Marvel (by way of Star Wars and Rick and Morty), the surprising third instalment in the Ant-Man franchise, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), is one of the most enjoyable and cohesive Marvel films in years, and a great entry point into the new Phase of the universe. With a wildly inventive world that enchants and inspires awe, Quantumania manages to create something that’s been lacking from Marvel of late: pure imagination and efficient storytelling.
Quantumania kicks off with a return to the Lang family. Scott (Paul Rudd) is touring his ant-pun-filled memoir; Hope (Evangeline Lily) is running the company to improve many noble causes from affordable housing to environmental rehabilitation; Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfieffer) are reunited and retired; and Cassie (Kathryn Newton), now 18, is getting arrested protesting the police for tearing down displacement camps. The surprising heart of the film, Cassie both sparks the plot by creating a beacon to the Quantum Realm, as well as the thematic (socialist uprising via ants combats tyranny in a blockbuster? A+) and emotional story that is never beholden to other properties. The speed in which we are thrown into the world is appreciated and economical, especially in comparison to recent superhero films that have felt bloated and undercooked.
The Rick and Morty-fication of Marvel is complete in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, with longtime comedy writer Jeff Loveness (Jimmy Kimmel Live, Rick and Morty) given sole screenwriting credit here. Previous Rick and Morty writers landing at Marvel include Jessica Gao (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law), Michael Waldron (Loki, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Avengers: Secret Wars), and Loveness. This connection to the cult TV show is felt particularly through its world-building and humour, as Loveness and Reed are clearly having a blast creating these unique quantum aliens, from snail horses to amoeba buildings and freedom fighters, all with a visual and comedic flair that feels considered. The parallel is also felt in its storytelling, as Loveness is able to craft an efficient and entertaining film that works independently of its outside world, maintaining a coherent thematic pull with compelling characters that feel genuinely changed through the experience.
Fears were rising that, with the emergence of the multiverse and glut of recent Marvel products, regular movie fans would be left in the dust. Thankfully, Quantumania is a refreshingly standalone film and a great entry point for this new phase of Marvel. The briskness of the storytelling allows you to get swept up in the world-building and creature design, sharing the sense of wonder Scott and Cassie have for the Quantum Realm. We are shown many sides to this new realm, from its refugee camps to its high society bars inspired by the Star Wars cantina (I was shocked not to have an original tune playing when they entered the room), all fully realised. The craft and consideration here are leagues ahead of recent entry Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), where the biggest leap in the boundless opportunity of multiversal storytelling was an Earth where green means stop.
Director Peyton Reed, hot off helming a couple of great episodes of The Mandalorian, returns to complete his highly improbable but all-enjoyable Ant-Man trilogy. The list of directors crafting a full trilogy is short, with Reed joining Spider-Man directors Sam Raimi and Jon Watts on the superhero trilogy front. Through a consistently robust supporting cast, the Rudd-helmed franchise has always felt light on its feet and affable, mirroring its star.
Reed’s Ant-Man films thrive more in the conversational moments, both in comedy and tension than when action is required. Early entries allowed the action set pieces to play out like big-budget Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) homages, but in Quantumania, the action feels taken straight from the Marvel assembly line, with its rapid cuts, poor blocking, and hand lasers. Fortunately, Reed seems aware of these shortcomings, as the film does not rely on these moments for its crescendos, opting instead for more personal battles against Kang the Conqueror.
Jonathan Majors, the greatest recruit into the Marvel acting army thrives as the ominous but deeply felt villain Kang the Conqueror. Acting alongside Michelle Pfieffer for many scenes, Majors uses his physicality and always surprising depth of feeling to keep Kang more interesting and compelling to the audience, allowing him to balance out the film in ways we rarely see in Marvel villains. There is a tension and friction to his scenes that allows other actors to occupy space to play off of Majors, instead of merely dominating every moment of screen time, a rare gift to be used in a blockbuster film. The next Avengers film, Kang Dynasty (2025), is more likely to match the quality of Endgame with the emerging A-lister at its core.
No one would’ve imagined back in 2015 that Reed and Rudd would be completing a trilogy of Ant-Man films in 2023, with the third entry becoming crucial to the wider Marvel project with the emergence of Johnathan Majors’ Kang as the next Avengers villain (Loki appearance notwithstanding), let alone creating one of this quality. While still overfilled with messy CGI action set pieces, Quantumania thrives in its inventive world-building, with an economic and satisfying script by Loveness that allows its impressive ensemble to shine.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in theatres now.