Kang Bang

‘Quantumania’ brings a killer new big-screen villain to the MCU, but not much else

Expect diminishing returns from the diminutive Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his family of downsizing superheroes in this subpar sub-atomic adventure from Marvel Studios. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is overflowing with busy visuals and predictably looney riffs on particle physics, but its stable of static characters make for an oddly inert experience—all, that is, except for mournful mega-villain Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), notching his first big-screen appearance after a memorably unsettling debut on the Disney+ streaming series Loki.

Kang is a study in nefarious duplicity marbled with bottled-up rage, and Majors does a superb job doling out his doleful moods. But it’s all just a single-character set-up. The whole film is simply a vehicle for unleashing Kang and his opaque multiverse machinations upon the MCU. As for everyone else, there’s not much there there. Who knew apocalyptic doom could feel so dull?

Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Jeff Loveness
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll, Michael Douglas
Running time: 124 min

Now world-famous for being Ant-Man, divorced ex-con Scott Lang spends his days promoting a self-help memoir called “Look Out for the Little Guy!” and milking his celebrity as a mild-mannered freelance Avenger. His daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is herself a jailbird, getting arrested at public protests and fighting righteous causes—a stubborn child with a righteous streak. Unfathomably, she’s also a tech wiz for no obvious reason other than to secretly develop, with grandfatherly friend Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a device that acts as a sort of satellite for inner space, an antenna for sending a signal down to the Quantum Realm.

Why send a signal? No idea, especially since the prior films set up the Quantum Realm as a mysterious, amorphous purgatory as well as some kind of kludgey tool for time travel. Why keep the device a secret from everyone? No idea, except as a way to get Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) to freak out when they turn it on—because Kang somehow immediately received the signal and then instantly used it to suck all of them into the Quantum Realm. Why didn’t Janet tell anyone about Kang? Again, no idea, although if she had, then this movie would not exist and the Avengers would need to find another villain to fight in future films.

The Quantum Realm in Quantumania is not the trippy wasteland from the prior films, but a genuine galaxy in and of itself. The movie describes it as a secret universe beneath ours, one that has worlds within worlds—like one tiny universe the size of one tiny atom under someone’s fingernail. Which makes me think that the MCU writer’s room should stop smoking pot and watching Animal House.

The Quantum Realm seems to have flora and fauna, as well as entire cities and speakeasy bars with exotic drinks sporting wide-eyed cephalopods. And the Quantum people in the Quantum Realm comes off as extras in a B-movie version of Dune, when they’re not knock-off cantina creatures from an off-brand Star Wars. “Holy shit! That guy looks like broccoli!” says an alarmed Dr. Pym about some dude with a green floret for a head.

Also alarming: Bill Murray previously fucked—or should I say pfucked—Michelle Pfeiffer in the Quantum Realm with his mostly human body parts. Murray cameos as a louche weirdo named Lord Krylar who pops up long enough for a quickie betrayal, like some sort of speed-round Lando Calrissian.

Even more alarming: corporate sociopath Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who menaced our heroes before they banished him, supposedly dead, to the Quantum Realm at the end of the first Ant-Man movie. Turns out he transformed into the head-scratching mostly-head Marvel character M.O.D.O.K, a cranium-heavy cyborg with little limbs who floats around killing people and cracking wise.

Kang spends Quantumania tracking down the Langs and the Pym/van Dynes, since they hold the key to reducing his supersized multiversal power core back to its functioning shape—Janet enlarged it years ago to prevent Kang from escaping his exile—and refuel his multiverse-tripping neurokinetic ship. The whole exercise ultimately sparks an all-out war between rebel forces and Kang’s armies, which seems completely blown out of proportion but structurally necessary to make this slim effort feel epic.

Amorous supercouple Ant-Man and Wasp don’t do much more than we expect, like him being steely-eyed about his paternal devotion and her repeatedly coming to his rescue. But Rudd’s ceaseless charm and surprising guile have a way of making all this familiarity still feel fresh. Plus, he sells absurdity with such honesty. Only he could say a line like “I drank a man without holes!” and make it sound endearing.

Quantumania also boast the occasional smart-stupid remark that intersects with enough actual science theory to make science nerds smirk, like when M.O.D.O.K. offhandedly explains, “You’re in Schrödinger’s box and you’re the cat!” And it even has delicious moments of portent, like when Kang intones “I know how it ends. All of it.” And then warns what’s coming: “Me. A lot of me.” Considering how much Majors brings to the franchise, it’s less of a threat and more of a promise.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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