Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
What does it mean to be ‘too big to fail’? The term is applied to anything which still maintains its massive popularity, even if the overall quality is lacking. For the most part, Marvel Studios hasn’t needed to prove if it’s too big to fail, given that much of its output has been consistently well produced, re-watchable and entertaining. There’s been the odd low point such as Iron Man 2 (2010) or Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), but even Marvel’s weakest entries have their fans. When the time comes, it’s going to be really interesting to see how the studio deals with their first real misstep. Unfortunately, that time is upon us with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023).
Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), the size changing superhero known as Ant-Man, also known as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), is living a comfortable life as a celebrity. He has cashed in on his heroic exploits, having written a best selling book outlining his time as an Avenger. However, things aren’t silent for long as Scott discovers that his girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and Hope’s father Hank (Michael Douglas) have been experimenting with the mysterious micro-verse known as the Quantum Realm. Hank’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to stop the group from doing so, as she was stuck in the Quantum Realm for 30 years. The warning comes too late, causing the entire team to be transported inside the Realm. Once there, they discover the entire place is run by a powerful dictator known as Kang (Jonathan Majors), who just might be the most dangerous threat any Avenger has ever faced.
The previous two Ant-Man films are a notable anomaly in the Marvel franchise. The first was a famously troubled production, due to the creative conflict between the studio and the film’s original director, Edgar Wright. Following Wright’s departure, Peyton Reed took over directing duties and turned the bad situation around, delivering a fun, family-friendly romp. Ant-Man (2015) steered away from being the usual superhero epic, becoming more of a 1990s style heist comedy. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) was a similarly modest success, cementing the Ant-Man series as the charming, small-scale corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania breaks that cycle, expanding the story to include seemingly high stakes proportions, along with explosively high concept action.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania should be a game changer for the series, in the same way Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) or Thor: Ragnarok (2017) were. From minute one, it feels like we’re heading in that direction, as the plot kicks into gear right away, propelling our heroes into an exciting, forward moving adventure. Where the previous Ant-Man films felt analogous to heist comedies, this one seems to take its cues from Star Wars, giving us a vibrant, bizarre and alien world to get lost in. For a short while, that fresh tone works in the film’s favour, but it’s not too long before it fails to do anything truly interesting. Sadly, it gets old long before the story actually kicks in, and that classic Ant-Man charm isn’t there to keep things lively.
How does a film start this strong, with such forward momentum, only to lose it before things get going? Quite simply, it falls into the worst kind of repetition, completely sapping enjoyment and goodwill. Our band of heroes are split up for the majority of the runtime, which on paper should be a golden ticket to really expand the scope of the adventure. Instead, we are stuck watching two groups of characters go through the same questions, the same revelations and the same plot turns, one after the other. When we are given a piece of story information, it should build to the next important moment, but Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania just recycles the same moments over and over. This unfortunately halts any meaningful story progression. By the time things are adequately explained, we have either figured it out already or are very bored.
Despite the thin plotting, Marvel Studios films can usually be trusted to deliver colourful visuals. While that is true of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the overabundance of computer generated effects is particularly grating this time around. Even in the most effects-heavy Marvel films, there’s still a sense of scale, structure and life to the computer generated world. The level of imagination on display is as strong as ever, given there are more wacky and weird creature designs than usual, but there’s a distinctly fake feel to the overall package. In the worst cases, the visual direction of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania recalls the iconically ugly Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999 – 2005), which had us wondering if these actors ever stepped onto a set instead of a green screen.
Many will claim that all Marvel Studios films are guilty of these cinematic sins, but in those earlier films there were plenty of strong elements to make the kinks unimportant. Specifically, earlier Marvel films succeeded because of their expertly written characters, relatable story themes and the clear stakes. The real issue with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is that it lacks much of the above. Ant-Man, Wasp and the rest are loveable heroes who have had previously compelling arcs, but there’s really nothing resonant added to them in this story. There are specific scenes, which in isolation hold plenty of excitement and dramatic weight, yet they add little to the overall storyline. The closest the film gets to having anything to care about is Jonathan Majors as Kang, once again proving that Majors is the best element of every film he’s in. At the very least, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is another great showcase for Majors’ undeniable talent and growing star power.
The strength of Majors’ work here cements the reason Marvel is truly ‘too big to fail’. His introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is narratively engineered to have long lasting effects on the franchise as a whole. Therefore, even though Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania pales in comparison to the previous Ant-Man films (and feels like a major step down from the best of the studios’ offerings), we will inevitably have to come back to it if we want to be in the loop for their future projects. The fact that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a subpar film barely matters, because it’s going to make half a billion dollars regardless.
Best way to watch it: With the brain of a ten year old. It’ll be way more enjoyable that way.