The third installment of the Ant-Man franchise is first film to kick off Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though the films have maintained a somewhat lighthearted humorous tone since their inception, the timing of their releases has always been on-point. Its placement is an improvement over the choice film which started Phase Four two years ago, Black Widow, which I opined suffered largely for being released too late in the film character’s history to have significant impact. What’s kept Ant-Man interesting aside from the humor is the mystery surrounding the plot elements and the title character’s large (pun intended) role in the greater MCU. While some of the mysteries gain clarity with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the greater draw was the anticipation of the villain. Touted as the next big bad guy of the MCU, Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror (and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne) proved to stand-outs above the title characters.
Title: Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania
Released: February 16th, 2023
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfieffer, Michael Douglas, Jonathan Majors, and Kathryn Newton
PLOT: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is now a celebrity, cashing in on his status as an Avenger to become a best-selling author. In a fame montage set to the backdrop of the TV theme music for Welcome Back, Kotter, Scott’s voiceover provides background for what’s been going on with him since we last saw him at Tony Stark’s funeral in Avengers Endgame. He’s still with Hope (Evangeline Lilly, who now runs her father’s company by funding scientific endeavors with a philanthropic bent) and has a fun dynamic with her parents, Janet and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Life is so good for him now that it almost makes one forget he’s an electronic expert/cat-burglaring ex-con. Speaking of which, his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is regularly being thrown in jail for picket line protests. She loves her dad, but throws shade on him by reminding him she’s making an effort while fame has gone to his head. In addition to her dad’s propensity for incarceration, she’s seemed to inherit his gift for electronics as well.
With Hank (who’s also developing a colony of super-intelligent ants), Cassie invents a device that can map out the sub-atomic dimension of the Quantum Realm without having to travel there. As we know from previous films, the Quantum Realm allows for time-travel and Janet was trapped there for 30 years. She and her secrets from her time there become central to the plot as it becomes evident that she is uncomfortable with anything to do with that dimension. After Cassie’s device creates a vortex that sucks all five of them into the QR, we learn why.
It turns out the Quantum Realm is filled with several worlds containing lifeforms and civilizations, some of which have been subjugated by an outsider, one who Janet encountered when he crash-landed there. Known as Kang the Conqueror, he’s a general with a massive army, a mastery of technology, and a brilliantly ruthless tactical acumen. The rebel armies and refugees of the QR run and hide from him, only to be found eventually by his chief assassin M.O.D.O.K. (guess who plays him). What Kang wants is to escape the Quantum Realm and take revenge of those who exiled him there. In one-part family drama, one-part action-adventure, Scott and Cassie are separated from the Pyms while all are en route to Kang, who makes Scott an offer he can’t seem to refuse. What ensues is a hero’s journey and a villain whose ultimate end game is merely teased to the audience.
MY TAKE: There were times during this film where I thought I was watching a production of Star Wars. The Quantum Realm, the architecture of its buildings, the rebel forces, the inhabitants (some looked like Sandpeople) and even Kang himself all seemed influenced by it. It’s not surprising since Disney owns both Star Wars and Marvel. In addition, Marvel twice produced a comic series based on a Mego toyline called the Micronauts. Many elements of the latter have been cannibalized and rebranded for the MCU, particularly with the home dimension of the Microverse being called the Quantum Realm, as well as Kang having touches of Darth Vader and Micronauts villain Baron Karza. Kang even has facial scars to explain the ever-present vertical lines in his blue mask. The Quantum Realm is visually stunning and its portrayal is colorful and psychedelic, like a fractal landscape. This film is the one where that dimension is central to the plot and some answers about it are provided, such as to the question of if it supports life.
YouTube has been displaying trailers and teaser scenes for a month prior to the film’s release and it’s shown the appearance of the villain M.O.D.O.K., a fan-favorite but comic relief for the film once his identity is revealed. It appears they spent the majority of the CGI budget on the Quantum Realm and the shrinking/enlarging effects because they did a piss-poor job with this character. When revealed, he looks like an enlarged face of one of the characters from the N64 video game, GoldenEye.
Also, as shown in the first trailer, Bill Murray makes an appearance as well. For what I imagine is a big check, he plays a mercenary in Quantum Realm who’s more familiar with Janet than her husband would like. Also, though Scott’s the main character (and Rudd plays him with boyish charm and devotion to being a father), this is really Janet’s story. Pfeiffer plays Janet as a woman who’s not only holding back truths from her husband and daughter, but also proves she’s not a helpless damsel-in-distress. Being trapped in a pocket dimension for 30 years made her a fighter, but if the realm’s supposed to be timeless, how’d she catch up to her husband’s current age while there? Her knowledge of Kang and his intentions is one of the mysteries to the plot. While I’ve never liked the fact that Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are senior citizens in the MCU, Douglas and Pfeiffer are fun to watch when juxtaposed with the youthful Rudd and Lilly.
And now, Kang the Conqueror. He’s the main reason for the anticipation for the film. Jonathan Majors portrayed a variant of him in the final episode of season one of Loki which was well-received, though it was known prior that he was scheduled to portray Kang in this film. His Kang is ruthless, speaks and carries himself with an almost regal-Shakespearean air, and the eagerness to see Majors on screen as Kang paralleled that of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s Batman. In the source material, Kang is a 31st century descendant of Nathaniel Richards, the father of Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four). Yes, the Richards family is White and the MCU Kang is clearly Black, but him being a relative from several centuries up the line should shut down audiences who are preoccupied with the race factor.
Like Thanos and Killmonger before him, he’s an MCU villain who fully believes in what he’s doing no matter the cost. He’s like the Infinity Stones-powered Ultron in the last two episodes of the Marvel animated series What If…?, conquering entire timelines and worlds with ease. Except Kang doesn’t want or need the Stones do so, he’s a genius human powered by superior technology that’d make Tony Stark blush. The fact that he has no superhuman powers is enough to unnerve even a god such as Loki. So, for this Phase and the next, we’ll be watching Citizen Kang in the Kang Dynasty. To drive that point home, there’s a scene where he both poses and answers his own question:
“Me. A LOT of me.”
There were many Easter Egg references to both the Microverse and Kang storylines: Sub-Atomica and the Time Bubble being two of them. And yes, there are mid-and post-credit scenes, both of which caught me by surprise and served their intended purpose: To keep the audience guessing and salivating for more. One thing missing from the film is Scott’s supporting cast (played by T.I. and Michael Pena), they provided a good modicum of humor in the previous installments. M.O.D.O.K.’s appearance should’ve looked less video game-like, something which I imagine will be a source of fodder on Amazon Prime’s super-hero genre satire The Boys. Lang’s relationship with his daughter, Cassie, is strained somewhat due to his five-year absence and her now being a typical teenager. Her role in this film, though, lends further credence to a Young Avengers live-action series. Though, I doubt this will be the last we’ll see of Ant-Man, the Wasp, or the Quantum Realm, it was Kang who stole the show.
The film’s been compared to Eternals, which I don’t understand considering how much of a let-down the latter was. Yes, the plot feels formulaic, certain elements are derivative, but seeds were planted for Majors’ Kang (all of him) to be shown for a long time. This franchise’s films have usually come with a good helping of humor, but they’ve never descended into cringey self-parody like Thor: Love & Thunder or reached the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of She-Hulk. Quantumania isn’t boring or bad, it lacks the same fun of the first two films, but it’s still interesting.