Most comic books are dumb. Fun? Yes. But dumb. I am allowed to say this because I have a walk-in closet dedicated to housing thousands upon thousands of them. It’s like the last scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” only I care deeply about organizing and protecting those “top secret” documents, unlike the government. As comic book adaptations now multiply like Gremlins at a waterpark, everybody has to adjust to three big things that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is bringing to light.
For studios: Not every installment can have bonkers-crazy high stakes. If you scream “This changes everything” every time, you are totes being a Chicken Little, and I’m 95% sure he gets eaten at the end of that parable. His meat is very valuable these days.
For audiences: You have to set your expectations to “having fun with characters I like” and not “this movie is the culmination of my childhood dreams.” I get that going to the movie theater is cheaper than therapy, but you probably need therapy.
For critics: Not liking blockbusters is kinda our thing, I know. Marvel movies and like three of the “Fast and Furious” movies had been the exception. But salivating over the chance to uncork spandex jokes we’ve previously only let fly at DC movies feels fairly desperate.
This is all to say: “Quantamania” is fine. Absolutely, totally fine. Several weeks back, lots of people held “Plane” up as an example of a perfectly average, audience-pleasing-but-irrelevant film. It sucked and was offensively ungood. “Quantumania” is cinematic room temperature. It is Diet Pepsi when you wanted Diet Coke. It is a three-day vacation to Six Flags. It is forgettably, meaninglessly, passably entertaining.
The whole movie exists only to setup the new big bad guy in the Marvel universe. Scott (Paul Rudd) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) get sucked into the quantum realm, along with Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), after Scott’s daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), accidentally opens a bridge between the worlds. Filled with weird creatures, some shaped exactly like the best character from “The Good Place” (William Jackson Harper), the “world beneath our world” would be visually stunning if anybody in the quantum realm turned a single light on. I’m not saying it’s dimly lit, but it was just elected to congress.
The whole micro-universe is ruled with an iron fist by Kang (Jonathan Majors), whose silly voice will either make you giggle with delight or infuriated. Majors is a massive talent who very much understands the broad, goofy melodrama he’s committed to for the next decade or so of his life. I absolutely love it. Despite everyone in the movie treating him like either Voldemort or how we should be treating JK Rowling, refusing to speak his name and implying awful things about him, Kang doesn’t actually do a lot of uniquely bad stuff.
Like, he snaps his fingers and people die. He also shoots laser beams at people and “ends entire timelines,” which should be impressive but mostly looks like stepping on a glowstick. Mostly, he just delivers deliciously dripping monologues. And all that really happens in the movie is that the Ant-Man squad tries to get out of the quantum realm without also releasing Kang. If he does get out, “This changes everything!”
The big action set pieces are fine. Although, if the point of the movie is to establish Kang as the biggest, baddest baddie in the history of bad badding, having him be significantly challenged by a couple of characters who can either be very big or very small isn’t helping. Honestly, it would have been fine if the tone had matched the silliness of its simple story: A time-killing God goes toe-to-toe with a superhero known for riding on winged ants.
Instead of leaning into the absurdity and genuinely having fun with the nonsense, the most we get is characters basically saying “This is dumb, huh?” There’s a character who is a giant floating head. The best jokes they whip in his direction involve mocking his name and calling him a dick. One scene contains an almost infinite number of Ant-Mans (Ant-Men? Ants-Men? Ants-Mens?). The only laugh is that one of them is wearing a Baskin-Robins outfit. Bill Murray has a cameo that is almost entirely exposition. It needed more “Doctor Who” and less “Infinity War,” more Salvador Dali and less Francisco Goya, more ants and less mans.
Because at the end of the day, other than making money, the only artistic reason to have a billion different superhero movies is that they have something unique about them. If they’re all just Armageddon prevention movies a la “The Avengers,” we grow numb to the scope. Ant-Man films should have been a family-friendly comedy series. Instead, they shoehorn in some serious, lame-ass theme about Scott being selfish. He’s literally only been selfless and tried to do the right thing in the other half dozen films he’s been in.
And yet, to reiterate, nothing in “Quantumania” is bad. It is shallow, yes. It could have, and arguably should have, been a more delightful experience. Not one single, meaningful event actually occurs. But it is pleasant from start to finish, with frequent outbursts of glee. I’d watch it a hundred thousand times before watching “Avatar 2” ever again. Nobody tell James Cameron I said that. He’s got “Make that guy disappear” money for sure now.
Grade = C+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Britany Murphy at Muses of Media says “there was a great chance for worldbuilding in the third installment of the franchise, and while it worked in some areas, it faltered in others. The chances were there for the taking, but much of it is lost in sloppy storytelling and exasperating comedic beats.”
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “In the end, with its clumsy collision of influences, star power, CGI that is often rubbery or outright ugly, and a convoluted plot that should have an Excedrin tie-in, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ is like a child’s mixed media project, made of paper mache, glitter, and hunks of rotting ground meat.”
Siddhant Adlakha at Truthdig says “In the process, its father-daughter story falls by the wayside and ends up being told through hasty character beats. This becomes all the poorer in taste due to invocations of contemporary political ugliness — i.e. the thematic mirroring between police storming homeless encampments and armed guards attacking displaced alien refugees — that yield disappointingly little by way of story, meaning or even visual comprehensibility. Viewers old enough to understand even rudimentary narratives deserve better than a handful of scattered laughs and a great deal of visual unpleasantness.”