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Film review: Tiny protagonists, big implications in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’

Kathryn Newton (left) and Paul Rudd (right) play Cassie and Scott Lang in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” The third installment of the “Ant-Man” trilogy premiered in theaters Friday. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Directed by Peyton Reed 

Marvel Studios

Feb. 17

By Francis Moon

Feb. 17, 2023 5:01 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 20 at 9:39 p.m.

Marvel’s “little guy” just kicked off the film franchise’s new era in gigantic fashion.

With its most recent installment released in theaters Friday, the Marvel Cinematic Universe took a risk by tapping into one of its most lighthearted characters to ominously usher in Phase Five – but it paid off in lighting a newfound excitement for its future. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” brings its tiny hero down to an even smaller scale, introducing fans to a subatomic world brimming with outlandish, striking landscapes and unfamiliar creatures. Through the limitless possibilities of the multiverse in terms of both story and visuals, the film has unlocked entirely novel and promising directions for the MCU.

After catalyzing the Avengers’ heroics in “Avengers: Endgame,” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has made the most of his newfound fame while taking a break from the action. Having authored a book and being named employee of the century at Baskin-Robbins, the ex-con-turned-hero is simply happy to finally have a chance to be a father to his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Last seen played by Abby Ryder Fortson prior to the time blip in the last “Avengers” installment, Cassie has taken up her own interest in quantum technology. Unbeknownst to her father, she has built a satellite to the subatomic dimension with the help of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a pioneer of the field and the first to hold the title of Ant-Man.

[Related: Film Review: ‘The Good Nurse’ lacks great suspense for its serial killer plot]

The film manages to maintain the humorous reputation of its predecessors in the trilogy despite the daunting stakes for both the film and its characters. Familial values are also brought to the forefront in a quick and dramatic turn of events for Scott, as Cassie’s device sends and traps them, along with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her parents Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank, down to the Quantum Realm.

Viewers are then taken on a psychedelic, mind-bending trip down to a colorful subreality filled with unfamiliar life and scenery, akin to that of the “Star Wars” universe. But while the CGI is powerfully ambitious, it almost seems like too much at times, taking away from the empathetic storyline as it slows the film down while occasionally being distracting and unconvincing because of its bizarreness.

From broccoli-headed beings to flying buildings, the film blends humor into the plot just as well as it has in the past, inserting well-timed and well-delivered quips along with zany imagery into the exploration. An old friend of Scott’s also returns in the egotistical Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the antagonist of “Ant-Man,” who now possesses a deformed body with an enlarged head after Scott sent him to the Quantum Realm and now holds the moniker of M.O.D.O.K. – Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing. Stoll makes the most of his amusing-yet-menacing role, bringing his character full circle while playing Marvel’s most ambitious character design yet.

Making her MCU debut, Newton brings her own gusto to the character of Cassie and makes the most of the surprisingly limited spotlight she’s given. Her path in Scott’s footsteps as a hero is a bit rushed at times, almost seeming like an uninspired introduction to a growing collection of young Avengers. Although Newton was not dealt many favors in creating memorable moments, she was able to bring a newfound likability and energy to the character.

Pfeiffer also steals the show in several scenes with her emotionally convincing performance as a woman reunited with her family, carrying a chamber of secrets after being trapped in the Quantum Realm herself for 30 years. As Janet, Pfeiffer takes a leading role in exploring the novel universe and all it has to offer, bringing much more mystery and depth to the character with a convincing performance as a scarred mother.

The points where the film shines brightest are courtesy of Jonathan Majors, who makes his Marvel big-screen debut as Kang the Conqueror after appearing as He Who Remains in “Loki.” Anticipated to be the Avengers’ next major antagonist after Thanos, the timeline-jumping tyrant quickly establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with by showcasing his powerful ruthlessness, while Majors offers the perfect mix of charisma and fearsomeness in the role.

[Related: Film review: Marvel’s ‘Eternals’ features stellar cast but disengages viewers with dense plot]

Despite its successes, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” comes up short in living up to its titular name in one aspect. Lilly takes a backseat with no development of her character Hope or her alter-ego, the Wasp. And while Rudd brings his usual likable and quippy performance as the leading man, Majors draws much of the attention as the center of Marvel’s venture into time and parallel universes. But while the film spends much time and effort explaining Kang’s background to first-time viewers, the character’s personal motives still leave a bit to be desired, whether intentional or not.

Ultimately ending in typical Marvel fashion, two teasing post-credit scenes further set the stage for the franchise’s next endeavors and make it worth sticking with. Kang’s threat goes far beyond just the autocrat we meet in this film, and Majors has ultimately taken his mantle atop the spotlight of the franchise’s future.

After a few years of underwhelming installments, Ant-Man may have boosted the MCU to new heights in one of its most ambitious films yet.

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Francis Moon | Sports senior staff
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
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