Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania isn’t exactly doing a victory lap right now. It has arrived on the Xbox Store, and other stores, without much in the way of fanfare and we can see why. While its $622mil gross is not to be sniffed at, it’s the latest in Marvel’s box office downward trend that has been continuing from Spider-Man: No Way Home. Critically, it’s the lowest scoring Marvel movie since Thor: The Dark World, and it’s arrived at a time when superhero fatigue has been setting in, as we have more access to Marvel content than ever, but much of it has not been particularly great. All of this is without mentioning the assault charges against Jonathon Majors, who has only just stepped into the fresh boots of Phase Five’s villain.
I came to Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania knowing all that, and carrying some of its baggage. Thanks to social media, I was even prepared for some bungled VFX, as the memes had been strong with this one. I was strapped in and ready for the worst it could throw at me.
But as often happens when your expectations are set low, I ended up rather enjoying Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. It definitely feels like Ant-Man’s Adventures in the Hard Drive of a VFX Artist, but that comes with its own Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-like joys. For us, it cleared the bar of a lot of modern Marvel, including Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, The Eternals and Thor: Love and Thunder.
It doesn’t waste too much time getting where it’s going. There’s a short catch-up on what Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has been up to, mainly involving a book tour and not spending enough time with his daughter, Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton, the third actress to play Cassie, and winsome, so you forget about it soon after). She’s been getting arrested for some forceful protesting, which is the least problematic of her hobbies, as she has also been researching the Quantum Realm with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).
It turns out that dabbling in quantum shenanigans is more dangerous than was planned, and soon the family, including Quantum Realm veteran Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) are doing a spot of Lost in Space, just on a microscopic scale. They are castaway in a sub-atomic dreamland, separated, and hunted by the entity who brought them there.
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania’s two biggest foibles are there pretty much from the start. While it is stupendously, gob-smackingly gorgeous, with vistas that look stolen from the Hubble telescope’s out-tray, it’s also very clearly all green screen. That’s not necessarily a problem, as Avatar: The Way of Water has shown, but the characters never really feel like they’re participating in the kaleidoscopic worlds. The Quantum Realm looks like it’s been constructed on sound stages and computers, and the characters seem to keep it all at arm’s length. They’re tourists in a zoo, which means we retain a kind of detachment too.
The flipside to that coin is that Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania can be remarkably imaginative. It’s at its best when its worldbuilding isn’t for the sake of it: when characters and settings have bonkers abilities that have plot-use later on (a globby alien who wants Ant-Man to drink him is a standout, as are houses that double up as spaceships), then they get a pass. It does occasionally get lost up its own Phantom Menace CGI butthole, but it’s perfectly capable of worming its way out, too.
The other foible is that the situation makes least-best use of its characters. Ant-Man is at his best when he’s the comedic relief, or he’s part of a team where, somehow, he’s the capable one (Michael Peña’s Luis is a huge miss here). Paul Rudd can be a genius of self-effacing comedy, but here he’s required to be bemused, tortured or both, which wastes those talents. He has his moments, but they’re snatched from a plot that is determined to make the world its primary character, rather than Ant-Man. It ends up not feeling tonally like an Ant-Man movie by the end, which is an achievement considering Peyton Reed continues his directorial work from the first two movies.
But, again, there’s a flipside to that comment. Because while Ant-Man and Paul Rudd feel like they are filling a heroic role better suited to Thor or Captain America, it does mean that other characters can shine. The biggest beneficiary is Jonathan Majors, who makes his full introduction as Kang. Twitchy and layered, but with a bubbling lack of patience, he is a powerful presence. It makes it all the more disappointing that his career is free-falling thanks to (allegedly) his own actions, because he is clearly a supremely talented actor. Every scene he is in has a sparking energy.
Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang Mark #3 also brings a lot of much-needed vigour, making a strong case for a Young Avengers project. Michelle Pfeiffer, too, gets to flex after some thankless tasks in the MCU so far. There’s a steel to her Janet Van Dyne that we haven’t got to see before now.
Realise that Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is a ride, a rollercoaster through a Magic Eye picture, and it holds up pretty darn well. Sure, there’s some questionable VFX (a returning enemy is quite something, but at least the movie knows how ridiculous they are and presents them accordingly), but the simple ‘let’s get out of here, and improve the world as we go’ premise works a treat. We found ourselves eager to see what the concept artists would dream up next, while Jonathan Majors elevated every scene he strode into.
Perhaps it’s best to watch it as we did: with zero expectations and a hankering to escape for two hours. With that context we enjoyed Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania a heck of a lot. It’s heavily processed and high on e-numbers, but as a Marvel snack goes, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is so much better than we were led to believe.