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Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania review – Jonathan Majors is so good here that MCU practically bends to his will

The ‘Kang the Conqueror’ phase of the Marvel franchise kicks off in nicely goofy style

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 17 February 2023 09:00 GMT
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania trailer

With Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Marvel has ushered in the so-called fifth phase of its (infinite?) conveyer belt of superhero media. Supposedly, the distinction is important. Post-Quantumania, though, it seems like it’d be far more helpful to label the next batch of Marvel films and TV shows as “the Jonathan Majors phase”. He’s just that good.

Majors – of TV’s Lovecraft Country and one of the stars of the forthcoming Creed III – isn’t entirely new to the MCU, having popped up at the end of Disney Plus’s Loki, where he offered Tom Hiddleston’s trickster god a few portentous warnings of what’s to come. But Quantumania offers us Majors’s proper introduction as Marvel’s new “big bad”: a mysterious time traveller named Kang the Conqueror. Or Kangs the Conquerors, to get technical, since the franchise’s new obsession with multiverses means we’ve been promised multiple Kangs from multiple timelines down the line. Quantumania, really, is a Kang film. Any and all Ant-Man-related hijinks, as dorky and good-natured as they might be, are basically an afterthought.

While these superhero franchises have constantly threatened to swallow the careers of promising young actors whole, forever tying their reputations to multi-film deals and spandex costumes, Majors has pulled off the seemingly impossible. It’s as if he’s forced Marvel to orbit around the force of his own charisma. He delivers dry-as-Weetabix dialogue about timelines and variants with such solemnity, you’d be fooled into thinking he was talking about something actually real. He manifests threat without the helping hand of being CGI, purple and enormous, like Josh Brolin’s Thanos (although he does turn blue when he’s in fight mode, as a nod to his comic book counterpart). And, unlike many a Marvel villain of late, he’s enigmatic without having some tragic justification for his bad deeds. He’s basically Tilda Swinton as Narnia’s White Witch, dangling that all-too-tempting Turkish Delight in front of the audience’s faces. You sort of want to root for him, if only because he’s just very, very cool.

Kang’s adversaries here, and the film’s actual protagonists, are a whole family unit of bug-based heroes. There’s Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton, new to the MCU and with just the right springy energy to match Rudd). Then there’s his partner, Hope van Dyne aka Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents (Michael Douglas’s Hank and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet). All five find themselves trapped in the Quantum Realm – essentially a subatomic dimension visited by those who can shrink themselves – after one of Cassie’s gadgets goes awry, only to find the place under the spell of a fairly resentful, extremely power-hungry Kang.

The Quantum Realm has featured briefly in past MCU installments, but here it’s depicted as a pseudo-Star Wars world filtered through the imagination of screenwriter Jeff Loveness, a former writer on the animated comedy series Rick and Morty. Marvel has always benefited from indulging its cosmic side, drawing particularly from the legacies of great comic book storytellers such as Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Jim Starlin. That was true when, back in 2014, James Gunn swept in to add a dose of irreverence to the series with Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s even truer now, when the overwhelming mass of recent Marvel projects (18 in the past two years) means that a distinct visual identity is a matter of desperation more than desire.

Thankfully, Quantumania coughs up a decent amount of the mania promised in its title – it’s done a far better job, at least, than last year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which was miserably sane. There are horses with slug heads. A socially awkward gelatinous blob voiced by actor David Dastmalchian. A sort of fleshy Humpty-Dumpty/human Babybel named MODOK (Mechanised Organism Designed Only for Killing). At one point, Michael Douglas drives a spaceship with gloopy, tube-like controls that make it look like he’s trying to impregnate a cow with both hands. All in all – particularly when balanced against the weightiness of Majors’s performance – Quantumania nicely hits the mark: it’s goofy, but goofy to just the right degree.

Dir: Peyton Reed. Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas. 12A, 124 minutes.

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ is in cinemas from 17 February

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