Ant-y Warfare

Paul Rudd returns to the teeny-tiny character that’s become a major cog in the Marvel movie machine

Paul Rudd, Kathryn Newton & Evangeline Lilly confront a new challenge in ‘Quantumania.’

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas & Michelle Pfeiffer
Directed by Peyton Reid

In theaters Friday, Feb. 17, 2023

“From small things, mama,” sang Bruce Springsteen back in 1979, “big things one day come.”

The Boss wrote and recorded that song some 35 years before the first Ant-Man movie, in 2015, which introduced fans of the Marvel Comics character to Paul Rudd as the pizza employee, doting dad and petty thief who ends up with a high-tech, form-fitting super-suit that can shrink him down to become an insect-size do-gooder.

Or, when necessary, enlarge him into a towering colossus.

Just like real-life ants who can engineer and construct entire mega-colonies, form themselves en masse into bridges and boats, lift up and carry up to 5,000 times their body weight, and (of course) change the course of picnics, Ant-Man is a teeny-tiny “small thing.” But he’s become a big player in the Marvel movie franchise. Quantumania is the third in the Ant-Man movie franchise, and as the title suggests, it takes place in the “quantum realm,” a hidden dimension in the sprawling Marvel multiverse that’s only accessible through dark sorcery or weird science.

Or the movies like this one.

Quantum-ville is like Oz buzzing on super steroids and maybe some crystal meth, an explosively colorful place of breathtaking awesomeness, unfathomable peril and outrageous oddity—like Alice in Wonderland crossed with Mad Max: Fury Road, Lord of the Rings, Dune and the cantina scene from Star Wars, with a dash of Terry Gilliam’s fanciful Monty Python whimsy. Giant snails are used like horses, there’s a character who looks like a walking stalk of broccoli, and an army of minions with heads that resemble light bulbs. And another character (Carey Stoll) is practically all head.

Oh, and yes, there’s also Bill Murray, playing…oh, does it really matter? It’s Bill Murray.  

And this being a marvel movie, there are some very high stakes—not just the fate of the universe, but the fate of the multiverse and all universes, existence itself. Director Peyton Reed, who’s steered both previous Ant-Man movies, keeps the ka-pow factor high and the tone bounding giddily between high tragedy and quippy silliness. The fate of everything may hang in the balance, but even in the quantum realm, inappropriate, selfish, annoying behavior is still known as a dick move.

And rest assured, you’ll see the movie’s superbad bad guy, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors—from The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Lovecraft Country, Devotion) again. Dudes who want to rule the world, and more, aren’t easily dissuaded or dismissed. Like Taylor Swift tells us, haters gonna hate. And conquerors gonna conq.

Ant-Man confronts Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors).

It’s a wild rush of heady stuff, but such is the Marvel way, which connects everything in Quantumania to the larger MCU (that’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe), a sort of multi-dimensional superhero realm for the interconnectivity of film properties based on Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers, Dr. Strange, Deadpool, Spider-Man and other characters rooted in Marvel comic-book ink.

I won’t get into the cosmic weeds of all the mind-bending details, but in this latest adventure, Scott Lang (pssst—he’s really Ant-Man) is sucked into the quantum realm (in case you forget what it’s called, it’s mentioned about a dozen times in the first 10 minutes of the film). He’s accompanied by Hope van Dyne (the returning Evangeline Lilly), whose superhero alter ego is the Wasp, and Hope’s brainiac-scientist parents (Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas, also reprising their roles). Kathryn Newton (Little Big Lies, Freaky, Supernatural) comes aboard as Pym’s young-adult daughter, Cassie, whose social activism keeps getting her in trouble on Main Street USA but well suits her for what she’ll end up doing alongside revolutionaries in the quantum realm.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas somehow keep their coifs looking stylish, in any dimension!

Can the multiverse be saved? Can Kang be defeated, or at least contained? Will Scott finally bond with his daughter? Will Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas’ expertly coiffed hair ever be unfashionably mussed, even after being violently downsized to microscopic scale, sucked into the vortex of inter-dimensional debris and finding themselves in the middle of a quantum-realm war?    

MCU fans will geek out over the sheer spectacle and the bountiful bombast of CGI—two hours of mind-numbingly expensive zipping and zapping and crashing and smashing. There’s one particular scene (involving gazillions of Lang and Ant-Men, permutations of “all possible outcomes”) who mobilize into something like a teeming human anthill. If you love you some Paul Rudd—an immensely likeable and prolific actor with more than 130 movie and TV credits, from franchise blockbusters to zany romcoms, relationship dramas and even spy flicks—well, you’ll certainly get a heaping helping of him here.   

And in this packed and stacked Ant-Man movie, some actual ants get their spotlight in a major way.

This supersized, noisy and sometimes chaotic superhero adventure won’t be for everyone—particularly those who like their movies smaller, quieter, a bit more subtle and with less blowout spectacle, and fewer ants. But for Marvel fans, it’s the latest mega-movie about a teeny character doing tremendous good, on a massive stage across space and time.

Small things lead to big things—in a Springsteen song, or in the MCU’s multiverse, anything is possible. Ant-Man is an everyman hero, movie manes never get mussed, and Paul Rudd can truly do everything, everywhere, all the time, all at once.

—Neil Pond


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