Review by C.J. Bunce
The 2015 Marvel movie Ant-Man has been in my top 10 list of all the superhero shows. Underdogs makes the best heroes, and it demonstrates how to make a lovable second-tier superhero into something greater. It’s been five years since we last saw Ant-Man aka Scott Lang aka Paul Rudd co-starring with Wasp aka Hope van Dyne aka Evangeline Lilly in the last Ant-Man movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp. Since then the Infinity War-Endgame ran its course and we’ve moved all the way through an entire “Phase” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase V begins with Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, and Marvel released it this week on Disney+. Its space fantasy effects are Marvel’s best yet. A worthy addition to the Ant-Man series with some great, surprise choices, it’s even more fun than the last Ant-Man movie. What else would you expect from Paul Rudd?
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania follows our five key Ant-Man players as they get sucked into the Quantum Realm–or are they pulled there by an old foe? Paul Rudd is back as the always friendly Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly is Hope van Dyne aka The Wasp, Michael Douglas is Dr. Hank Pym, and Michelle Pfeiffer is Dr. Janet van Dyne. The quirk viewers just need to get over fast is the swap for a new Cassie Lang actress–Marvel didn’t bring back the original now 14-year-old actress Abby Ryder Fortson (the best kid actor of the MCU) or the last actress to play Scott’s daughter in Avengers: Endgame, Emma Fuhrmann, casting instead 25-year-old MCU newcomer Kathryn Newton (Freaky, Supernatural) for the role. She pulls it off just fine.
We already knew the film would introduce the big villain for Phase V, Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors (Loki, Creed III), but was anyone prepared for another villain in the story, one even more famous for fans of Marvel Comics? It’s M.O.D.O.K., and it’s not just the ugly mechanized organism designed only for killing (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1967), it’s the return of Corey Stoll as Darren Cross from the first Ant-Man movie.
The choice of Cross as the villain is brilliant, and it fits especially viewing the films as a three act trilogy. Cross was a vile character, a true comic book supervillain, even willing to threaten then-little girl Cassie. Allowing him a chance at redemption, and a chance for a villain to partner with our affable hero, is consistent with the Ant-Man comics storytelling and humor across all past versions of the character in the comics pages.
Two other key characters enter the picture. First, Katy O’Brian, who played the double-crossing ex-Imperial in this season of The Mandalorian, plays a Quantum Realm barbarian named Jentorra, a leader like Sofia Boutella’s driven Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond who seizes the screen in every scene she appears. She works with The Resort’s William Jackson Harper as Quaz, a telepathic “alien” of sorts. The Quantum Realm is filled with alien-like beings, and every one of them is bigger and better than what we’ve seen in previous MCU entries. These are creative characters like we’ve not only never seen from Marvel, but from any Disney properties, including Star Wars. A bubble-like fellow named Veb (voiced by David Dastmalchian) spews a slime that, when drunk by humans, works as a universal translator. One of several cyborg beings, Xolum, played by James Cutler, is anthropomorphic but has a head that is a cylinder of energy. Grahame Fox’s creature has a head that looks like broccoli. It’s good stuff.
Adding to the oddball surprises from past MCU entries like Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok, Russell Crowe as Zeus in Thor: Love and Thunder, Sylvester Stallone’s Ravager from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Bruce Campbell’s Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is Bill Murray as Dr. van Dyne’s back-stabbing fling from her time in the Realm.
Screenwriter Jeff Loveness’s story is a simple one. Pfeiffer’s Dr. van Dyne left the Quantum Realm just as she was leading a revolution against a mysterious outcast–Kang–who was destroying civilizations within the Realm. Kang needs Pym Particles to bust out of his exile, and he threatens our team of heroes to get what he wants. But the humor is the best part. Like Scott walking down the street smiling and reflecting back on his life to the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter. Like Scott working with a parallel version of himself–the Scott who worked at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop. And appropriately, ants take center stage again.
The special effects are some of the best space fantasy effects to hit the big or small screen, nearly as imaginative as the best of them all, Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. You wouldn’t think someone could translate a wacky character like M.O.D.O.K. to live action, but they did it perfectly. And the rebellion army is full of unique and interesting creations, many CG, but some that appear to be made with prosthetics and makeups. Veb is a great effect. Nothing like Xolum has been done before. Even the buildings are sentient and cyborg–giant walking and even stranger–living–Transformers. Michael Douglas piloting an organic ship with googly arms is fantastically cool. The scenic landscapes show how far Hollywood has come since Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace.
It’s a welcome surprise after a few ho-hum MCU entries. All comic book movies should be this good. Chalk up another in the win column for director Peyton Reed. Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is now streaming on Disney+.