Of all the deep-cut comic book characters the Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought to life on screen, Ant-Man might still be the most unlikely. He’s been around in print form since 1962, but Ant-Man was never an A-lister before Paul Rudd put on the suit in 2015. In fact, there’s a classic 1979 SNL skit (referenced in that 2015 film) that pokes fun at the character’s marginal place in the Marvel pantheon. Nobody really noticed him for decades after that. But now, after two solo films and important roles in “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Ant-Man is back in the kickoff film of the MCU’s Phase 5.
Director Peyton Reed is once again at the helm of Marvel’s goofiest franchise, but the cast of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” isn’t wrapped up in its usual low-stakes shenanigans this time. Much of the cast isn’t around at all, actually, but I’ll circle back to that. The Lang/Pym/Van Dyne family are accidentally pulled into the Quantum Realm, a sub-atomic dimension that exists below ours and a background feature of the previous Ant-Man movies. What they find there is more elaborate than Janet Van Dyne (played again by Michelle Pfeiffer) had previously let on, and the group is shocked to learn that a great evil rules over the wildly diverse inhabitants of the realm.
Elaborate and evil are operative words here, because the dangers faced by Ant-Man and the Wasp in “Quantumania” are far greater, and have much more dire consequences, than anything they’ve ever had to deal with alone. There’s no magical hammer or huge green fist to assist them, so Scott, Hope and the crew are in way over their heads with Kang. He’s the multi-dimensional baddie played brilliantly by Jonathan Majors who will be running roughshod over the MCU for the next while. It might be hard to believe, but he is even worse than Thanos.
Because of all the far-reaching seriousness, “Quantumania” isn’t as funny as its predecessors. There are a few laughs, but nothing that approaches the snark and charm we expect from Rudd’s version of the character. Ant-Man has become kind of whiny, to be honest, and maybe even a little boring. I hate that I just said that because I love Paul Rudd. He’s as believable as ever, trust me, just not as adorable in this script. The rest of the excellent cast does their work well in a novel setting that, like in all of the recent Marvel projects, is gorgeous and immersive but feels a little overstuffed and diffuse. It’s a shame that Rudd’s sidekick crime buddies from the previous films were left completely out of this story. They might have been a nice foil for the grave opening gambit of Phase 5.
In the end, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” had a lot of heavy lifting to do, with nothing less than the introduction of a fear-inducing new villain on its agenda. In this the film succeeds wildly, positioning Majors as an immovable object every bit as compelling as Josh Brolin. Majors is a real star, and he elevates the efforts of everyone around him, even if the smoldering darkness of this character takes the fun out them.
After the tonal drift of Phase 4, the MCU’s Phase 5 is off to a good start with “Quantumania”. We know our enemy now, which helps, and like so many of you, I will still follow these characters anywhere. I just hope the solid humanity that has always set the Marvel movies apart from DC doesn’t get lost in the new shuffle.