There is a unexplored world beneath the surface of everything we see. This is the core idea of the Quantum Realm in Marvel Comics. It is also the chief problem with Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, which has a lot going on visually, but none of it is as interesting as the stories it overlooks.
The movie is quick to catch us up on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who is reveling in his newfound celebrity as a world-saving superhero after the events of Avengers: Endgame. His relationship with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is still going strong and they can now get through a family dinner with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) with a minimum of squabbling. The only sour spot is his relationship with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who has started using shrinking tech as a social crusader and been arrested twice.
Of larger concern is that Cassie has begun experimenting with her adoptive grandfather’s old tech to start sending signals into the Quantum Realm. This causes the entire family to be forcibly shrunk and drawn into the same world where Janet van Dyne was stranded for three decades. Janet is reluctant to talk about her experiences, which are revealed to involve a being known as The Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) and her accidental role in empowering him.
The lion’s share of Quantumania is devoted to establishing The Conqueror as a major threat and it does that well, which is fortunate since he is meant to be the chief villain of the next two phases of the MCU. Jonathan Majors delivers a strong performance, managing the difficult task of playing a villain who is a mass-murdering lunatic yet oddly sympathetic in that, ultimately, all he wants is to go home. Unfortunately, that same level of development doesn’t go into the rest of the ensemble, beyond Scott’s efforts to repair his relationship with Cassie.
Hope van Dyne suffers the most in this regard, seemingly having no role in the movie other than saving her boyfriend when it looks like he’s about to make a Noble Sacrifice To Save The World (TM). While this is sadly typical of the female leads in most action movies, it’s also strange given how well the previous Ant-Man movies utilized Hope’s character and were just as much about her reconciling with her father and proving herself as they were Scott Lang getting his life together.
This makes it all the stranger that Quantumania makes no effort to zero in on the relationship between Hope and Janet, who constitute the only mother/daughter superhero legacy in the MCU. Hope’s character in earlier films was defined by her anger at growing up without a mother because of her father and her understandable desire to find her mom once given proof she was still alive. Unfortunately, any mother/daughter bonding takes place off-camera. Hope and Janet’s interaction on-screen is largely limited to Hope repeatedly asking what her mother had been doing for the last 30 years and Janet saying there is no time to explain or that she doesn’t want to talk about it.
While the characterization of Jeff Loveness’ screenplay is shallow, the film’s visuals are outstanding. Quantumania is more of a spectacle piece than the earlier Ant-Man films, with a CGI feast that captures the grand scope of Jack Kirby’s artwork. Peyton Reed directs this beautifully, but there’s not as much of the humor that defined his earlier films and I do miss that, even as I recognize that its a little hard to work pithy slapstick into a battle to save reality.
In the end, while critics like myself might lament what Quantumania might have been, it isn’t all that bad. It’s a flawed film, to be sure, and it feels like more thought went into what it was setting up rather than its own stories and characters. But like Scott Lang himself might say in his book, its the mistakes that make things interesting and sometimes it is best to just enjoy the ride.