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(L-R): Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Kathryn Newton as Cassandra "Cassie" Lang in Marvel Studios' ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, left, and Kathryn Newton as Cassandra 'Cassie' Lang in Marvel Studios' Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Directed by Peyton Reed

Written by Jeff Loveness

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Jonathan Majors

Classification PG; 125 minutes

Opens in theatres Feb. 17

Now 31 films and five “phases” deep, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is as big as big can be: an unstoppable juggernaut (if not the X-Men mutant Juggernaut) of a machine, gigantic and crushing. But as oppressive and bland a behemoth as the MCU has become, it‘s also smuggled tiny nuggets of wit and joy into the margins of its films – moments so small, really, to be ant-sized.

While the Hulk was busy smashing and Doctor Strange conjuring, director Peyton Reed’s pair of Ant-Man films delivered welcome bursts of low-stakes fun that felt multiverses removed from the overwhelming sameness of the MCU’s disingenuous Avengers spectacles. Reed’s first superhero outing, 2015′s Ant-Man, was a thoroughly enjoyable piece of pop, a bouncy heist film wrapped in the guise of a traditional comic-book origin story.

Reed’s follow-up, 2018′s Ant-Man and the Wasp, was slightly diminished owing to increasingly convoluted MCU continuity obligations, but still retained the successful formula of its predecessor: 60 per cent humour, 20 per cent action, 18 per cent impeccable casting, 2 per cent ants.

Eternally boyish star Paul Rudd is essential to Ant-Man’s what-me-worry comic energy, but he needs the verve of previous franchise co-stars Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and Randall Park to bounce off, too. (Evangeline Lilly has always been around, too, but her Wasp hero is given so little colour that she can only be a good sport about it all, a task she manages easily enough.)

Certainly, the adventures themselves aren’t of much consequence, but that’s kind of the point, too – Reed’s Ant-Man films are low-key hangout films. All manner of people and cars and multistorey buildings might shrink and supersize themselves, but the movies are careful to humanize even the tiniest of bit players, up to and including the actual ants.

All of which is why Reed’s third Marvel outing, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is such a sloppy and rotten thing to stomach. Interminable, ugly and almost completely bereft of charm, the new film is both a dispiriting reminder that the MCU has abandoned wit and that even the most clever and idiosyncratic of filmmakers can be steamrolled by the unstoppable obligations of corporate storytelling.

Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, in which thief-turned-hero Scott Lang (Rudd) prepaid the price for saving the world by spending years trapped inside the subatomic particle universe known as the Quantum Realm, everyone’s favourite teeny-tiny Avenger is busy trying to make up for lost time by bonding with his now twentysomething daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton).

Trouble is that Cassie is more interested in hanging out with surrogate grandpa/super-scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), together developing a device that will let them communicate with the Quantum Realm. Which is also where Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), spent three decades of her life trapped after a rescue mission gone awry.

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Jonathan Majors as Kang The Conqueror in Marvel Studios' ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo by Jay Maidment. © 2022 MARVEL.

Jonathan Majors stars as Kang in Quantumania. The movie's multiple dry-as-dust Kang monologues will only make sense to Marvel acolytes who paid careful attention to his first MCU appearance in last year’s Disney+ series Loki.Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Quickly – far too quickly, as the best part of the Ant-Man films are watching regular-guy Lang balance his Avengers fame with real-world responsibilities – the whole family is zapped into the Quantum Realm, where a mysterious being named Kang (Jonathan Majors) is plotting something disastrous.

Add in a sleepy Bill Murray cameo, a few visually incomprehensible action set-pieces, and lots – and lots – of dry-as-dust Kang monologues that will only make sense to Marvel acolytes who paid careful attention to the dude’s first MCU appearance in last year’s Disney+ series Loki, and you have the makings of a depressingly disposable thing.

Like this past fall’s similarly undercooked Disney film Strange World, Quantumania mistakes multicoloured blobs and squishy floating goop for a genuinely “weird” visual style, as if a kindergartener were asked to ape the works of Salvador Dali with a box of broken crayons.

Coloured wall-to-fake-wall with cheap-looking CGI, the film looks like it was shot from inside the guts of a first-generation iPhone – there is an aesthetic emptiness to it all that is soul-crushing.

And the less said about the character design of Kang’s sidekick MODOK (that would stand for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing) the better: The villain is an aggressively garish creation that will make your eyes bleed when they aren’t rolling. Decades of VFX innovation and countless billions of dollars spent to build imaginary onscreen worlds, and the darkly lit, painfully ugly nothingness of the Quantum Realm is the best that Hollywood can come up with?

Almost as depressing is just how determined Reed – or, more likely, his MCU minders – seem to be in stripping any remnant of the real-world delights of his first two films. Pena, Greer and Cannavale are all absent (Park, too, aside from a wordless two-second appearance), as is the playful inventiveness with which Reed shrunk and supersized Lang’s home-base of San Francisco.

The concept and importance of scale – so crucial to a movie about a guy whose superpower is, you know, getting bigger and smaller – is rendered non-existent.

The Quantum Realm is just another barren space for things to go pew-pew-pew-bang-crash-boom, devoid of dimension. (Any hope that Reed would be paying homage to Joe Dante’s classic adventure Innerspace – not unreasonable, given that Quantumania’s poster directly references that 1987 film – goes out the window immediately.)

There is one good thing to say about Quantumania, though: Like its two predecessors, it is entirely skippable for even the die hardest of MCU diehards. Without wading into dreaded spoiler territory, the consequences of its story are meaningless, its much anticipated end-credits sequences (there are two, for those who need to know) essentially bridging narrative gaps that don’t quite need to be connected.

With the first two Ant-Man films, this standalone-ness was a feature, not a bug – it just allowed more time for Reed to develop his characters and sharpen the comedy. Here, it’s all stage-setting for a franchise long past its prime.

Good on Rudd and everyone else involved for grabbing that MCU money, but this is truly baby-food cinema. Mush that can either stuff you to sleep or be thrown at the wall.

Open this photo in gallery:
(L-R): Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man in Marvel Studios' ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

Like its two predecessors, Quantumania is entirely skippable for even the die hardest of MCU die-hards.Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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