Movie Review: “Ant-Man and The Wasp” get lost in “Quantumania”

Superhero movies have gone all in on “universe building” of late, that “Avatar” model that pushes the notion “If we show them strange, ‘new’ and wondrous places, they will come.”

So the latest “Ant-Man” is basically “‘Avatar’ with Ants…and some jokes.”

Trapped in the multi-verse mania that has been a hallmark of post-“Avengers” comic book adaptations, it finds an excuse to drag our loveable goof of a hero (Paul Rudd), his sidekick The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and entourage — Wasp mama (Michelle Pfeiffer), shrinking/expanding scientist (Michael Douglas) and Ant Man Scott Lang’s neglected, acting-out teen daughter (Kathryn Newton) — into “The Quantum Realm.”

That’s a universe that exists on a subatomic level. But you just know they won’t be content to fight over submicroscopic stakes there. Somebody in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is going to toss that word “multiverse” out there as its become like product placement in most Marvel and DC superhero movies.

“The Quantum Realm” is full of odd creatures like horses with snail heads and sentient manta rays who provide friendly “Finding Nemo” transport wafting through a gloomy, cave-like landscape that looks like “Avatar” with a different color palette.

Yes, there’s a war on, with a vast array of folks ranging from talking blobs to “Cantina Band” alumni to warrior princesses taking sides and resisting “The Conqueror” (Jonathan Majors of “Lovecraft Country” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”).

The “jokes” in this “Avatar with Ants and Jokes” are provided by Rudd’s lighthearted persona more than witty dialogue writing. He can make Scott’s first panicked reassurance to daughter Cassie when they figure out where they are amusing just with sputtering Dad-isms.

“We’re OK. It’s going to be OK. OK? Ok!”

There’s topical messaging about “There’s always room to grow” as a person (Ant-Man puns!), getting involved in defending others — “Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” — and the idea that even the most evil among us redeemable.

“It’s never too late to stop beiing a d–k!”

Toss in the most boring Marvel villain in ages and colorfully-animated or costumed (Katy M. O’Brian) but generic sci-fi action archetypes fighting over this wholly derivative world you’ve gone to the trouble of building.

But there’s no getting around the general pointlessness, the low stakes they’re playing for and the aimlessness of it all.

Checking the time, via watch or cell phone? Plan on doing that. A lot.

“Ant-Man” franchise director Peyton Reed cut his teeth on a cheerleading comedy (“Bring it On”), a forgettable Jim Carrey high concept comedy (“Yes Man”) and failed rom-coms (“Down with Love,” “The Break-Up”). His real gift to this genre is tone — light and jovial, not as clever or funny as “Thor,” but cute.

He makes the CGI effects trains run on time, gets a cameo or two in (Bill Murray, a returning Corey Stoll) and makes one of them amusing and milks a few sight gags for all that they’re worth.

His direction of the Jeff Loveness script borrows from “Star Wars” and “Avatar” and even “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and rarely in subtle ways.

The action beats are often straight up “The cavalry’s here” Western tropes, with this or that character getting her or his fight “moment,” and others just left on the periphery.

Pfeiffer is moved front and center for this film, and her stunt double gets quite the workout out of it.

But Majors seems at a loss, as good actors often are (Oscar Isaac comes to mind) when it comes to finding one’s omnipotent supervillain footing. At least Josh Brolin had the excuse of being wholly animated, and given a few darkly-amusing lines.

Fans will find more in this than I did. But if you’re a filmgoer not craving “fan service” from this and every Marvel movie, it’s just a time-killer, fitfully amusing tedium.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is much ado about a lot of microscopic nothing.

Rating: PG-13 for violence/action, and language

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Katy M. O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Corey Stoll, Bill Murray, Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Credits: Directed by Peyton Reed, scripted by Jeff Loveness. A Marvel Studios release.

Running time: 2:05


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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