powerful force within the MCU that makes for an enticing story. Unfortunately, M.O.D.O.K. is reduced to being a pinata for jokes. Not even his destructive energy beam feels threatening.

Does any of the events in this movie matter? It does in the long run, but once again, it doesn’t feel urgent in the present. Instead, the most meaningful moments are told within the last act and the mid and after credits.

Despite its flaws, Quantumania is a fun and amazing experience. Its complicated story and busy action still leave you wanting more. Reed, the cast, and the VFX department came together masterfully to help create a decent-sized Avengers movie that will hopefully usher in the big Avengers movie in the upcoming phases starting with 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.

Even if Reed’s quest to make a big Avengers movie wasn’t fully realized because of its script, never before has Ant-Man felt more important to the overall arc of the MCU. While it’s hard to juggle multiple storylines at once, Reed should be proud he succeeded in pulling off Kang The Conqueror’s grand arrival. As for Ant-Man, he got the one thing he always desired, meaningful time with his family and instead of looking at the time lost, he realizes the time he has now is the most desirable.

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