I worked in a bookstore back in 2015 when Avengers: Age of Ultron was released. In fact, my employment there spanned pretty much the gap between The Avengers and its first sequel. I guess in hindsight that was all early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) phenomenon, but even at the time, it was the only franchise on which all of my coworkers made an effort to keep current. That was the appeal of the MCU at its height: It was something almost everyone cared about, even people who don’t really care about movies or comics.

That’s why one of my coworkers’ reactions to Age of Ultron really bummed me out at the time. “Too long,” they said. “Too comic-booky.” The film’s weaknesses aside, of which there are many, it was always the critique that the film leaned too hard into its origins that got me thinking. I didn’t personally mind the idea of Ultron lifting a country into the sky and dropping it down like an asteroid. Cool shit! But admittedly, Ultron lacked the fleet, simple excitement of its predecessor, which mixed simple, fun characters into an easy-to-understand situation and let the story develop from their relationships. Later MCU movies managed to harness the simplicity of the first Avengers to incredible success … until the last few years.

The post-Avengers: Endgame MCU has seen more overall product than its first three phases combined. Some of it has been great — Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Hawkeye — but the large majority has been a letdown. Thor: Love and Thunder was a bust, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was unable to overcome the burden of being an important entry in the larger MCU story. Several of the Disney+ shows started strong and ended with odd anticlimaxes or cliffhangers with no clear resolution. The most interesting new property of the bunch, Eternals, seems dead in the water.

Into this glut of disappointing content comes Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania, the third film about the titular heroes by director Peyton Reed. In classic MCU fashion, it’s a sequel to both Ant-Man & the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame, picking up on story threads laid down by previous films to launch the Ant-Man family on an adventure into the heart of the multiverse. Despite some fun family dynamics and an offbeat sense of humor that feels built to appeal only to real weirdos, Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania feels like a big misstep for the Ant-Man franchise and marks another frustrating entry for the larger MCU saga.

Picking up from the previous movies: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has become a famous Avenger. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is putting her family’s Pym Particle tech to charitable use. Her parents, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), are enjoying retirement. The Lang / van Dyne / Pym family is living its best life, but something remains missing for Scott — the five years he never got to spend with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), now a rebellious teenager who grew up a lot during the time between Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.

She also happens to be a super-genius, and an invention she concocted to map the Quantum Realm quickly pulls her and her family into a subatomic, super-scientific adventure filled with bizarre beasties and a deadly new adversary: Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), who is being billed as the next Thanos-level overarching threat for the broader franchise. The trailers pitch Quantumania as a story about Scott being threatened into conducting a heist on behalf of Kang to save Cassie’s life. That’s not really the case.

In fact, there isn’t much of a story here. The strength of Ant-Man & the Wasp (the successful entry in the Ant-Man trilogy) was how a small-scale tale felt significant due to what it meant for its characters. That film feels small, even cheap at times, but coasts to the finish line with clever gags and a great ensemble. Quantumania has the opposite problem: It feels small, even cheap at times, but is light on humor and most of the cast has little to actually do. By the third act, the family-comedy trappings have mostly fallen away, leaving a schematic rebellion plot that feels like a low-grade ripoff of Thor: Ragnarok.

I suppose it seems like my knives are out for Quantumania, so before I dive into the worst aspect of the film, let me say a few kind words: The first act is pretty sweet, introducing a status quo for the characters that implies a more interesting story than we get. Once they reach the Quantum Realm, there are a lot of really cool alien designs. Some of the visuals look good (others look … less than good). I liked the score. The contours of an emotional journey are present: Scott’s desire to bond with Cassie and Hope’s frustration at her mother’s unwillingness to discuss the past are both fertile soil, but they never drive the action. Like pretty much everything else in the movie, it’s all dealt with primarily through dialogue. Still … I like Cassie and Scott, and I want to see more of them. Hank Pym also has a fun role that worked for me and catered to my taste for baffling comic-book super-science.

Frankly, the biggest issue with Quantumania is the one aspect everyone else seems to be hailing as a success — the introduction of multiversal villain Kang. It was a ballsy move for Marvel to try to introduce their new “big bad” up front. One reason Thanos worked so well is that he was basically absent for a decade before the MCU braintrust really figured out how to incorporate him and then introduced him in a film where he was the main character. Kang, on the other hand, is supposed to be multiple versions of the same genius scientist locked in a war with other versions of himself. This aspect — like the one seen in Loki — is simply one of an infinite number. We know this because he explains the premise of his secret war in both the show and this film. Endlessly.


The sheer amount of exposition and build-up for Kang contrasts with his actual emotional role in the film, which is zero. Zero. The character’s main relationship exists only in a flashback that arrives far too late in the film and makes his villainy too explicit too quickly. His first meeting with Ant-Man repeats the mistake. Majors’ approach to this version of Kang is regal, manipulative and cruel, but he’s so quick to violence and anger that we never grow to like him, much less understand him on a level beyond “Oh, wow, there’s a multiversal war!” The question the film tries to ask is whether defeating one Kang is worth the price of many more of them descending out of eternity to destroy the main MCU timeline.

It’s an idea that, again, speaks to my sci-fi brain, but it doesn’t speak to my heart or the heart of this particular film. It’s a lot of lore dumping in a film and sub-franchise that has always coasted by on its level of genuine sweetness. The mixture does not set.

I fear it’s like Age of Ultron all over again. Too corny. Too comic-booky. That’s not the strength of the MCU, and it needs some strength right now to regain momentum lost with all these lesser sequels to their best films.

I wish I had more good to say about Quantumania. The first half really worked for me. These are good characters, and their family dynamics are unique in superhero cinema, but it all gets swept away in a back half that doesn’t do justice to the authentic emotions of being lost with your loved ones. Like the Phase 4 movies, the actual grace note of the ending comes before a final scene that explicitly sets up more movies, which used to be reserved for post-credits stuff; in fact, there are two post-credits here, promising more of what didn’t really work this time. Ah, well.