Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Falls Short Despite its Massive Potential

James O'Brien


Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is an absolute mess. As the opening chapter to Phase 5, I went into it hoping for Marvel to turn over a new leaf and start fresh after Phase 4’s lacklustre slate. However, instead I was disheartened to see them slip into the same pitfalls that have now become mainstays of the MCU.

Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man, finding himself once again trapped in the subatomic Quantum Realm. He continues to own the role, with his everyman superhero persona making him a charming and endearing protagonist. Rudd is the ideal choice for the character, being equal parts humorous and heartfelt. Due to his likeable nature, you always find yourself rooting for him as he fights to save not only his family, but the Multiverse itself.

Jonathan Majors’ main antagonist, Kang the Conqueror, is easily the best part of this film. As the MCU’s next Thanos, he had big boots to fill. Luckily, he steps up to the plate, delivering a strong performance. His presence perfectly juxtaposes Lang’s, being stone-faced and serious compared to the warmer, more light-hearted Scott. He feels like a legitimate danger to the MCU, with sinister ambitions and the powerful means of achieving them. He is a villain who has no issue following through on his threats, and as a result feels more intimidating than any other recent Marvel adversary. If Majors can continue to bring this menace to the role, I believe he has a promising future as the MCU’s new big bad.

Unfortunately, the rest of the main cast do not reach such heights. Many characters are noticeably underwritten. Previously prominent heroes such as Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s titular Wasp are side-lined almost entirely, contributing very little to the plot. Michelle Pfeiffer has a much more substantial role this time around as Janet Van Dyne after her somewhat brief appearance in the prior film. Her expanded backstory and personal connection to the villain certainly make her one of the more fleshed-out characters, but as the plot goes on she begins to feel less like a person and more like a plot device.

Kathryn Newton replaces Emma Fuhrmann as Cassie Lang, Scott’s now rebellious teenage daughter. The father-daughter bond between the pair has always been the emotional core of the Ant-Man trilogy. However, unlike with the original incarnations of Cassie, I was never fully convinced by their dynamic. A certain spark was missing that made their scenes feel far less natural. Whereas Quantumania should have been the dramatic peak of their relationship, it instead felt like a step down in quality.

And then there’s MODOK. Oh MODOK. Despite his absurd appearance, this giant, floating head is often touted in the comics as one of the most intelligent beings in the Marvel universe. This intelligence combined with a cold, calculated demeanour and desire for world domination has made him a surprisingly formidable threat in the past. After seeing his mostly comic-accurate look in promotional material, I was excited to see him finally be depicted on the big screen. However, this is not the MODOK we were given. Instead, he is no more than cheap comic-relief and a glorified henchman. Besides his appearance, he is a completely different character. Corey Stoll clearly has fun as MODOK, cracking jokes and playing into the ridiculousness of the part, but not once does he show any of the characteristics that make MODOK…well, MODOK. I’m not someone who likes to complain about deviations from the source material, but when a role so drastically strays from it to the point of being something else entirely, it feels like a disservice.

Oh, and Bill Murray shows up for one scene and leaves no impact whatsoever. So there’s that too.

The writing in Quantumania is some of the weakest I’ve seen in recent memory, not just by Marvel standards, but Hollywood in general. There are so many issues plaguing the script. There is little implementation of ‘show, don’t tell’, with multiple exposition dumps being used to bring the audience up to speed. Not only is this boring for the viewer, but there are also still several questions left unanswered. Rather than seeing characters solve problems, they are often explained away with paper-thin reasoning. There are plot holes aplenty, with the movie’s logic often clashing with both itself and other MCU instalments. We even get a deus ex machina. 

The film also has the same problem embedded in most MCU outings: Marvel dialogue. Every single character, with the refreshing exception of Kang, constantly spouts quips and one-liners. Everyone must be a stand-up comedian, giving the experience that classic, stagnant MCU feel that causes every film to blur together into one amorphous corporate mass. When everything is a joke, nothing matters. Any sense of gravity or emotion is dissolved. In addition to this, the screenwriters repeatedly pull their punches. Although the Multiverse and time as we know it are at risk, the stakes still feel incredibly low. There are various opportunities throughout the film to witness the characters face real consequences for their actions. However, we never get to see this happen, as the plot pulls on the reins before anything substantial can occur. For a film that should be one of the most important chapters of the MCU, it just comes across as inconsequential by adhering to Marvel’s predictable status quo and playing it safe.

Rather than telling a compelling narrative, Quantumania instead seemingly chooses to place all its focus on its visuals. However, it fails terribly in this area too. The Quantum Realm is intended to be a mind-blowing, microscopic world of wonder. Full of psychedelic vistas and fantastical creatures, this should be a spectacle to behold. Yet despite 90% of the runtime taking place in this setting, it is just plain ugly. After seeing a film like ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’, a truly revolutionary movie in terms of visual effects, Quantumania is a monumental downgrade. Even with its Marvel-sized budget, its world is unexpectedly unpleasant to look at. 

Every aspect feels like it is pulled straight out of either a PlayStation 2 game or a Robert Rodriguez movie from the early 2000s. With so many game-changing leaps and bounds being made in the field of visual effects, to see such poor compositing, obvious green screen, and abhorrent CGI (see MODOK’s face for reference) is such a let-down. The movie is such an assault on the eyes. Everything is far too elaborately over-designed. There simply is no sense of visual cohesion. One moment we see colour-saturated landscapes and living buildings. The next its industrial, space-age cities. While this variety does give the Quantum Realm a unique look, it also feels inconsistent and scatter-brained. Instead of one living, breathing world, there is no sense of place. Without a setting that follows a semblance of visual logic, the viewer has no way of forming a feeling of scope in their mind, thus making it difficult to allow themselves to become immersed. This dramatically reduces the level of engagement the audience is capable of achieving. 

This incoherent design philosophy further extends to the inhabitants of the Quantum Realm. Ranging from hairy monsters and robots with laser cannons for heads to broccoli men and humanoid warriors, there is just so much going on at once on-screen. And yet these characters still feel boring and unmemorable, besides a goo monster with a bizarre obsession with holes. For a place that is so visually cluttered, it still can’t help but feel incredibly empty.

The fact that the film almost entirely takes place in the Quantum Realm becomes even more frustrating when you realise it takes away what audiences expect to see most from Ant-Man: his shrinking abilities. Sure, there are various fight sequences that see him alter his size, but that is not the issue. The novelty of Ant-Man is the change in perspective of how we see the world around us. A garden can become a vast jungle. A mouse can become a terrifying beast. A train set can become the backdrop for an intense action set piece. We get to experience the ordinary in a way that becomes extraordinary. By dumping the character into just another alien environment, it removes that essential sense of familiarity that makes the shrinking concept so much fun. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes the character great.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania embodies everything currently wrong with the MCU. It is a poorly written, ugly CGI-fest that takes no risks and makes me wish they just stopped at Endgame. It wastes one of the most interesting heroes in Marvel’s roster and one of the best villains the franchise has seen to date, all in an attempt to set up more instalments in a faltering cinematic universe instead of being a satisfying conclusion to a well-known trilogy. Even though Phase 5 and the Multiverse Saga are promising to be bigger than anything we’ve ever seen in the MCU before, after this film my excitement levels just continue to shrink.


James O’Brien