It’s a wonder that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (★★★☆☆) should work as well as it does, or feel half as transporting as it does, when, by the looks of it, the actors were planted inside a studio for the majority of the action, and it shows.
For the size-shifting superhero’s third solo MCU outing, director Peyton Reed — also at the helm for Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp — filmed much of this journey to the sub-atomic fantasia known as the Quantum Realm using technology that surrounds the actors in an immersive digital environment.
Rather than emoting towards blank green and blue screens, Paul Rudd, as thief-turned-Avenger Ant-Man a.k.a. Scott Lang, can gaze across a virtual Quantum Realm and perform face-to-face opposite whatever outlandish creatures the filmmakers might imagine. Marvel actors report that the production tech, known as The Volume, adds authenticity to their experience that presumably we can see onscreen.
Does it add to the authenticity of the audience experience? Yes and no. Standing still against the wonderfully realized CGI visions of floating mountains and mushroom forests, the actors pop, and the vistas are breathtaking. Christophe Beck’s vigorous score matches the scale of the vision.
In motion, however, the actors sometimes appear to be racing through a video game with little sense of physical gravity. The wild, extra-dimensional concepts of the solid script by first-time feature writer Jeff Loveness evince more substance than some of the visuals.
One testament to the rich history and relationships Marvel has built over 30 previous MCU theatrical releases, and a few TV series, might be that we can watch Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, as Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp, battle giant, weightless bands of pixels and still feel something
That’s a testament, also, to the studio’s consistently impeccable casting, which pays off handsomely here, in particular, with Michelle Pfeiffer returning as Janet Van Dyne, Hope’s mom, who was rescued from the Quantum Realm in the last film.
Janet was stuck down there, in what she calls “a secret universe beneath ours,” for 30 years, as she’s wont to remind everyone, including husband Hank Pym, again ably embodied by Michael Douglas. Apparently, Janet’s kept loads of secrets about how she survived there, and whom she might have encountered. For one, she never told Hank or Hope that the Quantum Realm is not only inhabited, but positively teeming with civilized life.
The dynamic of Janet’s family realizing how much of her life and experiences have been kept hidden from them is played poignantly, and with humor, by Pfeiffer, Douglas, and Lilly. Pfeiffer makes Janet a genuine hero, a tough but loving adventurer who doesn’t dwell on regrets, a mom, wife, and wily survivor haunted by elements of her past that she never wanted to share with her family.
Though it’s Scott’s teenage daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who blossoms as a hero in this entry, and whose safety motivates Scott above all things, the heart of this movie is Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne. Weighing heavily on her heart is the truth she knows about someone they’ll find in the Quantum Realm, the enigmatic Kang the Conqueror, played with heft and menace by the formidable Jonathan Majors.
That Kang is tipped to play a major role in future MCU films bodes well for the talent we can count on to bring this make-believe to life vividly enough that we keep coming back for more, always watching the credits till the very end.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
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