Sorry to Raid on your parade, “Ant-Man” fans, but the third chapter is a pile of dirt.
Called “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” — these nonsensical titles! — the Marvel movie does boast a terrific new villain in Kang the Conquerer, played by Jonathan Majors. He’s a time-hopping multiverse manipulator, and red-hot Majors has gravitas as he snarls about the injustices the world has done to him. Whenever he’s on-screen, we are transfixed.
Running time: 125 minutes. Rated PG-13 (violence/action, and language). In theaters Feb. 17.
That Majors is a wow comes as a relief, because Kang’s going to be the baddie in 2025’s “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.”
For now, however, we’re mostly stuck spending time with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the cutesy hero whose sole talent is getting very small and then very large. Big whoop. “Quantumania” mocks his relative unimportance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the start when a San Francisco barista gives him a free coffee and then says, “Thanks, Spider-Man!”
Nonetheless, Scott’s reveling in post-“Endgame” glory. He wrote a best-selling memoir called “Look Out for the Little Guy!” and tells anyone who’ll listen that he saved the world. Then a device created by his curious daughter Cassandra (Kathryn Newton, playing a personality rather than a person) accidentally whisks her, Scott, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) to the teeny tiny Quantum Realm.
This subatomic world, which Janet had led everybody to believe was merely an empty void, is overstuffed with science-fiction and fantasy competitors’ ideas. At first, its bulbous forest looks like the candy room in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” We visit the desert, and its insurgent fighters are awfully “Dune”-y. Kang’s flanks of helmeted henchmen are straight outta “Star Wars.”
Director Peyton Reed wavers between capturing the heft and epic-ness of those titles and trying to make another “Spaceballs.”
The humor here is especially lowbrow. To speak the Quantum Realm’s language, Scott and Co. need to glug a character’s “ooze.” That pink, gelatinous, tentacled oozer is obsessed with human anatomy and asks Scott, “How many holes do you have?” Their infantile airships look like something you’d find in a shop on Christopher Street. And Corey Stoll as doofy, Humpty Dumpty-esque M.O.D.O.K. is a decent sight-gag laugh at first, but goes nowhere. M.O.D.O.K.’s big revelation after 90 minutes is “I don’t want to be a d – – k!”
None of the dumb jokes are as funny as Mel Brooks’ “ludicrous speed” or Dark Helmet from “Spaceballs.” And they’re confusing, because they’re carelessly tossed into an uber-serious plot about revolutionaries overthrowing a violent oppressor.
About the story: Once we arrive in the Quantum Realm, the only agreeable fact is that our heroes’ aim is to get the hell out of there. That’s clear enough. But Kang’s backstory, the people’s war against him, a weird cameo from Bill Murray as Lord Krylar and Hank’s ants suddenly developing their own technologically advanced society are convoluted and make little sense. Midway through, a man sitting behind me loudly exclaimed, “I can’t follow any of this!”
At the moment, he spoke for the silent majority.
Some of the madness would be forgiven if any of the characters other than Kang were layered or had a single reason for us to like them. Rudd behaving like an emotionless class clown does not sustain a movie. It never has. Lilly doesn’t do much other than get a haircut, which they make a lame joke about. And with Marvel audiences having recently seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” in which Angela Bassett gave a performance that will likely win her an Oscar, Pfeiffer and Douglas acting like the “Out-of-Towners” in front of a green screen just doesn’t cut it.
Still, you’ve got to admire the size of Reed’s ambitions in building his detailed new universe. After two slight “Ant-Man” movies, “Quantumania” feels like a different series entirely.
But because of all the sci-fi word salad, it also feels about four hours long.
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