First Ant-Man, then Ant-Man and the Wasp and now Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, an element added to the title each time, the films also getting longer on each new iteration. Longer, busier, more sclerotic, this could be the worst Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date, and that’s including Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
This is also the first movie in phase five of the MCU, aka the Multiverse saga (if it’s the 2020s there must be multiverses), but never mind whether it calls into question the likelihood of there ever being a phase six (it doesn’t – Deadpool 3 is already in the works), it should raise all sorts of red flags at Marvel about how they go about making their movies.
Because, underneath it all, when all the flashing lights and buzzing noises will let the characters be seen and heard, this is a pretty OK superhero story, touching even, about a family fighting the good fight in a multiversal space known as the Quantum Realm. This is the zone Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne was rescued from after decades of incarceration in the first Ant-Man movie, and where, it now turns out, she made the acquaintance of one Kang the Conqueror, a super-villain she will have to face down, along with Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), her daughter Hope aka Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), inventor extraordinaire and creator of the Ant-Man suit.
The good stuff – Jonathan Majors makes a brilliant Kang, the best thing in the movie by far, a touch of imperial Peter Ustinov hauteur in his sneering supervillain. Nice to see the olds getting something to do – both Pfeiffer (now mid 60s) and Douglas (late 70s) have plot, agency and action sequences and contribute plenty to what is in essence a very simple story about a bad guy wishing to break free of the Quantum Realm so he can establish dominion over the rest of the universe. Newton is good as daughter Cassie, the third actor to take that role. Rudd, as ever, is the likeably charming and most ordinary of the Marvel superheroes. Lilly is fine but has nothing to do and could just as easily have not featured at all (it would make the title less unwieldy). Bill Murray turns up for a couple of scenes as a warm-up act for Kang, a supervillain in waiting perhaps, and one who makes it clear with lascivious eye rolls that Janet and he had a bit of a thing during her decades-long incarceration in the Quantum Realm – “a woman has her needs,” she explains wanly to her team. And Corey Stoll is excellent as MODOK, a giant head squashed into a hi-tech tin can and comedic light relief, even though his character is one too many.
At this level, of personal interaction, light banter, character development and intimate revelation, the film works just fine. But over that is what you might call the Star Wars bar factor – so many bizarre looking creatures – and on top of that is an almost insane dedication to special effects. This movie is epically busy, and every computer-generated image – almost all of it was shot in front of green screen – comes with its own computer-generated sound effect. It’s like having a huge, over-decorated Christmas tree in a room that’s way too small for it.
When the noise and flashing lights give it a rest now and again an entirely different, much more interesting movie reveals itself. But that only really happens in the opening and closing sequences – set in normal-as-pie San Francisco – and in a couple of moments between action sequences where the humans get to interact.
Director Peyton Reed did a fine job on the first two movies but has lost control here, letting the efffects teams have their way. Don’t get me wrong – the effects are brilliant, award-worthy, but they’re relentless, insistent and crowd almost everything else off the screen.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023