de facto film reviews 1.5 stars

It feels like ages ago that the original Ant-Man film had been all set and ready to go with filmmaker Edgar Wright ready at the helm. History would go to show that investment was nullified right before production started and to serve as Wright’s replacement was director Peyton Reed, the filmmaker known for studio comedies such as the beloved Bring It On, but also Yes Man and The Break-Up. While Wright’s distinct fingerprints could still be felt all over the first Ant-Man, the film, and it’s sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, both served as enjoyable palette cleansers compared to the bombastic, save-the-world scenarios of the other Marvel outings at the time. Utilizing one of the defining powers of its titular hero wisely, the Ant-Man films effectively shrunk down the scale and delivered smaller, more pure-hearted thrills. Now being selected as the first film to kick off the new MCU Phase Five, in which audiences will get their big-screen introduction to Marvel’s next big baddie in the wake of Thanos in Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror ,the third film appears to ignore much of what made the first two films stand out in the first place.

In the years since the events of Avengers: Endgame, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is enjoying life as a celebrity and has even written a book about his experiences as an Avenger saving the world. Scott, alongside Hope Van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lily), Hope’s parents Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeifer), and Scott’s daughter Cassie, now played by Freaky star Kathryn Newton are all trapped inside the mysterious Quantum Realm and must not only escape the Realm, but escape the wrath of the feared Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors).

As the first film in the new Phase Five, it’s a baffling creative choice to place the major introduction of the future of the MCU in an Ant-Man film. Considering the scrappy little charm of the first two films, the fit is an odd one and never benefits the film from its newly delivered priorities. Gone are the hilarious pairing of Scott’s best friends, namely Michael Pena’s Luis, gone are the comparatively low stakes. Instead, Quanumania takes us to the much-feared Quantum Realm, filled with semi-quirky humanoids and murky-looking aliens that could be interchangeable with any other Star Trek-adjacent sci-fi project. It is nice to see some added practical make-up, and director Reed aims for the kind of spirit of sci-fi shows like Lost in Space or Doctor Who, but Reed, three Marvel movies in at this point, lacks the visual sophistication or vivid imagination needed to make it all work. The Quantum Realm is ultimately just a mishmash of other, better sci-fi worlds, taken from the likes of Dune, Star Trek and Star Wars. The Realm has little to no identifiable scale or original features that might otherwise bring some new threat to Ant-Man.

The continued exploitation of visual effects artists clearly continues as there are some truly horrific digital compositing. While not as blatantly unfinished as many of the effects in Thor: Love and Thunder, we’ve gotten to the point where Marvel films from ten to twelve years ago look infinitely more realized and, frankly, realistic compared to the aggressive digital slops the Marvel team has only double down on in recent years. We are in the year 2023 and we still have major tentpole blockbusters that can’t even mask basic green screen backgrounds. The world of the Quantum Realm is thoroughly caked in uninspired visual designs and bland character creations. There’s no sense of adventure to be had, the kooky “weirdness” is merely cute and the playful sense of humor from those first two films is all but totally excised. The use of fan-favorite comics character MODOK is sure to gain notoriety as the bastardization of one of Marvel’s most unique and quirkiest characters is soul-crushing. Think back to 2009 and how disastrous Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool was utilized in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and you’ll have an idea of what the filmmakers have concocted.

Paul Rudd still commands this role and the rest of the cast do what they can to hold up the weak script that repeats previous films characters arcs. Michelle Pfeifer is the films quiet MVP, giving depth and gravitas to perfunctory lines like “you sent a signal to the Quantum Realm?”. Her character, having been spent three decades stranded in the Realm, is given an added emphasis which Pfeifer carries quite well. Michael Douglas is still game for the franchise’s few genuinely strange moments, and Kathryn Newton is her usual likable presence. Evangeline Lily’s Hope is largely sidelined, merely serving second fiddle to the cast around her and Bill Murray steals his ten minutes of screentime in one of the films few sharply comedic scenes.

The film’s only primary reason of existence is to formerly introduce film audiences to the next major bad guy of the Marvel universe, Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror, after the character made his grand entrance in the season finale of Disney+’s Loki. Majors has undeniably shows his strengths as one of the most dynamic younger actors to appear in recent years. His shattering performance in the 2019 masterpiece The Last Black Man in San Francisco rightfully garnered him universal acclaim, leading to roles in the kickass, hip hip-infused western The Harder They Fall and an Emmy nomination for his work on the HBO series Lovecraft Country. With the next Avengers film titled The Kang Dynasty, Marvel is clearly all-in on Majors in this role. The promise for more is certainly promised, with fleeting glimpses of the kind of fun Majors will most definitely have in future Marvel projects. However, little of that is felt in Quantumania, relying on Majors to be a fearful presence, but not much more. Kang is menacing, but that’s all he is. Majors imposing physicality is a welcome addition to a Marvel villain as I would argue Kang is far more imposing in a one-on-one fight as opposed to him turning blue and shooting colorful streams of energy out of his fingertips. Still, this is a villain that is only teased of his full potential, never fully justifying his time here as a largely generic Marvel villain.

Despite the occasional film such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Spider-Man: No Way Home showing purpose to exist, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Marvel is simply running on fumes post-Endgame and this is as clear a case as any. Apart from James Gunn’s upcoming trilogy-closer, its gets harder and harder to care about Marvel’s future slate. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania trades in all the charm and breezy, scrappy fun of the first two films for a dull, visually unappealing sci-fi adventure with no discernible personality of its own.