Jonathan Majors helps salvage a Marvel movie that's too concerned about the future to deliver in the moment.
A great strength of the previous Ant-Man Marvel movies was their simplicity: the slightly hapless Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tries to balance doing right by his daughter Cassie with being a superhero. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Rudd’s third headline film, directed again by Peyton Reed, still carries that through-line but does so while exploring another universe, establishing and portraying a coup, and setting up the next major Marvel villain. Bigger is not better.
The new movie predominantly takes place in the Quantum Realm, a microscopic dimension within our own where time, space, and organic matter work differently. Scott, Cassie, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) all get sucked down there after a gizmo made for studying it goes haywire.
The Ant-Man characters are split into two groups: Janet introduces Hope and Hank to the subatomic bourgeois she became friendly with during her three decades stuck at this level, and Scott and Cassie meet a displaced tribe of Quantum people. They rendezvous due to Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), who has conniptions about erasing reality, and his murderbot MODOK, an oversized head-in-a-mechanical suit played by Corey Stoll.
Ant-Man 3 is a wacky science fiction movie that indulges in the ill-defined boundaries of life smaller than an atom. There’s no rhyme or reason to the landscape; spherical islands float in air, the sky glittering like multi-coloured sand over cities that seem to have no end. Animals and other species look spawned from a randomiser built on the god sim Black and White – sentient goop and humanoid broccoli existing side-by-side.
Kang is a threat to all of it, as Janet continually alludes to in fearful recollections. Eventually she spills to Hope and Hank that they were partners at one point, when both wandering MCU characters in this bizarre land, and she helped him rebuild his ship without understanding what he was planning.
Her reluctance seems like an attempted re-enactment of Jamie Lee Curtis in David Gordon Green’s first Halloween movie, where she’s overcome by anxiety and fear, but there’s not enough pathology or context for it to work. Really, it just seems like an excuse to delay the flashback of who Kang is until halffway through the adventure movie, so viewers who don’t know Marvel comics spend some time languishing in the mystery.
This is a recurring issue. The screenplay by Jeff Loveness is best when it gets to be fully character-driven. Scott and Cassie’s development together is snappy and charming, but it’s continually lumbered by having to facilitate all the world-building that’s taking place.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania isn’t just the third Ant-Man movie and the launch of Marvel’s Phase 5, it’s another stepping stone to the Young Avengers, a prequel to Avengers 5, and possibly a preamble to Loki season 2. So much is loaded onto the back of this thing, and like a good little worker ant it delivers it all as needed, but the satisfaction is lacking.
Wasp barely gets any screentime, despite being in the title. Hope is mostly there to hear Janet’s exposition. MODOK doesn’t get enough development to rise above an odd visual joke, and Quaz and Jentorra, leaders in the Quantum rebellion, eventually just become more faces in a deluge of noise.
So much is happening at any given time it seems unruly until director Peyton Reed brings us back to where’s Scott’s strongest. Ant-Man overcomes a dogpile of his own variants to save Cassie, and the young Lang handling cronies while her dad in Giant-Man form, thumps through metal walls is great popcorn fun.
The film just needs more of that, and less rehashing of Star Wars and previous instalments. A respite from the constant heave-ho of lore and metaphysics are monologues by Jonathan Majors. His stony gaze and calm vigilance are far more convincing of what Kang is capable of than any number of Hollywood icons trying to sound scared.
His trying to remember all the Avengers he’s killed, a moment used in the trailers, says more in one line than a lot of Quantumania manages otherwise. That’s not just because of how good Majors is, either.