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Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

(2023) ** 1/2 Pg-13
125 min. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Director: Peyton Reed. Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, William Jackson Harper, Katy O'Brian, Bill Murray.

/content/films/5280/1.jpgThe state of the Marvel Cinematic Union is...meh. Increasingly, the entries in the franchise spawned from Marvel Comics characters and storylines play more like episodes in the most expensive television series ever—released to theaters two hours at a time—rather than meaningful self-contained stories. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the launching pad for "Phase Five" of its continuing story, offers too much sensational spectacle, melodrama, and high-stakes sci-fi adventure ever to bore its audience, but its echoes of exhausted blockbuster tropes ring hollow.

No spoilers here: just enough to assure you that Quantumania isn't a lost rock opera by The Who. Suffice it to say that the blended family of Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne (Paul Rudd and Evangline Lilly as Ant-Man and the Wasp), Hope's folks Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer), and Scott's now teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) find themselves sucked into the Quantum Realm, a subatomic universe of wonders, terrors, and infinite possibility. They must find their way home while contending with a new "big bad" in the fearsomely named Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, suitably imperious and intimidating), setting up a conflict that will come to a head in Phase Six's Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (2025). If your eyes have glazed over by now, feel free to stop reading. This movie is not for you.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that a movie called Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania should overflow with comic-book nonsense, but director Peyton Reed's two earlier Ant-Man entries made a stronger effort to remain accessibly entertaining to those who have never set foot in a comic book shop. Quantumania starts out as what appears to be the umpteenth post-CGI ripoff of 1966's Fantastic Voyage and like tales of scientists on phantasmagorical missions, but the plot swiftly turns into a shorthand Star Wars, with Kang as the evil, stentorian Sith lord backed by an army of Stormtroopers while rogues gather in colorful cantinas and rebels organize in scrappy camps. Screenwriter Jeff Loveness' themes are halfhearted (dad-redemption for absent-dad-ism, baddie redemption for being "a dick") and his dialogue sounds like it was written by ChatGPT (Kang on time: "It's a cage, and it does everything it can to break you").

Look, I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy myself during Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. I did. This movie allows Michelle Pfeiffer to play Linda Hamilton, and its action sequences at times get to go to particularly wild places most blockbusters can't go, most notably when Scott encounters something called a "probability storm." Although it can be difficult to get one's bearings at times in the thick of an overpopulated CGI muddle, the kaiju scale and shrink-and-grow novelty of the Ant-Man films still offer plenty of visual wonder (Lewis Carroll, eat your heart out!), and speaking of scale, six sequences shot with IMAX tech—including the entire extended climax—go extra-big in the specially-formatted IMAX version of the film. If you're going to see this, try to see it in a real IMAX theater with a 75-foot-tall screen. In San Francisco, where the film is set, that means a trip to the AMC Metreon, which holds the second-tallest IMAX screen in the US.

On balance, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania remains tons of fun for comics nerds and an easy pass for anyone else. It's more franchise extension than film, more thrill ride than satisfying story, but if that's what floats your boat for a night out of the house, I've got music to your ears: mid-credits and post-credits scenes. Personally, I was more interested in Scott Lang's reading at City Lights Bookstore from his memoir Look Out for the Little Guy! (also available in audiobook), but to each their own, right?

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