There’s a certain amount of fatigue beginning to set in. Audiences may not all be feeling it but the creatives leading these films sure are. From the actors to the animators to the director…everyone just seems exhausted.
When Ant-Man dropped almost eight years ago I wound up having a great time, its looseness and smaller story (not to mention that knee-slapper of a trailer) made for lighter fare amidst the ever-looming apocalypse of Thanos’s snap. Its sequel marked Michelle Pfieffer’s entrance into this world as Janet Van Dyne, wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and one-time prisoner in the Quantum Realm (that’s when you get too tiny in the tiny suit and start moving between subatomic particles). Those two adventures were small stakes, high comedy, and made for some of the most fun fare the MCU had to offer. I’ve had my share of quibbles with the series throughout the years but maybe none as aggressive as that of Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania digressing into a superhero story that joins the rest in taking itself way too seriously.
It starts on a strong enough note. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, everyone’s favorite Kansas City Chiefs fan) has published and narrates with lines from said text. It’s silly, sincere, and allows us to catch up with an Avenger that has fans but is overall everyone’s least favorite of the team (he’s basically the Aquaman of the MCU). He’s living with his whole family in a large home, one that sees Hank Pym using his particles to enlarge food to save a few bucks and his girlfriend, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) prodding her mother to talk about her microscopic captivity. Cassie Lang (MCU newbie Kathryn Newton, a welcome fresh face) is causing trouble as an activist with her own ant-based suit but overall things are pretty good.
At least until they send a signal to the Quantum Realm.
What follows this event is a mishmash of ideas and tones, visuals that should feel psychedelic in nature, and a plot held together by shoestring and chewing gum as everyone onscreen desperately tries to pretend that they aren’t sick of performing in a green room with no idea what their final product is going to look like. The animation keeping this world alive no longer feels in step with the actors, editing them to look like cardboard cutouts in front of a video game backdrop, and it all feels so unenthusiastic for everyone involved. At one point I would swear that I saw a frame flash a cry for help from an animator, hidden away in a Disney warehouse somewhere with a gun to their head as a supervisor reminds them of the deadline being more important than the quality of their output, but I can’t be sure. Heck, at least Bill Murray shows up to play as a hornt-up older micro alien that may or may not have hooked up with Janet Van Dyne but even that feels perfunctory and like padding in a film that already feels like a shoddy advertisement for something else.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in Paul Rudd’s endless enthusiasm. He’s holding a lot of this film together, grasping onto the fun his stories once had to try and keep this one alive even as it slips through his fingers. The character’s relationship with his daughter is meant to be the emotional crux of the film but there’s just not enough to hold it up, forcing the two to merely be charming on their own without much in the way of a familial bond to hang onto. It works up to a point, allowing our new heroine to step forward and come into her own onscreen. The Freaky and Detective Pikachu actress has been a delight in other films and I’m overall pretty excited to see where she goes in the MCU.
The elephant in the room is Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), a new big baddie for this universe and one that I was semi-excited for. I’m a bit disappointed that all he can do is float, shoot lasers from his hands, and hold people still using The Force, all of which render him fairly unremarkable in this world. There are some bits of dialogue about having killed other Avengers and conquered other times, universes, and galaxies, but here he’s just…fine. Jonathan Majors is an actor I’m always excited to see but here he’s rendered flat by the film’s insistence on serving as an advertisement for future properties instead of existing on its own. The missteps of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever seem to be the new normal.
Most going to Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania already decided if they’re going to like it before their butts hit the seats. I was disappointed, having found a lot to love about the first installments in this character’s series, but this new film felt rushed, depleted, and desperate. It’s going to make a ton of money and that’s the only point anymore, rendering quality and entertainment value a thing of the past as we look forward to Marvel’s synergized future and it’s paradigm-defining entries.
Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania is currently playing in theatres.