I have to admit that I'm a sucker for a hero with heart.
That's exactly what we get from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the kick-off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase Five and the film that thrusts the menacing and monstrous Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) into this latest journey into the franchise's multiverse.
Amidst all of the excitement, energy, and action that we've come to expect from the MCU, Quantumania serves up an abundance of the kind of heart that is all too rare in a franchise more defined by three-hour epic adventures and eye-popping visual effects than anything resembling a richness of humanity. While the story here, penned by first-time feature writer Jeff Loveness (Rick & Morty, Jimmy Kimmel), is slight enough so as to barely be relevant, Quantumania exceeds expectations precisely because it is content to tell a simple, meaningful story and to not overstay its welcome.
Paul Rudd is back, of course, as Ant-Man. He's settled into life as Scott Lang, a beloved San Francisco resident a few years removed from his world-saving ways and now more concerned with cheery readings of his memoir Look Out for the Little Guy and making up for the time he missed with his now teenaged daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton, Blockers). His longtime philanthropic girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly), aka The Wasp, is still here and even Hope's parents, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) seem to have settled into something resembling domestic bliss.
Of course, we all know this will be short-lived.
Cassie has become increasingly disenchanted with her father, frustrated that the one-time worldchanger is now seemingly unconcerned with the world around him. Herself having acquired the family's genius genes, she secretly works with alongside Hank to explore the long mysterious Quantum Realm that built Hank's career and left Janet traumatized by the realm. When it's eventually revealed that Hank and Cassie have been building a portal of sorts to the Quantum Realm in the family basement, the stage is set for that rare Marvel action adventure that resonates as much emotionally as it does visually.
By the time Kang the Conqueror enters the equation here, I was already fully invested in this delightful spectacle of chaos and community. From the film's opening moments, I found myself completely enamored by the humorous and heartfelt father-daughter relationship between Scott and Cassie that radiates a badass sincerity that feels both honest and surprisingly vulnerable. I was invested, as well, in the relationship between Hank and Janet, a relationship that feels one-note in dialogue yet comes magnificently to life in the hands of two such great actors as Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer. They both possess sublime comic timing and the ability to humanize their characters no matter how much lunacy surrounds them.
It's Evangeline Lilly's Hope that suffers a bit here as she's given very little to do other than to react off of those around her. While Lilly does this quite well, it's noticeably less interesting than the majority of the ensemble.
To tell you anything about the story itself would be unjust and certainly won't happen here. While we've met Kang the Conqueror briefly before, Quantumania puts the empathetic baddie front-and-center in a way that makes it clear that we're going to be seeing him again and again and again. While some might say that Jonathan Majors leans a bit too heavily into melodrama, for my money he's absolutely electrifying here with a performance that draws you in, gains your sympathy, then demands your submission. While Majors' performance is large, it's remarkably disciplined and immensely fun to watch.
While I wasn't quite sold on his character's design, Corey Stoll manages to impress as Darren/MODOK, a sort of homicidal Humpty Dumpty who harbors a little more than a grudge against Lang/Ant-Man. Bill Murray is here, as well, as Lord Krylar in a performance that would have likely come off as typical Murray even just a few months ago but in light of recent revelations borders on creepy. In terms of vocal work, David Dastmalchian creates a memorable new character out of Veb and I challenge you to not fall in love with him.
The original score from Christophe Beck features the usual Marvel bombast with episodic sensitivity, intimacy, and lunacy woven into its tapestry. Bill Pope's lensing is, as one would expect, inventive and far more energized that the first two Ant-Man films. More visually boisterous than its Ant-Man predecessors, Quantumania manages to immerse us in the Quantum Realm without compromising the film's heart and humanity.
The Ant-Man films have always been quieter endeavors and the same is true with Quantumania, a film that runs a Marvel slight 125-minutes and a film that exists somewhere in the universe between the 1977 Star Wars, a Guardians of the Galaxy flick, and something all its own.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania doesn't so much start off the MCU's Phase Five with a bang as it does with A tapestry of goofiness and gravitas. Quantumania may not be everything I wanted it to be, but from beginning to end this was a film that touched my heart, made me laugh, and dazzled my senses.
Welcome Back, Ant-Man.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic