The headlines have not been good for the newest cinematic entry of Marvel’s favorite microscopic hero. A wave of negative critical responses has resulted in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” now holding the honorable distinction of the second lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any film in the 31-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe catalog.
While the film is far from perfect, it certainly did not earn this mass negativity, especially when considering the other Marvel films that have somehow received higher critical praise. The movie possesses a charm that few of its peers can claim and offers something that Marvel so desperately needs: fun.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” follows the two titular characters and romantic partners, whose real names are Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), as they find themselves trapped in the mysterious quantum realm — a universe that exists on the subatomic plane, filled with mysterious creatures and marvelous locales. They’re joined by the Wasp’s parents, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) — the original Ant-Man and inventor of the Pym Particle, which enables the hero’s size-shifting abilities — and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp who was stuck in the quantum realm for decades before her recent rescue.
Also with them is Scott’s daughter Cassandra (Kathryn Newton), who builds a satellite to the quantum realm that leads to their eventual entrapment. This mysterious location hosts the movie’s main villain, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), whose history with Janet is revealed through a series of flashbacks and interactions with residents of the quantum realm.
On its surface, this film has many immediately apparent issues — most notably, its laughably bad script. There’s hardly a single line that feels the slightest bit natural, and everything in the movie comes off as forced and remarkably cheesy.
But while for most movies this screenplay issue would be its biggest downfall, it adds to the charm that makes “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” work. With the exception of Jonathan Majors’ Kang, who presents a refreshing refined stoicism amongst the otherwise broad performances, the cast portrays the same lack of naturalism present in the screenplay.
The film's visual aesthetic is another success, and it’s this aspect that helps hide its shortcomings. The visual achievement, in conjunction with the tacky dialogue, mirrors the comic books the film is partially based on. The quantum realm’s set pieces offer an outlandish and visually stimulating spectacle, and its cast of characters is absurd.
Inhabiting a classic science fiction cityscape against the backdrop of interstellar clouds is a smorgasbord of alien creatures, ranging from a sentient piece of broccoli to a gooey blob that laments its lack of holes. In short, it’s exactly what a movie based on a comic book needs to be: dumb fun with little to ponder.
The tendency of modern superhero films is to try to make everything either unnecessarily serious or clever and self-aware with its humor. This trend ultimately is a disservice to the works that these movies are based on. The great classic comic books, bar a couple of notable outliers, are not psychologically complex dramas nor masterfully crafted comedies — they’re pulpy entertainment in the best way possible. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is one of the few comic book flicks that seems to understand this.
The film hardly attempts to weave any particularly complex emotional narratives, and the movie is at its weakest when it does. In the same vein, the film doesn’t lean too heavily into its absurdism. It doesn’t matter if at some moments you’re laughing at the movie instead of with it. That laughter is a visceral response that is lacking in most other Marvel movies.
But there are moments when the movie needs to take itself seriously, most notably in its action scenes. In those scenes, the film provides pure spectacle to the highest degree. As the big third-act showdown occurs, the visual language is allowed to speak for itself, which gives the movie its biggest pop. The film’s collective of disparate creatures all comes together to face off with Kang and his deliciously campy sidekick MODOK (Corey Stoll), resulting in a sequence that, unlike too many action films, is engaging and actually fun to watch.
Ultimately, the great tragedy of this film is the great tragedy of the MCU as a whole — the need for everything to be part of some vaguely defined bigger picture. A fun time can’t exist on its own without having some deeper significance for the MCU, forcing “Ant-Man and the Warp: Quantumania” to spend time giving the audience more information on the nature of the multiverse and introducing villains so they have a backstory in a movie that won’t come out for another three years.
Even if “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a roaringly fun time in the theater, it does not instill optimism for the future of Marvel Studios’ releases. While the complete dismissal of logic for pure fun is great for this specific movie, it does not bode well for the long-term, multi-film story Marvel is attempting to tell.
But that shouldn’t really matter in the end. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a rare treat within a swamp of abysmal filmmaking. It’s a film that understands its identity and doesn’t get too big for its britches. The movie is understandably a disappointment to fans of the entire MCU — but for those who prefer the superhero aesthetics of 1960s comic books and 1990s cartoons, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will scratch an itch that few other movies can.
Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.