Ushering in Phase 5 with the Hugely Tiny QUANTUMANIA

Marvel Studios

I seem to be in the minority, but I was very pleased with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a very different kind of adventure for Ant-Man and his family-based crew that wildly changes the scope and formula of the series and delivers hearty chuckles, a menacing villain, and a foothold for what’s to come in the next “Phase” of the MCU.

Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is one of the lower-key Marvel superheroes, a smart but basically normal dude who gets professionally and romantically involved with the ingenious Pym/Van Dyne family: patriarch and scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) who spent decades lost in the Quantum Realm before being rescued, and daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Collectively they are successive generations of the superheroes known as “Ant-Man and The Wasp”. It’s this family’s connection to the mysterious Quantum Realm, a subatomic place beyond time, that has improbably made the humble Ant-Man a lynchpin in the world of the Avengers and their time-heist against the “big bad”, Thanos.

In their latest adventure, the family, including Scott’s teenage daughter Cassie, accidentally gets zapped into the Quantum Realm together, connecting them once again to the new major villain, a spectre of Janet’s past — the exiled, multiverse-threatening warlord Kang the Conquerer (the always incredible Jonathan Majors), who seems to be set up as the next “big bad” across the next phase of the Marvel movies.

Marvel Studios

I feel this film will get a lot of comparisons to Star Wars, because that, more so than the familiar baseline of Marvel, is the world it evokes. The “Quantum Realm”, where our protagonists are accidentally stranded, may be a submicroscopic place beyond time, but in essence it’s basically a strange new world, peopled with both humanoid and “alien” creatures. Our introduction to its inhabitants, including a scene set in a cantina, evokes the offworld creations of George Lucas.

I feel like director Peyton Reed saw his opportunity to make a Star Wars movie and totally jumped on it. There’s a ton of imagination on the screen, even if the backdrop is simply about rebels fighting an evil empire. I especially had a huge smile whenever M.O.D.O.K., arguably the most onerous Marvel character to attempt to translate into live action territory, made an appearance. He’s weird and hilarious in the absolute best way, though how this character lands with the audience may be a litmus test for the movie as a whole.

Marvel Studios

This huger (though technically tinier) scope bristles against the aesthetic of the first two films, which were among the more grounded and family-centered, low-stakes adventures in a cinematic universe where averting apocalypses is the norm. But that’s a feature, not a bug. And while I miss elements of those films (especially Scott’s mischievous crew of ex-con pals, palpably absent here), it’s a newer world with young Cassie, who was just a tot in the first movie, taking more of the center stage and ushering in a third generation in a family of heroes.

As much as I enjoyed it, one thing that does irk me about the film is that its ending very clumsily squanders a meaningful opportunity, teasing the stage for a cliffhanger that once again changes the stakes (or at least puts the audience off balance going into the next Ant-venture), but then immediately does this opposite, fully taking the steam out of what is poised to be a cool ending in favor of the status quo. A really unfortunate misstep at the finish line that mars an otherwise enjoyable family adventure.

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