Howdy, folks! I am excited to tell you that I saw my first film in the theater of 2023 and it, of course, had to be a spectacle. Who better to offer the spectacular, then, than Marvel? I can confidently say, after a slew of releases that were divisive at best, Marvel is back to true form with ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA! (There will be mild spoilers ahead)
While driving to the theater and recalling Michael Peña’s previous exposition dumps, a smile crossed my face. That’s a heck of a trick if it can make you smile just thinking about, so I was very interested and excited to see if we’d get a third ride in his charmingly tangential head. Sadly, no. There is no Peña, no T.I., but surprisingly there is still Dastmalchian, but not in the flesh. We’ll get to that.
ANT-MAN 3 takes place almost entirely in the Quantum Realm, which offers the visual artists at Marvel/Disney the opportunity to crank up the creativity and colors to eleven. While filming there was much to-do about the film’s logo looking like a Led Zeppelin album name and those jokes pay off when the film itself plays out like a psychedelic concept album of togetherness through our otherness.
Quite unlike Scott Lang’s first two outings, ANT-MAN 3 is a deathly serious film. There is still humor, to be sure, but it is used smartly and sparingly. Whereas THOR: LOVE & THUNDER overused humor to its detriment, ANT-MAN 3 uses it where it belongs: in the spaces between life and death. The film’s villain, Kang, is unquestionably menacing and seemingly insurmountable, so there is very little to laugh about when he is onscreen.
The film is a three-legged table, held up by Pfeiffer, Rudd, and Majors. Newcomer Kathryn Newton is wonderful but is largely relegated to being a plot device, albeit an engaging one. Dasmtalchian voices a goo creature named Veb, who brings a levity to the uncertainty of the Quantum Realm, and Hannah John-Kamen plays a resistance fighter that is indistinguishable from Valkyrie as she is given no motivation or backstory.
But I’m not here to split hairs and talk about what this film does wrong. I’m here to praise it, because after the last few features that Marvel has released, this film marks a return to formula that creates a product that will not divide its fans in any way. I predict this film will be universally celebrated, as it has a tremendous heart, a terrifying villain, visceral fight sequences, and just the right amount of peril to satisfy that itch that we didn’t know we had until Marvel scratched us back in 2008 with IRON MAN.
One of the things the film gets particularly right is M.O.D.O.K. who I’d forgotten was in the film before his name was mentioned. I was talking to a friend about his inclusion in the film and a certain awareness that I felt had to be present in a live-action adaptation. When M.O.D.O.K. appears in a comic book or animated feature everyone shudders and says “Oh no! It’s M.O.D.O.K.” But if he were to appear to any person who is expected to have a loose tether with our real world, the response would always be the same:
“The fuck is that? Are you a giant head? Holy Shit!”
And this film does that! Every time someone see him for the first time they say “Holy Shit!” Which is not to say that M.O.D.O.K. doesn’t strike fear when he is onscreen, because he’s genuinely frightening, but he’s also a giant fucking head so we have to take some time to recognize that.
Pfeiffer is also a plot device, but she’s also an exposition machine, which gives her plenty of time to chew up the screen and show a badass side to her that was only alluded to in her previous Marvel outing. She shines as a mother and a protector of all children, and her scenes with Michael Douglas and Bill Murray are a sparkling tribute to legacy actors in a fun, imaginative environment.
Paul Rudd acts his ass off in this movie, and his portrayal of Scott shows an arc from a carefree hero reading his own headlines and resting on his laurels to a dedicated father who will stop at nothing to protect his daughter and loved ones. His fight with Kang towards the end of the film is so wrought with tension, the sound design cranked up to the rafters with punches that sound like they could down a T-Rex. I was gripping my seat for the whole sequence, and I haven’t felt anything for a Marvel hero like that in some time. Perhaps it’s a credit to Rudd, because even after five films of him running around and punching or being punched, we still don’t see him as a hero. He’s a thief in over his head, and he’s kind of making it up as he goes along, like we would. He demonstrates to Cassie how to fight once she dons her own suit, and it reminds us that these “heroes” that we’ve been watching for years largely didn’t start out that way. When you watch CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, you wonder how Tony is standing on his own against Steve and Bucky, who were both military-trained combatants and he was a spoiled rich kid up until a few years back. It speaks to a larger story beneath the celluloid: that being a hero isn’t just moments and gestures but daily work towards being one’s best self. While watching ANT-MAN 3 I did start to see Rudd as a hero, because I saw him doing a hero’s work, and I think that’s the real magic of the film.
But no hero is complete without a villain, and Jonathan Majors’ Kang is one for the ages. (His comics accurate wardrobe is a delight, too.) He’s a creature of rage. He has machinations, like Thanos, but his motivations aren’t altruistic at all. He is a scorned man, a monster made by the cage that contains him, and when he snaps, he becomes not a Conqueror but a Destroyer. A friend who saw the film lamented his slow speech pattern, but I reminded her that he exists outside of time. When time is not a limited commodity, you can take it at your leisure. I perceived his speech pattern as a character choice. Kang has all the time in the world, but he still demonstrates a childlike impatience when it comes to getting what he wants. His tantrums tear worlds apart, and his end goal is to stand alone. He turns all who see his true form into weeping children. I cannot wait to see what Kang and/or his variants will continue to bring to the Marvel Universe as it moves forward.
ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is a triumph, a return, and an amazing film. Its visuals rival DR. STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, its scope stands alongside BLANK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, and its heart is larger and more relatable than THOR: LOVE & THUNDER. It is what all those films could have been but for one reason or another didn’t quite stick the landing. ANT-MAN 3 executes a flawless superhero landing, and changes Scott Lang’s life forever. As you know, a superhero landing is hell on the knees.
ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is playing in theaters everywhere now.
Until next time, stay super!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-