Weren't comic book movies once joyful and thrilling? The 31st MCU film and the third standalone Ant-Man picture, Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania has a bad premise, an ugly visual style, and lackluster action scenes. It also keeps up the frequent MCU mistake of repeatedly stopping dead in its tracks to set up future movie and Disney+ installments. It's rarely funny, which Paul Rudd's previous MCU appearances usually were. It may be officially "Phase 5," but the new film continues a trend of mediocrity.
The Ant-Man movies in the past, in addition to the character's appearances in the Avengers films, have utilized something called the "Quantum Realm," a separate plane of existence, consisting of subatomic particles, which enabled the world to be saved in Avengers: Endgame. Quantumania is set nearly entirely within the Quantum Realm, and its biggest problem is that it hasn't found a way to make the Realm interesting.
It's brown and gross-looking, we have no idea how any part relates to any other part spatially, and almost every fight scene is filmed in a combination of shaky-cam and extreme closeup. Director Peyton Reed and writer Jeff Loveness—a rare solo writer for a Marvel film—do a poor job setting up the rules of how the Quantum Realm works, how people got there, and what the stakes are.
There are unsubtle Star Wars homages everywhere, including the designs of different creatures, robots, and spaceships. One character essentially re-enacts Darth Vader's death scene, without earning it in any way. It's as though the filmmakers, whenever they hit a dead end, just declared, "Hey! Get me a guy who looks like Admiral Ackbar!"
Ant-man (Paul Rudd), The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and the Wasp's parents (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer) all get sucked into the Realm early on, and they have to figure out a way home and navigate the Realm's complicated politics, which include both human and alien-like characters. Among them is Kang (Jonathan Majors), a warlord with designs on future conquests that go beyond the Quantum Realm.
The cast is appealing, especially Rudd and Kathryn Newton, and it's great to be reminded that Douglas and Pfeiffer, who somehow made it through the 1980s without starring together in an erotic thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven or Adrian Lyne, are part of these movies. Douglas gets a funny line, in praise of socialism in ant colonies, that's going to make the “Disney is Woke” crowd lose their minds, but really it's just a clever joke.
Majors goes all out as the villain, Kang, who I will be a key antagonist over the next several movies. It's a strong turn, although the character's introduction in the Loki Disney+ series last year did a better job setting up his motivations. And since the framing device is set in San Francisco, I kept expecting Majors to show up and go looking for his grandfather's old house, like in the actor's breakthrough role in the fantastic The Last Black Man in San Francisco. There's an occasional good idea, like the strange position Scott Lang finds himself in after saving the world, the use of that ant colony, and a character (The Good Place's William Jackson Harper) who can read people's minds.
But overall, it’s a dire and crummy movie.