At first glance, it’s easy to write off a C-list Marvel superhero like Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) when the title character’s standalone films operate as comic relief. Though they are a nice break and feature smaller stakes by avoiding the world-domination stories that filled the Infinity Saga, “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” takes a darker and more mature turn in the franchise as it places the often underestimated hero against the likes of Kang The Conquerer (Jonathan Majors), a time-traveling multiverse villain who can burn anyone out of existence with the palm of his hand. As a result, not only is Ant-Man in unfamiliar and scary territory, both literally and metaphorically, the third entry serves as a jumping-off point for the rest of the Multiverse Saga.
In Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Scott who captivates his fans with his adventures of saving the world as an Avenger while on his “Look Out for the Little Guy” book tour. While his days as a hero are currently on hold, the family around him continues to help the underdogs and marginalized. For Hope (Evangeline Lilly), she uses Pym Industries for philanthropic work to provide housing, medicine, and food. At the same time, his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) has become a social activist to fight for the unhoused. She believes that Scott’s newfound celebrity has gone to his head and that he has forgotten what it means to be a true hero. So she has taken it upon herself to carry on his legacy in more ways than one without his knowledge. And as it turns out, everyone is keeping secrets from each other.
In an effort to reconnect with her mother to make up for lost time, Hope tries to reach out to her mother and help her resolve 30 years’ worth of trauma that she experienced while trapped in the Quantum Realm. However, Janet is defensive and would rather keep it to herself to protect Hope from the evils that await our heroes when they are inevitably pulled into the strange world.
The opening flashback reveals Janet trusted a stranded Kang at first, as they bonded over being stranded. Together, they would rebuild Kang’s time ship. But somewhere along the way, she discovered the truth about his intentions to escape and made the ultimate sacrifice by sabotaging his ship and destroying any hope of getting home. Eventually, she was able to run, leaving Kang behind. However, doing so gave him the time to build his empire and plan his conquest over the timeline.
So Scott and Hope are about to discover the price of Cassie and Janet’s secrets when Scott discovers that Cassie has built what is described as a subatomic Hubble space telescope that can communicate with the Quantum Realm. Realizing what she has built, Janet demands that it be shut off and immediately destroyed when it stays on for too long. As a result, the Langs and the Pyms are sucked into the Quantum Realm and separated from each other. Now, the two families must reunite and escape before it’s too late because their Pym Particle technology is the key to restoring Kang’s time ship. And with Kang now ruling the Quantum Realm, he will do anything to get out, including forcing into a deal Scott to obtain an essential item for his time ship or watch her daughter die.
Though the “Ant-Man” franchise is a nice comedic break from the usual world-domination films, they still had some connective tissue that tied into some of the other stories of the MCU. The stakes were smaller and more personal, and both films revolved around the theme of family. But things are different in “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania,” as the stakes are now higher, the villains more dangerous, and the fate of the multiverse is in the hands of the Langs and Pyms. If anything, the film remembers where it came from as it takes a new look at MCU family dynamics. Here, Scott wants to spend more time with Cassie, his biggest motivating factor in life. But between being an Avenger, a celebrity hero, and a father, he is having a hard time being with her. And Hope wishes she could have that relationship she once had with her mom. So they all must work out these family dynamics while in this whacked-out world.
And by taking Scott out of the world he is familiar with, his character arc reaches new heights because now he risks losing the only motivating factor in his life. His fear comes to a head when Kang captures both of them and forces Scott into a deal that could have dangerous repercussions. With this deal, we see how Peyton cleverly throws in a heist element by having Scott leap into a void where our size-changing hero must navigate through time-dilated debris to get a time-orb for Kang’s time ship. And when Scott reaches his goal, things start to escalate psychologically. He starts to see multiple versions of himself and possible choices he could have made. It’s no “Multiverse of Madness,” but the thought of running into versions of yourself where you could have made a different choice is enough to create an existential crisis. It gets bad enough for our title hero that there’s a scene where he is seemingly crushed by the weight of the various versions of himself.
So the film is a race against the clock element as Scott and Cassie try to reunite with the Pyms as quickly as possible, with Kang serving as the biggest threat to them and the entire multiverse. Majors shines as a variant of Kang that vastly differs from the odd and bizarre He Who Remains, the founder of the TVA we saw in “Loki.” Here, Kang is direct in his threats and has the power to back them up. He deems himself the rightful ruler over all timelines. And because there are multiple versions of the character played by one actor, it allows Majors to perform as the villain with a Shakespearean approach.
But “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” isn’t entirely a somber family drama. Scott often has to brush off the fact that he isn’t recognized as Ant-Man or overhear the existential crisis questions he asks himself as he cheerfully walks the streets to get a coffee. And one of the more surprising bits of comedy comes from MODOK, a giant floating head with baby limbs. But don’t let his odd appearance fool you, as the Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing is armed to the teeth with a deadly arsenal of blasters, missiles, and buzzsaws. And he has quite an interesting way of telling his origins story. One that likens to how Michael Pena’s Luis recaps events.
Though the new supporting cast is less memorable than Dave, Luis, and Kurt, they do the best with what they got. Katy O’Brien is a fearless freedom fighter combating the likes of Kang. William Jackson Harper’s Quaz is a Quantum Realm telepath who may regret reading Scott’s mind. And then there’s Zeb (David Dastmalchian), a slimly fixture of the group who wishes to have holes like his humanoid counterparts.
For what it’s worth, Reed is undoubtedly having fun finally bringing the Quantum Realm to the big screen. The set designs were inspired by films like Star Wars and Flash Gordon, the former of which really shows considering that he has spent as a director of two episodes of “The Mandalorian.”
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” does take a few missteps, especially in the first act when it hurries through vital exposition. With so little time, the film quickly reestablishes its characters, affirming where they are at in their lives. Though some of the scenes ascertain competency or a new place in their arcs, some have no bearing on what will happen later in the film. And much of the storytelling suffers as characters jostle for screen time to develop their arcs. At the same time, the film tries to lay out the groundwork for “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.”
Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania is a visual spectacular. It’s goofy and suspenseful when it needs to be. Still, it never forgets where it came from as it continues to tell a story about family dynamics in the MCU. No longer a second act, the trilogy capper sets up the future of the Multiverse Saga in an epic way by introducing a fascinating nuanced villain like Kang. One thing is for sure, this film is not short on fun and is big on delivering impressive, visually stunning action.
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is in theaters February 17.