Marvel’s pint-sized superhero Ant-Man is back with a new adventure, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” and it’s clear that he’s got his work cut out for him. As the first movie to kick off the next phase of Marvel’s films, the stakes are high, and the pressure is on. But does this latest installment live up to the hype?
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems time is a flat and cruddy-looking CGI circle. Unfortunately, that is the case for the latest installment, directed by series lead Peyton Reed, which falls short of its predecessors’ low-key charm and inventiveness.
The story centers around Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (the always likable Paul Rudd), and his allies, including the brilliant particle scientist Hope van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), who are stranded in the quantum realm, thanks to the movie’s central villain, Kang the Conqueror (played by Jonathan Majors). While the first two “Ant-Man” movies were persuasive arguments for the less-is-more principle, with their downsized stakes, upbeat spirits, and clever shifts in physical scale, “Quantumania” lacks the disciplined sense of scale that made its predecessors so much fun.
The quantum realm’s surreally designed, gloppy-looking orange landscape doesn’t help, as its differences in proportion and perspective scarcely register. Even the action scenes, usually a Marvel strong suit, lack the rare and playful comic dynamism that Ant-Man’s ability to switch sizes at lightning speed brought to the previous films.
On the positive side, the film sets the stage for the introduction of Kang the Conqueror, the latest villain to face off against our favorite superheroes. Played by Jonathan Majors, Kang is a powerful force that will undoubtedly shake up the Marvel universe. He brings a quiet menace to the role, imbuing it with gravitas and clarifying that he should not be trifled with – and his performance stands out in an otherwise lackluster movie.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film falls short in many ways. With its focus on the Quantum Realm, the movie spends most of its time in a sprawling, otherworldly space that feels more like “Guardians of the Galaxy” than “Ant-Man.” While the production design is undoubtedly impressive, it can be hard to follow at times, with a vast array of strange characters that lack grounding in any recognizable reality. The narrative slogs from one scene to the next, and the secondary villain, dredged up from the Marvel archives, is in service of an incredibly tiresome running gag.
Director Peyton Reed returns for his third outing with the franchise, but this time, the sense of whimsy that characterized the previous films is mostly absent. Instead, the film suffers from a bad case of gigantism, with an overreliance on special effects and action scenes that are more confusing than thrilling. While there are occasional moments of wit and feeling, the emotional outliers feel like small saving graces in a flat, inexpressive void.
Overall, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a small step forward for the Marvel universe, but it falls short of the mark. It may be worth a watch for die-hard Marvel fans, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else finding much to love here.
RATING: 2.0 out of 5.0.
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