Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here, but does it correct the woes of Phase 4?
After Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder failed to lay the necessary groundwork for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to expand beyond its initial scope, many looked on to the start of the fifth phase. If Kevin Feige were to be believed, the vagueness of the fourth phase's seven films would now solidify, and give us a clearer glimpse of where the overarching narrative was heading, and the movie to kickstart this? Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. Hmm.
Yeah, it sounded like an odd choice back then, and it continues to be just that even after the credits rolled on the third, but seemingly not final, Ant-Man flick, but by raising the stakes, allowing for more narrative and visual freedom and giving screen time to the MCU's most promising rising star, Quantumania does prove to be a much-needed shot in the arm, even if it still isn't on par with the greatest films in the saga.
Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, content with his post-Blip existence together with Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, Hank Pym played by Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne and his now older daughter Cassie, played by Kathryn Newton. This tranquility is quickly shattered, as our ragtag group is pulled deep into the Quantum Realm by none other than Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), who's attempting to escape his imprisonment.
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The Quantum Realm is described as a "universe beneath ours", and it basically means that script writer Jeff Loveness and director Peyton Reed can go crazy with the movie's Star Wars-like cinematography. It works in its visual splendor much of the time, giving the movie a suitably sci-fi aesthetic. Sure, we don't really get to dwell on the specifics of the world we're exploring, and much of it is just superficial make-up rather than an attempt to properly introduce us to something meaningful, a mistake made not too long ago by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but it is fun - much of the time.
But let's be clear here; this movie is busy, and often derails into slinging ideas and sequences at you at such a brisk pace, that you can't really seem to fathom the story at the heart of it all. Thor: Love and Thunder did much the same, but it lacked the charm of Paul Rudd, who's an effective anchor as ever with clever jokes, a loveable personality and acting chops that are often underestimated. Furthermore, Love and Thunder did... not... have... Kang. Jonathan Majors is the breakout star here, stealing every single scene he's in with frightening presence and a force that is unlike anything the MCU has had before. He was fantastic in the season finale of Loki, and he's just as effective on screen here.
Rudd and Majors creates a relatable core, a set of relatable but diametrically opposed sides, which builds a frame for the film to grow around. It's lucky, quite frankly, because other elements, like Katy O'Brian's rebellious Jentorra, are so misplaced here. You never truly experience, or understand in a direct enough way, that Kang rules the Quantum Realm as a dictator, so the rebellion that the movie attempts to establish is as empty a pay off as it sounds.
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There are some exceptions, like Corey Stoll's quite comedically brilliant stint as M.O.D.O.K., who is mainly played for laughs, but works quite brilliantly as comedic cannon fodder. But he's alone in a sea of semi-interesting side ventures, and unfortunately Newton's first run as Cassie very much belongs in that category.
But ultimately Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania is a good time, and by giving so much screen time to Majors' Kang we finally have a more solid idea of where everything's headed. It doesn't break new ground, and it even stumbles more times than one would like, but it works well enough.