'Quantumania': Ant-Man, Wasp adventure woos some, worries others for Marvel future

Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) returns to the Quantum Realm, where she was stuck for 30 years, with husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."
Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) returns to the Quantum Realm, where she was stuck for 30 years, with husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."

Marvel’s phase five is here, and its first chapter introduces us to the next “big bad” villain of Kang the Conqueror with a stellar portrayal by actor Jonathan Majors.

As Majors’ star shines brightest in the film, his threat level is currently accruing, and nothing more can be said to that point without spoiling important moments of the movie.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" kicked off its opening weekend in late February, landing a decent $104 million domestic opening and is already inching toward half a billion dollars. It didn’t stop a bummer of a critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.

As such, I have to critique a critical consensus that may or may not understand the long game Marvel is playing.

Not everyone will want to play that game, even with a neat little appearance from Bill Murray.

Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) and her superhero dad Scott (Paul Rudd) navigate the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."
Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) and her superhero dad Scott (Paul Rudd) navigate the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."

The theoretical pastures of the Quantum Realm can leave you, even if confused – captivated by its fascinating settings and surroundings.

Indeed, Star Wars vibes abound, but instead of bland facsimile, creativity is inspired and crawling with a host of quantum residents we’ve never met.

If you’ve seen the movie starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Jonathan Majors, there is a chance that you left the theater confused as to what happened at the end.

And true for any Marvel outing, the buy-in on this wild new horizon was decidedly mixed.

It put “Quantumania” almost dead even with the similarly weighty, lowest rated and misunderstood, “Eternals” at 48%, but Ant-Man audiences still gave a solid 84% on their reviews.

Let’s look at some facts: Marvel boasts the only connected film anthology.

Now on film #31, was it planned as a reference to titular character, Paul Rudd’s former job at Baskin Robbins with thirty-one-derful flavors? No one has posed that question yet. It would be typical for Marvel’s flavor of hidden Easter eggs.

The film asks us to dive into a concept not explored at length yet – save for the brief come-and-go glances in the previous Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Jonathan Majors makes his Marvel movie debut as Kang the Conqueror in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."
Jonathan Majors makes his Marvel movie debut as Kang the Conqueror in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."

As for coaxing audiences into the Quantum Realm? It’s a largely strange conceptual world even for comics and has some definite ground to gain with audiences in future outings.

The need will be to give deeper glimpses at the whys and hows of its relevance to the next big conflict.

As for this installment, we spend a whole film meeting Kang’s assumed ominous threat that made compelling stories for decades in the pages of Marvel.

Some felt that threat was lacking here. But the watchword with Marvel has tended to be: patience, it’ll all make sense.

Probably one of the best comments I heard from a friend this week with regards to an occasional lackluster Marvel offering: “I’m so invested in the Marvel journey at this point, I honestly don’t care if it’s a less than amazing movie.”

But even still, the movie was pretty fun, if you find satisfaction in knowing that it moved the overarching narrative forward.

It’s a toss up though, as to whether the casual fan is coming along.

Comments from highest grossing producer ever, Marvel President, Kevin Feige shows he still knows where the train is going. I see the storyline as solid as long as the studio continues to bring the character development along with it.

Most excitedly, with the Multiverse Saga we are now opening up to an endless cacophony of possibilities and headed toward an unbelievably massive finality called “Secret Wars.”

Fans like me hold out hope of seeing a reunited 2012 Avengers team in their initial formation and hearing that old goosebump-inducing music as the team will likely rejoin every other possible Marvel character for some version of a final dramatic showdown on “Battleworld.”

And everything I just mentioned, even if you don’t understand it, connects to Quantumania.

In one sense critic scores and box office grosses matter, because especially hopeful fans want the saga to continue on and do so in a successful way. Marvel has already proven unmatched in their ability to tie together an entire anthology of connected stories.

But in an entirely realistic way, we know the quality and popularity will not tip the scale for every film.

What you have with “Quantumania” is a gigantic force of introductory elements.

To many folks the film will be too much, too confusing and too far of a step away from the quirky tone of the first two Ant-Man movies.

But consider the main criticism of late being too much comedy (especially with Thor: Love and Thunder’s zany but overpacked comedic efforts).

Some say weight and dramatic tension took a backseat for some of the phase four stories.

Here, Thanos would be right, as the comedy and dramatic tension is “perfectly balanced, as all things should be.”

I say, you can’t please everyone all the time.

I’ve heard people say, if you strip away the flash and wow of Marvel, the strongest suit they wear is gone. I would highly disagree: what you almost always find is a universally relatable story.

Here we have a Dad, reunited with his daughter, looking to make up for lost years and as they get lost on the way in the Quantum Realm with essentially, the grandparents, old Ant-Man and Wasp, (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, respectively), they discover how far they’re willing to go for each other, they find moments where they can work together even as an unconventional family unit.

In the Quantum Realm here, what I loved is that it seemed like everyone had their own moment. One particular scene gives us a fun cavalry charge from a character moment of perfection. Pym rules, y’all.

Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie Lang was excellently played by Kathryn Newton, as she finds her own footing and gets that musically cued character-becoming scene, as “Stature,” an important future member of the Young Avengers.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) encounter a weird new world when they get stuck in the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) encounter a weird new world when they get stuck in the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."

Unconventional family together on an adventure in an unknown land? One that brings them inevitably closer together? Yes, please.

Marvel is still on course for a home run tick against the final score, even if it wasn’t a grand slam for everyone.

We’re getting into stories now that can feel like a far cry from the glory days when Avengers title cards ran often and grounded heroes took on very simple enemies on earth, not in branched universes and theoretical quantum planes of existence.

To those that are bothered by this, understand one thing, the chaos is in part, the conflict.

Its eventual resolution can go several ways and will most certainly continue bringing in myriad characters: returning, current and entirely new.

Bottom line: Fear not for Marvel’s ultimate fate. They know their plan and it is in motion.

But it matters only as much as there is a hope to keep finding excellent stories to tell. Personally, I believe a lot of the franchise will be mired in this slow burn from here on out. And I’m actually ok with that. Proven success over such a period as fifteen years has bought much credibility.

If I’m funding Marvel Studios, I’m saying, “You do your job well. Keep moving forward.”

If I’m grading this movie on a ten scale, I’m letting this drop in just north of a 7.5. It’s certainly not one to miss in the theater.

And mark my words, when you see the ending, pay close attention, especially to the two post-credit scenes.

If you’re confused and can’t explain exactly what happened at the end, hold on; throw your theories on the table; speculate your outcomes; and find that beautiful thing called storytelling that can leave us taking a wild journey.

And knowing Marvel, they might have one giant rug pull they’re waiting to rip from under us. Just you wait!

This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: 'Quantumania': Ant-Man, Wasp adventure woos some, worries others