According to lore, there are glorious stories of Bill Murray randomly showing up places and elevating an evening’s festivities to a new level. Heck, there’s even a documentary about it. The legend shows up in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and his small part does nothing to level it up. In fact, it seems needlessly random. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now entered Phase Five. It launches in troubling fashion. This is the 31st MCU pic and I’d rank it #31.
2015’s Ant-Man is one of the weakest links in the Marvel chain, but there were glimpses of the nifty and humorous little heist pic it wanted to be. It doesn’t hurt that Paul Rudd has an effortless charm as the small time crook turned Avenger. 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp was an improvement (in the MCU, the follow-ups often do exceed the quality of their predecessors). The third time is far from the charm.
The bulk of the action is set in the Quantum Realm – a gaudy setting that is far from low-key. Before we get there, Rudd’s Scott Lang is on a book tour and generally enjoying the fame garnered from being an Avenger. His home life with Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and now 18-year-old daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) appears tranquil. Original title heroes and Hope’s parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) join the domestic bliss. However, cracks big and small emerge. Cassie seems frustrated by her dad’s coasting off of his previous laurels. The cracks under the ground are of more concern when her scientific experiments land the extended family in the subatomic Realm.
Janet spent 30 years (as revealed in the previous movies) in that particular universe. It’s revealed here that she engaged in far more activities than earlier thought. One includes a hinted at tryst with Bill Murray’s character and his superfluous cameo. Of more consequence is her relationship with Kang (Jonathan Majors), who was stuck with her underground for many years. Janet found a way out while he remained. That’s a plus since his full name is Kang the Conqueror and he destroys planets across multiverses as he sees fit. The villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from the first Ant-Man, now shrunk to a smaller size with a gigantic head, partners with our new main baddie. That results in some horrible CG (I think on purpose) in a sequel that employs other garish effects that are not meant to be funny.
The balance of comic sensibilities that worked well in portions of Ant-Man and especially the sequel collides with the ultra serious introduction of Kang. Hour one is sluggish. Hour two finds our heroes defending characters in the Quantum Realm that we’re never properly introduced to. While Pfeiffer’s role is fattened, sometimes Rudd and definitely Lilly feel like supporting players. Newton, taking over the role from Abby Ryder Fortson, struggles with her one-note character. The strongest performance belongs to Majors, but his menacing and seemingly multi-layered nemesis feels out of place in Ant-Man and Ant-Family’s stomping grounds. Kang might turn out to be a worthy villain to the MCU’s Avengers in future installments. The jury is out for now.
Phase Four and the start of Five have been wobbly. Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever have been disappointments and Quantumania reaches the lowest level yet. Underwhelming movies in the MCU are starting to feel like groundhog day and audiences might stop randomly showing up if that persists.
** (out of four)