There was a lot to unpack in Avengers: Endgame, but thinking about the character arc of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) made me quite sad in 2019. Poor bastard came out of prison and vowed never to abandon his daughter again, then he was trapped in the quantum realm for five years through no fault of his own, and his little girl grew into a teenager without him. After that, he went off to tell the Avengers about his plan to build a time machine. I would have handcuffed myself to my child until she became a thoroughly miserable adult.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the first movie spotlighting Scott since Endgame, and it pits him against a villain who commands time and is canny enough to dangle the prospect of giving Scott back those years that he missed raising his daughter. Furthermore, this bad guy is so powerful that Scott has little chance of outsmarting or outfighting him. I’m sad to report that this is where the cleverness stops.
The film opens with Scott giving up that superhero life to write a celebrity memoir entitled Look Out for the Little Guy and be a father to his teenage daughter Cassie (a brunette Kathryn Newton). Cassie has become a science and engineering wiz in her dad’s absence, and she invents a device that will communicate with the quantum realm so that nobody ever becomes stranded again. This backfires, and the device transports her, Scott, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), and Hope’s parents (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer) to said realm, which Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) rules with an iron fist. He has history with Janet van Dyne, who turns out to have withheld a hell of a lot from her family about her 30 or so years at subatomic level.
Kang wants to return to normal size and makes the aforementioned offer to Scott in exchange for his help, and the movie’s most obvious blunder is that Scott never seriously considers it. At least when Kang makes the same offer to Janet 30 years prior so she can raise little Hope, she’s torn up about turning him down. Kang can’t be trusted, of course, but you’d think Scott’s disappearances from Cassie’s life would result in more than just a few bitter one-liners. The Dallas native Majors is an imposing physical presence, and you believe him when he tells Scott in mid-confrontation, “You’re out of your league,” but in the end, he’s another boring Marvel villain who’s not much other than his desire to destroy stuff.
I’m concerned that the Marvel movies (with the notable exception of the Black Panther films) are starting to look the same. All those orange skies and billowing clouds of smoke and weapons glowing either red or blue — if you took a random frame from this and compared it to the same from the last Thor movie and the last Guardians of the Galaxy movie, you’d be hard-pressed to tell what came from where. The last Ant-Man movie had visuals like a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser blowing up to the size of a refrigerator during a car chase, but there’s no such whimsy here. The fantasy world that the characters move around in doesn’t have enough visual cues, so that it’s hard to even tell when Scott grows to 10 times his size. The only creative bit is when Scott enters a “probability storm” that spontaneously generates thousands of clones of him, leading to the danger that he’ll be crushed by the dead bodies of himself.
This movie wants to give Scott more dramatic weight, but the thematic heaviness doesn’t suit the series or director Peyton Reed. The series was always better when it was funny, and despite Rudd’s best efforts, the comedy largely falls flat, and even Bill Murray’s presence as a boorish space lord who brags to Hank about his own wild sexual encounters with Janet can’t lift this. The subtitle of Quantumania promises wacky hijinks with the miniature world like we’ve seen with previous movies about multiverses. That doesn’t materialize.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Starring Paul Rudd and Kathryn Newton. Directed by Peyton Reed. Written by Jeff Loveness. Rated PG-13.