Since the beginning of its cinematic universe in 2008, Marvel Studios has defied the mechanics of the established movie franchise. Particularly in its earliest phases — comprehensively known as “The Infinity Saga” — Marvel managed to balance connectivity and continuity while traversing galaxies, timelines and interwoven character arcs. In the process, the production company fine-tuned a formula that perhaps not reinvented, but certainly revitalized the superhero film genre.
Nonetheless, recent developments — disjointed plotlines, market oversaturation and an overreliance on blockbuster stars, to name a few — have proven that Marvel may not have its filmmaking down to a superhuman science. Kicking off Phase Five, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” follows this disappointing trend, expanding the scope of the MCU yet shrinking creativity and originality to a microscopic level.
Set after the climactic events of “Avengers: Endgame,” the third “Ant-Man” installment finds Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) enjoying life in a freshly threat-free world with brainiac girlfriend Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and outspoken daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Even so, chaos ensues when the trio is sucked into the ominous Quantum Realm, accompanied by Hope’s equally gifted parents, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas).
Over the course of the next two hours, the film spirals into disorientation and disarray as the five heroes, split into two groups, navigate the mystifying, mind-bending microverse. Though the Quantum Realm might be a new addition to the MCU, its peculiar aliens and nondescript rebel groups feel like extras from a “Star Wars” movie, its barren landscapes recycled sets from “Dune.” Overindulgent in psychedelic CGI but utterly devoid of distinctive detail, the diminutive world lacks a crucial immersive quality, instead losing its inhabitants — and itself — in inconsistency.
Unfortunately, the ensemble cast falls adrift in more ways than one. Although its title suggests the return of Scott and Hope as a dynamic, supernatural crime-fighting duo, the latter feels oddly neglected, a plot device who only swoops in when the writers need a convenient rescue sequence.
“Quantumania” spends vastly more time spotlighting the complicated relationship between Scott and Cassie. However, between Rudd’s predictable paternal portrayal and Cassie’s whiny, incessant shouts of “Dad!,” their father-daughter bond feels tired — an especially critical misstep for a film that seeks to emphasize the enduring power of family.
Even the talented Jonathan Majors, making his big-screen debut as Thanos-level villain Kang the Conqueror, cannot single-handedly hold the audience’s attention. To be sure, Majors murmurs his lines with silky precision, his entire performance emanating a uniquely enigmatic magnetism. Yet, Kang’s insufficiently fleshed-out backstory, coupled with his almost clownish ability to shoot neon blue lasers (and not much else), prevents Majors from thriving as a truly convincing adversary hell-bent on total cosmic domination.
In fact, underdevelopment seems to be one of the film’s only consistencies. Director Peyton Reed, who helmed the previous two “Ant-Man” chapters, and screenwriter Jess Loveness both seem incapable of contending with a larger-scale Marvel project. Combining unimaginative action sequences, stale romantic storylines and some of the MCU’s most poorly timed comedy, “Quantumania” seems unwieldy and nebulous rather than expansive or imaginative.
Following typical Marvel fashion, the film contains two post-credit sequences, the second of which particularly promises more intrigue than the entire 160-minute film. Considering the fact “Quantumania” is intended as the catalyst for the rest of “The Multiverse Saga,” it’s not an encouraging sign of the superhero excursions to come.
Throughout the past 15-odd years, the MCU has continued to grow and evolve, drawing blockbuster and breakout stars alike into its tangled cinematic web of heroes. Nevertheless, bloated “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” proves that bigger is not always better — and often, small-scale stories carry just as much value as phase-jumping films. If anything, Marvel’s latest film suggests that the franchise should consider scaling back before it fractures even further beneath the weight of its otherworldly ambitions.