Review – Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania needs more M.O.D.O.K. and less MCU

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” should have embraced its quirkiness rather than strived for franchise-building heft.

To really get to the core of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” you first have to understand M.O.D.O.K. Yes, the big floating head guy. That’s not because M.O.D.O.K. is essential to the story. In fact, he’s basically a gag character. Jar Jar Binks arguably had a more important role than him in “The Phantom Menace”, and better CGI to boot.

No, you have to understand M.O.D.O.K. for what he represents in the greater context of “Quantumania.” Here’s a character who, generally speaking, is actually a supervillain in the comic book world. Someone that the hero struggles to defeat rather than a giant punchline.

If that sounds like the kind of statement meant to make a mountain out of an anthill about how true to comic book form Marvel movies should be, it’s actually quite the opposite.

M.O.D.O.K. was a highlight of “Quantumania,” arguably one of the most entertaining characters whenever he was on screen. The fact that the rest of the cast played up his entire existence to be so ridiculous only added to the effect. M.O.D.O.K. is simply going to come across inherently ridiculous at the basest levels given his design, and it’s perfectly acceptable that the movie leaned into that.

The problem is that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” doesn’t know if it wants to be ridiculous too. For a superhero franchise that’s rode a lot on the built-in humor of a man who talks to ants, “Quantumania” swings awfully hard at having a greater purpose. There’s so much cosmic, timeline-altering weight to everything that the poor ants don’t stand a chance.

The big bad is Jonathan Majors Kang the Conqueror, the Thanos-level threat of this newest wave of Marvel movies. He’s brooding, calculating and with a touch of insanity so deftly placed that he legitimately incites a feeling of uncomfortableness whenever he monologues. The way he reasons with people, offering the greatest singular desires in exchange for his opportunity to slaughter millions, is spine-tingling.

Then, there’s Ant-Man. A superhero that the movie loves to mention previously worked at Baskin-Robbins. He’s Scott Lang, a goofy dad in the midst of a mundane argument with his daughter, Cassie, about her rule-breaking rebelliousness and breakneck desire to help others. Oh yeah, and he talks to ants.

There’s never going to be a healthy balance between those two characters. They don’t belong as the main protagonist and antagonist of the same movie.

There’s a reason Ant-Man was the wisecracking sidekick to the action heroes of “Endgame,” like Captain America and Iron Man. In a way, he was “Endgame’s” M.O.D.O.K. He’s the tension-breaking character who gets a good laugh.

There’s nothing wrong with that either. His solo efforts shouldn’t push that away. There’s so much room in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a veritable sea of space between Disney Plus streaming shows and a full theatrical slate every year. The franchise can afford some low stakes, goofy affairs.

It’s too bad that’s not what “Quantumania” committed to being. The other performances, especially Michael Douglas’ wry “Romancing the Stone” smiles or Bill Murray’s weird bit role, would have been able to be so much more in that kind of movie.

Even some of the rough edges of “Quantumania,” Michelle Pfeiffer and Evangeline Lilly receiving little more than a sidebar story piggybacking off of the family drama between Scott and Cassie for example, could have softened had the film not attempted to be some sort of franchise-guiding effort.

Leave that kind of material for the Doctor Strange’s and Captain America’s. Jonathan Majors squaring off against Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange in an intense debate over timelines and cosmic destinies sounds like the perfect blockbuster trailer moment for the next Avengers flick. It unfortunately lacks that gravitas if you insert Ant-Man in.

“Quantumania” ends up as a tonally dissonant affair as a result. Its intergalactic undertones feel derivative of a thousand sci-fi movies before it, not really standing out from any of them until it embraces its quirkiness.

It’s a disheartening effort for a franchise that’s been commendably willing to avoid these obvious creative pratfalls in recent movies like “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Those efforts may have had their own issues, but at least they were unique.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” far too often felt like a bland trailer for what’s next in the MCU rather than a chance to enjoy a fan-favorite character’s heroic antics.

Spotlight Score: 5/10


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