With the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived. It follows a Phase 4 that honestly lacked direction in the lieu of events in 2019's Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel kept things relatively interesting via its 2021 streaming releases Loki, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But the film side has waned - Marvel's past (and overlooked) weaknesses rose to the surface because characters like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were no longer around to regale audiences with their charm and moxie (you can argue Thor is still around, but let's face it, Love & Thunder was too silly and too messy).
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), up to this point, has operated as a second string Avenger. And though he proved crucial in Endgame, his solo films were an outlet to keep things light, i.e., have fun while fighting second string villains (Quantumania's prologue proved as much as a coffee shop employee confidently called Scott Spider-Man). Let's not forget, Ant-Man and the Wasp was released on the heels of Avengers: Infinity War. Goodness knows that levity was necessary, and that's why that Ant-Man sequel worked so well.
With Quantumania, the Ant-Man franchise takes a seat at the big boy table as Lang, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) face a Thanos-level threat in Kang the Conqueror (an unforgettable Jonathan Majors). Are they actually ready to step into the limelight? Future films may provide a different response but at first glance the answer is no.
With a rumored budget of $200 million, returning director Peyton Reed put all of that money onscreen. It's likely at least 95% of Quantumania was shot on green screen. If nothing else, this feature is gorgeous - the Quantum Realm is a beautiful universe that did well to add gravitas to what is essentially a fish out of water tale. The surprise was the vast number of species that lived in the Quantum Realm. Janet was down there for 30 years - I actually thought she lived alone (or at least lived in a place that lacked organized civilizations). The visuals are both mind-boggling and beautiful - definitely a success from that perspective. Quantumania deserves to be seen on a big screen.
The story is simple enough - Cassie has created a device that can make contact with the Quantum Realm. This device ends up sending Scott and company to the Quantum Realm, and an exiled Kang needs Scott's "help" to escape it. Through flashbacks (relayed by Janet), we learn of Kang's true (and catastrophic) mission. Of course, it's up to Scott and the gang to stop him (and find a way home). It becomes clear, though, that "the Conqueror" is far too powerful.
Jeff Loveness served as Quantumania's screenwriter. His story is fine, but the writing is so-so - he missed the mark in some major ways. With Scott becoming a main player in the universe-saving business, this sequel is both too serious to be an Ant-Man film and too light to be an epic Marvel superhero film. Because of this, Quantumania is another MCU tale that's stuck in neutral. It wants to go in many directions yet ends up going nowhere. This finished product is fine and is even entertaining (at points). But like its main characters, it's lost and simply doesn't know where to go.
My gut feeling, though, is that Reed and Loveness merely wanted to provide an outlet to properly introduce Kang the Conqueror (if you watched Loki, you know that that wasn't the real **** -name omitted for spoiler reasons-). They accomplished that feat with ease because Majors outshines everyone. Kang is as cool as they come - but his calmness is off-putting and fearsome. Audiences can feel that every time he's on screen - Quantumania's best work resides in the dialogue-driven scenes between Kang & Scott and Kang & Janet.
And when Kang finally unleashes his fury, it's a sight to behold.
So, here's my theory - Phase 4 was a reset of sorts for Marvel. They used it to ret-con Black Widow, introduce some gods in the Eternals, announce the MCU's first Asian superhero, get funky and crazy with Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, begin the good-bye tour for Thor and bid farewell to a beloved Black Panther. Phase 4 is the "tie up loose ends" portion for Phase 3. It gave audiences a chance to take a breath, watch and enjoy what are essentially standalone Marvel films. Marvel deserves some slack after pulling off The Infinity Saga.
Despite that, Phase 5 is off to a rocky start. But as all MCU film fans know, it's always about the big picture. That big picture begins and ends with Kang the Conqueror. So even though he's a villain, 'He Who Remains' (Jonathan Majors, for that matter) could be the true savior of Phase 5 - and maybe even the entire franchise.
So, is Quantumania worth a look? Sure - if you're already invested in the MCU. And sure - if you want to see what nearly $200 million worth of special and visual effects look like. And most definitely, yes - if you want to see an acting masterclass from Jonathan Majors. But the latest Marvel Studios' offering is a paint-by-numbers, cookie-cutter sequel that doesn't live up to the hype. JV
3 out of 5 stars