Friday 17 February 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Movie Review)

Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially begun with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. And while the previous phase did have some highlights like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, I still came out of the whole thing somewhat disappointed. That was mostly due to a perceived lack of direction or much of the connective tissue fans have come to expect from the aging franchise. So does the new film begin the process of righting the ship, or does it merely compound the existing problems of an ever-expanding universe?

The film finds Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) enjoying his newfound fame following his involvement in the events of Avengers: Endgame. But after being stuck in the Quantum Realm for 5 years, he struggles to make up for all the lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who has since grown up to be both a rebel and a brilliant scientist. During one of her experiments, she inadvertently ends up sending herself, Scott, and the members of the Van Dyke family into the Quantum Realm where they encounter an entire civilization of otherworldly beings. Now they must all work together to escape, even as they are faced with their greatest adversary yet.

The Ant-Man movies have traditionally held a unique place in the overall MCU, with their comparatively smaller stakes and focus on a particular blend of action and humor. As such, they've often served as palate cleansers between the larger cosmic-level events that define much of the franchise. All that changes with Quantumania though, a movie that serves as another introduction to Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). For those that remember, he had previously appeared at the end of Loki Season 1 as He Who Remains. But this time around, we see a far more sinister depth to the character.

He is currently being positioned as the next Thanos-level threat in the MCU, at least if the title of forthcoming installments like Avengers: The Kang Dynasty is anything to go by. And on those grounds, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania succeeds in showing us why we should care. It also offers us our first real glimpse at anything resembling some connective tissue between the films in The Multiverse Saga (Phase 4 - 6). Loki had introduced the concept of variants and multiple timelines, while both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had established the concept of parallel universes (or the multiverse as they are known in the MCU).

This one begins the process of tying it all together, even though one could say it does so in a somewhat messy or convoluted way. Without getting into spoilers, the film sometimes felt overwhelming with its various sci-fi concepts and it frequently buckles under the weight of all the exposition it needed to make any of it make sense. But at least it never ceased to be fun or pleasing to look at, with far more creatures on display than any of the other MCU entries. It does lose some of the perspective-shifting thrills of the other Ant-Man films though, and their ability to make mundane objects and everyday settings look large and otherworldly.

The film also had some surprise cameos and returning characters from the prior installments, as well as some glaring omissions. Michael Pena's presence as Luis in particular was sorely missed, especially since the character has pretty much grown to define the tone of the Ant-Man films, with his over-the-top narration and flashback sequences. But I can see why he and the other members of the gang were ultimately left out of the new film even though a part of me wishes they had found a way to fit them in.

Speaking of things that didn't quite make it into the movie, you'll want to stick around for both the mid and post-credit scenes as I believe they set the stage for what is to come during the next two phases. Recent MCU stingers have admittedly felt disconnected from one another so it is nice to see ones that carry enough weight to make me feel eager to see what comes next.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania proves that the MCU still has a long way to go before it can get back to the pure thrills and exhilaration of its glory days. But at least it can be considered another pivotal step in that general direction. It might feel like yet another throwaway film in the MCU but I can see its true importance reveal itself as more information is doled out over the course of subsequent entries. And while it serves as a fun, standalone adventure in its own right, it remains to be seen if the current saga would be taking fans to any kind of a worthwhile destination.