Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, from director Peyton Reed, wants to make you laugh. But it also wants you to think it’s cool — kind of like a dad who doesn’t know how to relate to you now that you’re both adults who can recognize that he’s always sorta only had maybe one or two good bits. Quantumania knows those bits have worked in the past, and it gamely whips them out as part of the Ant-Man series’ most visually imaginative stories yet. But rather than coasting on its sense of dad-focused humor, Quantumania tries to switch things up a bit by mainlining a few doses of whatever psychedelics Doctor Strange has been brewing and inviting you to partake in a little madness that doesn’t always make sense.
Quantumania knows that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has come such a long way since he first popped up in the MCU back in 2015 that more than a few people are going to need refreshers about who he is and where he’s been. But as it’s doing its best to fill you in on what Scott and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) have been up to since becoming Avengers, you can immediately tell that Quantumania’s story is best experienced with its predecessors fresh in your mind.
Set some time after Avengers: Endgame, Quantumania catches up with Scott at the height of his relatively newfound fame as the world’s biggest, smallest, and most Average White Guy™ costumed hero who also happens to be a best-selling author. People might not know who all the Guardians of the Galaxy are or how the Scarlet Witch kidnapped an entire town. But everybody remembers Ant-Man getting real big that one time while fighting Thanos and how the idea of getting back to his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) was the one thing that kept him going while he was trapped in the Quantum Realm. But what the public doesn’t really know — because Scott didn’t put it in his book — is how being away from Cassie for so long has created an emotional distance between them that he’s terrified he may never be able to close.
From pretty much Eternals on, each of Marvel’s recent films has prioritized parenthood for its protagonists in a way that’s felt intentional and like part of a larger plan for the MCU’s future. With its immediate focus on Cassie and Scott’s relationship, Quantumania highlights this clearly as it digs into how she grew up to be a troublemaking activist while he was out for quantum cigarettes. But for all the specific emotional heft Quantumania wants its father / daughter reunion plot to have, that same focus on the MCU’s future leads to it feeling rather weightless as it’s subsumed into a much larger story about a not-so-secret subatomic universe full of wonder.
It’s impressive how quickly writer Jeff Loveness’ script brings Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), back into focus and sets to reestablishing how Janet’s own time being trapped in the Quantum Realm put a strain on her bond with her daughter. Just when it seems like the movie’s poised to properly dig into those complex feelings, though, Quantumania instead shifts into action mode as it sends Langs, the Van Dynes, and Hank into the Quantum Realm to meet the MCU’s new big bad.
It’s as team Ant-Man’s getting beamed down to the Quantum Realm in a blinding flash of light that you get your first taste of the artful but disorienting chaos that defines much of Quantumania’s subatomic aesthetic. After years of Marvel teasing out what a dangerous, incomprehensible place the Quantum Realm might be, Quantumania dives in headfirst and reveals it to be a sprawling, lush universe teeming with seemingly alien life that Janet pointedly never mentioned to anyone.
After two Doctor Strange movies and other Marvel fare like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, very little about Quantumania’s glowing, pulsing lava lamp of a microverse will surprise you, really. But it is beautiful in an immersive, animated wallpaper sort of way. Both the original Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp really ran with the idea of Pym Particles to craft set pieces that played with viewers’ sense of perspective as things we’re used to seeing as tiny objects became humongous, and vice versa.
In those films, something as mundane as going down a bathtub drain became extraordinary because it was easy to understand what was happening and the wildness of it all. Quantumania tries to do the same with its foray into the Quantum Realm, which often looks and feels like a cross between Osmosis Jones’ City of Frank and any number of Star Wars’ technologically advanced, war-torn alien worlds. But because we don’t really have a solid frame of reference for the Quantum Realm, it’s often hard to watch Quantumania and not see actors standing on soundstages trying to imagine what it might be like to walk through a lava lamp where lighting seems to come from all directions.
Janet’s emotional withholding from her family and the way she keeps Hope in particular at arm’s length are some of Quantumania’s more interesting beats that actually give Pfeiffer and Lilly a chance to flex their dramatic muscles more than you’d expect to see in an Ant-Man film. Quantumania wants you to care about the Van Dynes in the same way that it wants you to care about the Langs. But ultimately, the movie puts much more energy into establishing how important Janet and a time traveler named Kang (Jonathan Majors) became to one another after first meeting in the Quantum Realm, and that choice makes Quantumania feel bigger in some ways and smaller in others.
Strictly speaking, Quantumania’s Kang is another reality’s variant of Loki’s He Who Remains, but here Majors has the opportunity to fully spread his wings and take flight as a bombastic, menacing villain who revels in the theatricality of being an overlord. Kang’s the reason Janet swore she’d never return to the Quantum Realm, and she’s a big part of the reason why he wants to escape it, but Quantumania never lets you forget that the pair weren’t always adversaries. Both because of the way Majors inhabits Kang with an intense, mesmerizing mania and because of the way Quantumania frames Janet as an aloof, Complicated Mom™ who hordes secrets, their dynamic ends up being the film’s most interesting.
But between Kang and Janet’s thing, the Van Dynes’ drama, the Langs bonding, and yet another plot about the Quantum Realm’s refugees rising up, Quantumania frequently feels like it’s got just a little bit too much going on. To a certain extent, that’s to be expected from an ambitious threequel that’s trying to set itself apart from the smaller-stakes movies that came before it. It might be a little weird if the MCU suddenly became a neater and tidier place, narratively speaking, just because it was entering its fifth big chapter. That said, it’s also a little weird how abruptly Quantumania ends — so much so that it’s a little unclear how things stand with the universe as the movie’s credits start rolling.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s far from being a bad movie. But it is a testament to how out in the weeds Marvel’s gotten with the MCU and how the studio’s approach to building fantastical VFX worlds still has a way of making things look far less expensive than they should, given their budgets. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has a lot going for it, though, and it’s obvious this story’s going to factor largely into whatever the future holds for the Avengers. Watching it might feel a bit like doing homework at times, but at this point, it seems like that might just be part of the price of admission.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania also stars William Jackson Harper, Katy O’Brian, Randall Park, Bill Murray, and Corey Stoll. The film hits theaters on February 17th.