Image courtesy of Marvel/Disney

New beginnings bring new excitement, but also new challenges.

Such is the takeaway vibe I got from our advance screening of ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,’ the kickoff for Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Let’s be clear from the get-go: Marvel has been giving us entertaining, high-quality films for a long time now.  Almost 25 years, across dozens of television series, along with short films and literature tie-ins… this juggernaut is no slouch.  Unfortunately, every entry into the series can’t be a home run – and that’s where we need to have some “real talk” about ‘Quantumania.’

The story itself is right in line with what viewers have been given across the over-arching MCU narrative to date: things on Earth appear to be “settling in” a bit post-Blip (although, frustratingly, ‘Quantumania’ still does not reference anything to do with the giant stone Eternal that is now sticking out of the Earth, half-stuck, as shown in the climax of ‘The Eternals,’ with this new film believed to be the 11th property to take place in the MCU timeline set after those events with absolutely zero remarks or tie-ins to it).

The story does reference The Blip, of course, as our main characters are working hard to try and make this world a better place from where things were when Thanos snapped half of the universe’s population out of existence before the Avengers were able to bring everyone back five years later.  Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is now the CEO of the PymvanDyne company, using their patented shrinking & enlarging technology to help the world battle issues with resources, de-and-re-forestation, and more.  The now-teenaged Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) is doing her best as a more boots-on-the-ground social justice warrior, with some behind-the-scenes help from her adoptive grandparents Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).

And what of Cassie’s father, self-assured Avenger Scott Lang (Paul Rudd)?  Well, he’s enjoying the (relatively) quiet time by strutting around town attempting, and mostly succeeding, to calm his inner doubts about his worthiness of being a key part of the aforementioned superhero team.  After all, why shouldn’t he be secure in his status: he’s been a key part of saving the world a few times over now.  Sure, it’s mostly his incredible shrinking-and-growing suit that’s super-powered and not him, but it’s the person inside the suit that counts the most, right?  You can likely hear all of this internal debate and more in the memoir he’s written, which he is enjoying hawking around town at author readings and book signings.

So, life is good – until it isn’t.  We quickly discover that one of Cassie’s projects has involved, with Hank’s help, a high-powered telescope of sorts that allows for the mapping of the Quantum Realm, the subatomic universe “beneath” our own where Scott was temporarily trapped (but it’s okay because that was a key piece of defeating Thanos), where the Avengers skirted the laws of time to travel in order to beat Thanos (but it totally makes sense, in a convoluted sci-fi kind of way), and where Janet spent 30 years marooned (but refuses to talk about her time there, because plot reasons).

Image courtesy of Marvel/Disney

Except the device isn’t passively mapping the Quantum Realm – it’s sending a signal down there in order to get its job done.  This signal, despite a too-late warning from Janet, has been intercepted by someone in the miniature universe – and that certain someone uses the signal to pull our (mostly) super-suited quintet into the Quantum Realm, where a powerful threat is revealed and needs to be dealt with.

As for the rest of the story – well, watch the movie if you want that, I’m not here to spoil every little detail for you!  It’s no secret, of course, to tell you that ‘Quantumania’ serves as the introduction of the next big super-bad villain, Kang (Jonathan Majors).  In the world of Marvel comic book tales, Kang the Conqueror made his first appearance in the pages of The Avengers way back in the 1960s, so he is a good choice as a high-level threat to, uh, threaten our heroes and our reality.

His origin story has become a bit convoluted and involved over the years, but it appears that the MCU is planning on taking its time with explaining to audiences just who and what Kang fully is, as evidenced by this film.  We get a LOT of Kang opining, orating, and generally showing off how powerful he is (mostly – again, no spoilers here, but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if the bad guy won, right?), but for all that exposition, viewers may still leave the theaters feeling frustratingly vague on just what Kang’s actual motivations are.

Image courtesy of Marvel/Disney

The “average fan” is probably going to find a lot to pick apart in this movie.  I’d guesstimate that over 80% of what we are given takes place in front of a green-screen or the other new CGI-type technology that Disney has pioneered (StageCraft and the like), and it shows, not always in the best way.  There are scenes with characters together – one in particular with Douglas, Pfeiffer, Newton, and Bill Murray playing Quantum Realm governor Krylar – where the setting is so unnatural that one must wonder if these actors were even in the same room filming these scenes or if it all was pieced together in post-production.  It seemed that, for the denizens of the Quantum Realm, director Peyton Reed and the creative team wanted things to feel so fantastical that they perhaps just borrowed as many crazy visuals from films that came before them (some that come to mind are ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Mad Max,’ really any crazy-looking sci-fi type movie from the last 30-40 years could serve as a template here).

There’s a whole subplot involving a revolutionary-style group of folks living in the Quantum Realm who are tired of Kang’s despotic rule, but this again feels very by-the-numbers and nothing that we haven’t been given in a typical “motley citizens rise up and discover that we are more powerful together than apart” type of scenario.  After a while, it all just starts to feel so… generic.

So, in the end of it all: is ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quanumania’ a home-run?  For me, the answer is a “no,” particularly compared to some of the amazing work that we’ve seen Marvel already produce in the MCU run.  It is, however, an enjoyable film overall, with lots to take in visually, and solid performances from several MCU characters that we’ve come to know and love.  It will aptly serve as a stepping-stone into the next generation of MCU content.  They don’t all have to be home-runs; even a solid double from a comic-book movie is better than lots of swing-and-miss films that have come out lately.  And that’s not so bad, pardon the pun, when you put it all under the microscope.

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ hits US theaters on February 17, 2023.