New supervillian introduced into MCU
Latest 'Ant-Man' brings Kang the Conquerer to forefront
Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets off to a fun start with Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, the third and likely final standalone for the Avenger named after an insect who’s not Spider-Man.
The first two entries seemed to be self-aware of the fact that Ant-Man is not the most impactful Marvel hero out there, and as such, the stakes were appropriately low compared to the galaxy-level consequences of the Avengers movies.
These days, I tend to tire from the humongous scale of the larger superhero epics and prefer the “smaller” stories, but the first two Ant-Man films always felt too insignificant to leave an impression.
Quantumania is unquestionably on a much bigger stage, tasked with building a world we’ve only seen glimpses of in previous MCU fare, while also setting up the new “big bad” for the next batch of Marvel projects.
It turns out that the little guy is up to the task.
We’re reintroduced to Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) as he adjusts to life as a celebrity after his substantial contribution to reversing the Blip in Avengers: Endgame.
His now-teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is also trying to find her way, dabbling with activism and quantum physics on top of her regular school life. The latter hobby leads her to create a sort of GPS for the Quantum Realm, allowing her to explore the area without actually going there. When Scott’s girlfriend Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) observe Cassie’s invention, all five are sucked into a portal from the satellite and transported to the Quantum Realm. Separated during their trip, Scott and Cassie must reunite with Hope and her parents to get back home while avoiding an all-powerful adversary in the process.
One area where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the most recent MCU movie before Quantumania, struggled was in building a compelling new setting by way of the murky underwater city of Talokan. The Quantum Realm has been seen briefly in the first Ant-Man as something of a cosmic purgatory where Scott lingered for a moment of peril, but in this sequel, we get to see much more of the universe. That gives way for some vivid new locations to be unveiled and plenty of neat creature design to fill the always-busy frame. We meet all sorts of strange characters, like a telepath whose head glows when he gets inbound thought messages from others and a Kirby-like slime being whose ooze can be ingested to allow outsiders to understand Quantum Realm languages. There’s even a talking broccoli, though he’s sadly not voiced by Dana Carvey.
The antagonist of Quantumania was introduced in the finale of Loki, a TV series that I would consider a prerequisite going into this latest MCU movie, as the variant He Who Remains. For the first hour of Quantumania, he could be called He Who Remains Nameless, as the movie always seems to cut away from any character right before they say his name. Eventually we find out: it’s Kang The Conqueror, a multiverse-hopping tyrant played with prestige and menace by Jonathan Majors.
Unlike Thanos, whose appearances leading up to Avengers: Infinity War were relegated to brief scenes and post-credit teasers, Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios are showing us more of this supervillain up front before his inevitable clash with the Avengers. This is an auspicious start for Majors in these MCU films and I’m looking forward to seeing how his character develops over time, so to speak.
My Quantumania quibbles aren’t much different than the ones I tend to have with the rest of these movies. The lighting, especially in close-up, is inconsistent, the editing is incoherent at times, and unlike the MCU output from last year, the third act is back to generally being a blur of clunky CGI action. But fans of the series likely won’t mind much of this because it’s potentially irrelevant to their experience and they aren’t new issues anyway. For me, this is the best of the three Ant-Man standalones because it finds new ways to flesh out this character — there’s a visual motif during a “probability storm” sequence that brought this home for me — in unpredictable ways.
As a trilogy capper, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania sends the underdog hero out on a high note and sets up as many future adventures as the box office can justify.
New movies coming this weekend
Playing only in theaters is Cocaine Bear, an action comedy starring Keri Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr. based loosely on the true story of a bear who goes on a killing rampage in a small Georgia town after ingesting a duffel bag full of cocaine.
Also coming only to theaters is Jesus Revolution, a faith-based drama starring Joel Courtney and Jonathan Roumie covering the true story of a national spiritual awakening in the early 1970s and its origins within a community of teenage hippies in Southern California.
Streaming on Netflix is We Have a Ghost, a family horror comedy starring David Harbour and Anthony Mackie about a family who finds a ghost named Ernest haunting their new home and turns him into an overnight social media sensation.