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Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania review – trilogy capper barely has any interest in its title character

Enjoyable villains aside, this MCU Phase Five opener is a mostly ominous promise of more convoluted, stakes-free things to come

And so it begins. After the widely-nonplussed response to the seemingly hastily arranged Phase Four of the MCU, the franchise’s littlest hero is here to kick off Phase Five of this now multiversal saga in an ostensible trilogy capper that actually ends up as less Ant-Man 3 than the prologue to the 2025 Avengers film, or even Loki season 1.5. Quantumania is a mostly exhausting exercise in setting up the next few years of the Marvel project, failing to tell a compelling story about its title character as a result.

We last saw Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), at the bittersweet end of Avengers: Endgame, having saved the world but also lost five years of time as a dad to his daughter Cassie (played now as a teenager by Kathryn Newton). We’re swiftly reintroduced to Scott, enjoying his status as a heroic celebrity before an accident with a quantum something-or-other sends him and his family into the Quantum Realm, the microscopic sub-universe that proved so vital in Endgame’s time-travel shenanigans.

It’s in this strange place that we meet this Phase’s Big Bad, the multiversal time-traveling conqueror Kang (Jonathan Majors), who rules over the Quantum Realm as a futuristic dictator, but needs the help of Scott and the shrinking technology he wields to escape the place and continue his conquests in the universe proper. It’s a fine enough MacGuffin-y plot on its face, but it really doesn’t suit an Ant-Man film, suddenly introducing us to a Thanos-level baddie who has apparently already killed trillions, raising the stakes beyond anything you can meaningfully wrap your head around. These have always been lighter, fluffier entries for Marvel, refreshingly detached from the grand multi-film schemes, banking on the immense charm of Rudd, director Peyton Reed’s well-honed comedy chops, and a bunch of Honey I Shrunk the Kids-esque hijinks to keep you involved.

In moving Scott from the real world to this surreal sci-fi space, one of these key appeals is lost – the amazing shrinking powers on display don’t feel anywhere near as fun when there’s no real-world objects to use for scale. Everything in the Quantum Realm is outlandish and goopy and though it is actually one of Marvel’s better designed worlds on a purely visual level, its complete detachment from anything approaching believable instantly lowers the stakes. Whilst the effects work on the bizarre denizens and locales of the Quantum Realm is solid, the compositing of the actors into this world is not, with scenes where you can really see the green screen joins.

Sloppy editing exacerbates this problem, with big action scenes coming out of nowhere and disappearing just as fast, whilst the plot is just packed with deus ex machinas and scenes that are clearly reshoots stick out like a sore thumb. Most egregious of these is in the cameo from Bill Murray, taking place in a Mos Eisley cantina-style bar (there’s a lot of discount Star Wars stuff going on here) where it feels like none of the actors were on the same set. Murray’s character has a full conversation with both Michelle Pfeiffer’s veteran Quantum Realm warrior Janet and Scott’s mentor/father-in-law Hank (Michael Douglas, mostly looking miserable at even being here), a coming together of huge stars that never features more than one of them in the same frame at the same time.

There is some fun stuff here – the MCU’s quality control is still just about in place enough to avert real disaster – particularly in the inclusion of MODOK (Corey Stoll, kinda-sorta reprising his villain role from the first Ant-Man). Always one of the comics’ more enjoyably wacky characters, this giant-headed floating cyborg is the source of Quantumania’s best gags (a lot of the other humour lands with a thud) and the film’s commitment to making MODOK just as freakish on screen as he is on the page is very welcome. Stoll is clearly enjoying himself, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast. Rudd still charms but is running a bit on autopilot, and Majors has the kind of regal menace that should prove vital to his longevity as this villain, but everyone else looks like they’d rather be somewhere else. Newton is actively bad as precocious new hero Cassie; a scene towards the end which relies on her convincing as a charismatic leader is just terrible.

Fundamentally, with its strange alt-universe and often self-conscious zaniness (hey, look, there’s a man made of broccoli, he’s standing next to a goo creature who keeps talking about human orifices), Quantumania just feels like an episode of Rick and Morty padded out to feature length with its edges sanded down. This makes sense – writer Jeff Loveness is a veteran of that show’s writer’s room – but doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying film. It’s especially galling given that we basically just had another one of these in the form of Doctor Strange sequel Multiverse of Madness (again written by a Rick and Morty scribe) and sets a worrying precedent for how much that show is going to inform the ever more multiversal adventures going forward. In the past, the Marvel worldbuilding project has managed to make its teases of the future into fun promises for the fans – by the end of Quantumania, they feel more like threats.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is released in UK cinemas on 17 February.

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