- Arrives in theaters on February 17
- Third movie in Ant-Man's film series
- First project in Marvel's Phase 5 slate
- Written by Jeff Loveness
- Directed by Peyton Reed
- Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Jonathan Majors among others
Ant-Man and its sequel – Ant-Man and the Wasp – both served as fairly low-stakes, largely standalone stories in the interconnected Marvel universe. For fans watching every Marvel movie in order, these fun heist films acted like palate cleansers amid the sweeping, universe-shaking storylines playing out across its siblings. For Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) newcomers, they work just fine on their own, too.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the opposite. The first Marvel Phase 5 movie hinges on viewers having watched the other two Ant-Man films (at the very least). Equally, it's tasked with setting up the conflict between the MCU's superheroes and the next multi-film big bad, aka Kang the Conqueror, played with outstanding pathos here by Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country).
As the opening act to a bigger story, Quantumania feels suitably interesting. It's a sweeping sci-fi epic in a bizarre alien world rather than a low-key heist, which sets up Majors’ Kang as a force to be reckoned with. However, as a singular entity, it feels somewhat overloaded, with main characters and their personal arcs lost among a wave of CGI, and a performance by Majors that runs circles around his scene partners.
Small heroes, big villain
Ant-Man 3's plot follows three generations of size-changing superheroes: Paul Rudd's Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Evangeline Lily's Hope Van Dyne/Wasp, Michael Douglas' Hank Pym, and Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet Van Dyne all returning from the diminutive hero's first two outings. The quartet are joined by Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang, Scott’s teenage daughter who, without spoiling too much, adopts her own superhero pseudonym during the course of the flick. Chaos ensues when all five are sucked into the subatomic Quantum Realm, where they grapple with Majors’ Kang, a technologically advanced multiversal warlord.
The heart of the film should be Scott’s changing relationship with Cassie – they begin the film butting heads over her idealistic activism – and theirs is the main emotional throughline. However, the real center of the movie is Majors – and Marvel’s big drive to orbit the next slate of movies around him starts here.
Kang dominates every scene he’s in, every inch the reluctant conqueror. Gravitas oozes out of him whether he’s lying in the dirt having lost his way or sprawled upon his Time Chair throne. Without spoiling much, if he continues to deliver on this promise of a multifaceted, multi-film performance, it will cement Majors as one of the all-time great supervillain actors by the time he’s done fighting the Avengers.
Rudd and Lily, on the other hand, don’t seem to be having quite as much fun acting against CGI monsters and backgrounds. I’m reminded a little of those behind-the-scenes videos of the Star Wars prequels, where actors can be seen gamely doing their best in a void. Neither seems to be able to summon up much emotion once they get to the Quantum Realm and the action beats kick in. There are some occasionally touching scenes between Cassie, Scott, and Hope, but some of the film’s best acting is done when Pfeiffer and Majors get to act up a storm one-on-one, or when the core five are sat around the family dinner table. It was the personal, emotion-driven stakes that made the first two Ant-Man films so appealing. It's a pity this aspect of the franchise, then, is relegated here.
Everyone else does well with the material they’re given, but there will be no Oscar buzz around Quantumania’s acting in the same way there was around Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Kathryn Newton is convincingly earnest as Cassie Lang, elevating the character's role in the MCU and potentially acting as a step towards a Young Avengers movie. David Dastmalchian is back in a new voice role as ooze-based Quantum Realm denizen Veb, Corey Stoll returns as MODOK (more on him shortly), and Douglas is still enjoyable as Pym's sarcastic size-changing inventor. Bill Murray has a small role but, like all his most recent performances, he largely plays himself, which is a tad immersion-breaking.
Larger than life
As for the Quantum Realm, it's a swirling CGI environment with a wide variety of bizarre biomes, from lush mushroom forests to Mad Max-inspired caravan trains across desert flats, and the almost-obligatory cantina scene ripped straight from Star Wars: A New Hope. At its best, Ant-Man 3's primary locale is a gorgeous backdrop to a bit of Kang-driven character drama, and its inventiveness in design bleeds over to the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit each section of the realm.
Even the wildest original designs, though, can’t compare to the sheer giddiness I felt at seeing the legendary Marvel villain MODOK onscreen in all his glory. A giant head with tiny arms and legs in a floating hover-chair, the MCU is at a point in its life where even the wackiest comic-book designs can be ripped from the pages with few alterations – and MODOK is one of the silliest, most disgusting, outright hilarious looks in all the Marvel multiverse. I love that big head with all my heart, and Peyton Reed and Kevin Feige came through for me. The way the story brought him into the fold was a smart move, even if it does differ from the source material. I never thought I would see MODOK’s naked little baby butt, either, but here we are.
As fun as the designs may be, the execution isn’t up to the bar set by the likes of Avatar: The Way of Water. When the cast interact with an alien beast, for example, the physics are nowhere near as convincing as that viral hand shot in Avatar: Way of Water's first trailer, and the pitched battles are more reminiscent of the confusing mess of Aquaman than the sweeping conflicts in Lord of the Rings. The direction during those fight scenes was competent, almost workmanlike, and not enough to prevent my attention wandering. At least the size-changing effects are neat and there are a couple of sequences focused around the different uses of that power that are pleasantly inventive.
Dawn of a new phase
As a solo Ant-Man movie, Quantumania doesn’t work as well as the first two. It’s a middling comic-book adventure romp focused around exploring this new realm – something I might have expected out of the forthcoming Fantastic Four film. But, despite taking us to strange new places in a physical sense, the characters are largely static. None of them really advance or evolve enough to make their arcs compelling, which might be down to splitting the cast up early in proceedings to give equal weight to each narrative.
It does work well, though, as a franchise-builder. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a fitting introduction to 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and it tees up Cassie Lang to take her role as Stature in, well, whatever awaits her next. In the comics, she's been a part of Young Avengers alongside new Hawkeye Kate Bishop, the Captain America analog Patriot, America Chavez, and Scarlet Witch’s children – all of whom have now been introduced in the MCU. Although no Young Avengers project has been announced, it would be naive to think this isn’t the plan, as Chris Hemsworth and Benedict Cumberbatch won’t be under contract forever.
Despite some unconvincing effects work and suffering from future-film-setup-syndrome, this is a fun but flawed opener for the next phase of Marvel movies. It’s got enough going for it that dedicated MCU fans will likely enjoy it anyway. In an era where diehard Marvel fans and general cinephiles have questioned the direction Marvel Phase 4 went (and where its next projects are going from story perspectives), though, Ant-Man 3 isn't the triumphant, gi-ant sized flick many will have hoped for.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania lands in theaters worldwide on Friday, February 17.