Big trouble in the quantum universe
Right after watching the global premiere of Marvel's Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania at SM Aura IMAX, I had some science-y questions: like, could people actually live and walk around and “breathe” in a subatomic universe? Probably not, quantum physicists say. While it is (theoretically) possible to shrink down a human’s eight octillion atoms to the size of a single atom, what your senses could process on the quantum level would be so weird and unlike normal reality that you’d have trouble even seeing objects, let alone cavorting around in a weird Dali-esque landscape of floating protoplasm and strange talking creatures with no holes.
But for the purposes of Marvel, that’s what Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are forced to do once their daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) fires up a Quantum Realm tracking device she built while killing time during the five-year Blip. Soon enough, Hope’s dad Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are all sent hurtling down into some imaginary version of the quantum level of reality where—and scientists don’t talk about this too often—Bill Murray exists.
Fortunately, watching the third Ant-Man movie (and officially the start of Phase 5 of the MCU), you don’t have to really buy all the science. Suffice to say, wisecracks still work in the Quantum Realm, even if you have to drink some kind of red ooze to understand them. (The language-sharing ooze would be a useful invention, actually, for, say, expats who have trouble learning Tagalog.)
In the Quantum Realm, we learn that while brilliant scientist Janet was stuck down there for 30 years (though she didn’t age much), she also acquired a few shady little secrets. One of them involves a dude hunted by the Time-Keepers in Marvel’s Loki series, so soon enough we encounter Kang (Jonathan Majors), sporting unexplained dual facial scars and a surname (“the Conqueror”) that suggests his motives are not so pure since he’s learned to surf the multiverse. With a surname like that, you’d expect some trouble for Scott and Hope and family as they try to escape the Quantum Realm, while also helping all the other oppressed beings trapped down there.
Again, it’s weird to think that Bill Murray and lots of other human-form beings could somehow just hang there in this subatomic space where, physicists tell us, our eyes could only detect one photon at a time, so everything would be blurry and fuzzy, akin to walking through a pitch-dark forest at night where we’d find it near impossible to make out any shapes. But science is never conclusive, so…
It seems to have the same troubles as the normal-sized world, what with oppressed beings always on the edge of rebellion, looking for some rallying cry to light the first match.
On with the story. We first encounter Lang bopping down the street in the opening sequence (to John Sebastian’s Welcome Back, Kotter theme song), hot off his Avengers fame and talking to the camera about how life is great, with a kind of poop-eating grin plastered on his face. He’s a happy guy, is Scott, and even though he’s seen some amazingly scary things as an Avenger, he has a bestselling book out and everything’s… cool.
Until the daughter sets loose a signal to the Quantum Realm and the family is sucked down into that dimension. And things get weird fast.
Peyton Reed returns to direct, and Quantumania has flashes of the same energy and oddball charm as 1 and 2, but since everything takes place inside the Quantum Realm, it’s a little hard to think of it as anything but a handful of actors running through green-screen sets over and over again. Design-wise, it has that same weird, neon-cotton candy vibe of the worlds presented in Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy. And for a relatively short film these days (124 minutes), something about the Quantum universe seems to streeeeetch time out extra long, so it feels like three hours. Part of the problem is that there’s a very thin story here, basically Scott and family trying to escape this teeny-tiny world while Kang tries to hunt them down. And that’s it. So you have to pepper it all with enough wisecracks to at least make it feel like a Marvel movie.
Rudd is relentlessly likeable, so his part is easier. The odd thing is, when he’s a superhero, Ant-Man transforms from likeable doofus into someone truly capable of all his superhero stunts and quick thinking. And when he’s not, he’s just… Scott Lang, bearer of dad jokes and self-deprecating humor. So, good job on that, Mr. Rudd. Lilly sports a different hairstyle but doesn’t have so much to do here, other than assist Ant-Man about a trillion times. Daughter Cassie brings modern daughter energy to the mix, while Douglas acts cool and science-y, and Pfeiffer acts a bit shady and stern soccer mom-ish through half the movie. (Indeed, my wife Therese wondered why she wouldn’t just “spill the tea” on what really happened with Kang as soon as they all found themselves stuck in the Quantum Realm. They had time to fill! Shady!)
And then there’s Kang. Majors draws out the intriguing character from Loki’s final two episodes, where he was known as He Who Remains, and adds a bit of Shakespearean gravitas. With his proud pout, he’s good here, and Marvel promises his particular brand of evil will feature as “the next big cross-movie villain.” Expect to see more of Kang (and Majors) in future. A lot more.
I’m not so sure I want to spend too much time in the Quantum Realm though, going forward. It seems to have the same troubles as the normal-sized world, what with oppressed beings always on the edge of rebellion, looking for some rallying cry to light the first match. But above all that, it’s hard to get a grip on, emotionally or visually, what with the lack of edges anywhere. And “lacking edge” is a pretty good descriptor for this placeholder Ant-Man outing in which the stakes seem pretty tiny, indeed.