Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania - Small, Fast, and Weird


Tom Layton shrinks down and heads into the quantum realm in his review of the newest Marvel flick

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Image by IMDb

By Tom Layton

Like its title, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) is a film that is ripe with potential, yet it ultimately appears abstract, clunky and awkward. The opening scenes are full of promise, featuring a goofy rom-com style musical segment narrated by Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant Man’s internal monologue. Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is in trouble with the police, and Scott clashes with his parents over parenting techniques, much to the anger of the stubborn, teenage Cass. On top of this, Scott seems to be suffering a midlife crisis of sorts, having written an autobiography that places him at the centre of the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), and features the insanely cringeworthy phrase: “Look out for the little guy!”.

These scenes are rapidly paced and full of self-aware and self-deprecating humour, which fit well with the larger-than-life superhero setting. They bring a tantalisingly grounded perspective to the superhero existence, present a tense family drama, and begin to ask harder moral questions of superhero lifestyles.

Unfortunately, this is hampered by a hamfisted script that produces comically bad dialogue, and the nuanced themes hinted at by this promising opening are ironically shrunk down and simplified as the film goes on. The dialogue is at best a bit rigid, and at worst unbelievable, so mired in tropes that it left me incredulous. Lines such as “you can talk about it if you want”, “we call him the conqueror”, and “It's never too late to stop being a dick” could be campy fun, except for the fact that the film for the most part takes its dialogue entirely seriously, making such lines grating instead of endearing.

The dialogue is further simplified by the characters’ insistence on using bland, abstract terms to describe people - “he’s just too powerful”, for example. The random technobabble inserted into the script doesn’t help either. I wasn’t expecting Aaron Sorkin, but this is ridiculous.

These problems only become more glaring once our heroes enter the quantum realm, a world within our own, on a subatomic scale. The quantum realm is presented as a set of interconnected worlds, between which travel is possible, and within each resides a distinct culture or civilisation. The boundaries of these worlds are kept ambiguous, and Janet Van Dyke (Michelle Pfeiffer) alludes to differing laws of physics and a transformed passing of time. The civilisations we get glimpses of are fascinating, such as a bedraggled collection of different species using living buildings to travel, who are caught up in a refugee exodus, and a pristine, high-tech cosmopolitan city under the yoke of an authoritarian regime.

While some of the set-pieces offer sumptuous, detailed visuals, a lot of the larger scenes are where the CGI falls flat, making lush alien landscapes appear tired and lifeless. Furthermore, the script fails to meaningfully explore this captivating setting, and makes it difficult to build any kind of emotional relationship with its inhabitants. The quantum realm only seems to function as a minor plot-point in the larger Marvel we Universe, as a place from which our heroes must escape.

One stand-out set-piece is when Ant-Man enters a ‘probability storm’ in an effort to save Cassie. As he travels through the storm, time and space begin to warp, as every possible decision begins to manifest itself around him. Rudd delivers a strong performance in this scene, and a blend of witty comedy and disorientating cinematography, alongside a compelling exploration of the mind-bending physics of the quantum realm setting makes this scene a microcosm of what the film seems to be reaching for.

The villain, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), is a high point of the film, and his scenes are where the script really shines. Kang’s dialogue is both gripping and terrifying, and Majors perfects a clinical and cruel attitude underpinned by volcanic frustration and childishness. His sporadic violence is shockingly disturbing for a Marvel film, making for a refreshing change that audiences will appreciate.

Unfortunately, the side-villain, MODOK (Corey Stoll), is much weaker. He has a compelling backstory that involves betrayal and a crippling disability, followed by what has the potential to be a moving character arc. This is undercut (once again) by the script, which has the heroes subject MODOK to a barrage of hateful comments based solely on his appearance, which feel very tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film. These comments are pathetic, and the heroes never face any kind of retribution for their actions, whilst MODOK receives no real form of apology, nor a meaningful redemption.

Despite these glaring issues and some very awkward and heavy-handed comedy, the pacing of the film is rapid and the plot is unconventional enough to be surprising. This makes the film enjoyable despite its issues, which seem like a waste of good material. What is expanded on, such as the mind-bending physics of the quantum realm and Kang’s morality and backstory, is so compelling that it is criminal to leave so much else unexplored.

Editor's note: This film was screened at CityScreen Picturehouse with a press ticket
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