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“I have holes!” — Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania

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“I have holes!” — Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania

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Published on December 6, 2023

From August 2017 – January 2020, Keith R.A. DeCandido took a weekly look at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic that had been made to date in the Superhero Movie Rewatch. He’s periodically revisited the feature to look back at new releases, as well as a few he missed the first time through.

Having already broken his trend of never doing sequels, director Peyton Reed was brought back a second time to do a third film starring Paul Rudd as Scott Lang. Like the second film, it was billed as an Ant-Man & The Wasp film, with Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, fighting alongside Lang’s Ant-Man as the Wasp. But unlike the last two films, this one wouldn’t be a caper film…

The previous two films established the Quantum Realm, and the QR was also a plot driver for Avengers: Endgame, as the QR was used as a gateway to time travel for the “time-heists” in that film.

Screenwriter Jeff Loveness—who wrote the film during the apocalypse of 2020, with the movie’s filming time delayed by the lockdown—provided a story that took place almost entirely with the QR and which explored what Janet van Dyne did during the three decades she was trapped in the QR (established in Ant-Man) until she was rescued by Scott, Hope, and her husband Henry Pym (which happened in Ant-Man & The Wasp).

That backstory includes a detailed exploration of the world that exists deep in the QR—deeper even than Pym was ever able to explore in the past—and also introduces one of Marvel’s most enduring villains, Kang the Conqueror.

Kang first appeared in 1963’s Fantastic Four #19 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby as Rama-Tut, a conqueror from the future who subjugated ancient Egypt. The identity of Kang was established in 1964’s Avengers #8 by Lee & Kirby, as an older version of Rama-Tut, and later the Avengers foe Immortus, ruler of the Limbo realm outside time and space—who debuted in 1964’s Avengers #10 by Lee & Kirby—was retconned into being an older version of Kang. The character has had other identities, among them the Scarlet Centurion (first seen in 1968’s Avengers Annual #2 by Roy Thomas, Don Heck, & Werner Roth), Iron Lad (2005’s Young Avengers #1 by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, & John Dell), Kid Immortus (2013’s FF #8 by Matt Fraction & Mike Allred), and Mister Gryphon (2015’s All-New All-Different Avengers #1 by Mark Waid & Adam Kubert).

Along with Ultron, Korvac, and the various incarnations of the Masters of Evil, Kang is one of the Avengers’ primary villains, and his introduction into the MCU was nigh-inevitable, especially once the series started embracing time travel and alternate timelines. The character was first seen in the Loki TV series, where he’s been given some more identities: He Who Remains and Victor Timely.

The expanded QR is very similar to the Microverse, introduced in 1963’s Fantastic Four #16 by Lee & Kirby, which was later home to the Micronauts—a toy tie-in of Marvel’s that was very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In addition, this movie introduces the villain M.O.D.O.K. to the MCU. Originally the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing when he first appeared in 1967’s Tales of Suspense #94 by Lee & Kirby to fight Captain America as part of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M., a subdivision of Hydra), M.O.D.O.K. was a person A.I.M. experimented on to make him more intelligent, but it resulted in a freakishly enlarged head and a stunted body, so he needed a hoverchair. For some reason, Loveness decided to meld Darren Cross, the bad guy from Ant-Man who was sent to the QR by Scott Lang in that film, with M.O.D.O.K. (now the Mechanized Organism, etc. etc.).

Image: Marvel Studios / Disney

Back from Endgame are Rudd as Scott, Lilly as Hope, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet. Back from Loki season one are Jonathan Majors as various versions of Kang, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and Owen Wilson as Mobius M. Mobius (the latter two in a post-credits scene that later was revealed to be part of the Loki episode “1893”). Back from Ant-Man are Corey Stoll as Cross and Gregg Turkington as Dale the Baskin-Robbins store manager who fired Scott. Back from WandaVision is Randall Park as Agent Jimmy Woo. New to this film are Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang (the third to play the role after Abby Ryder Fortson in the prior two Ant-Man films and Emma Fuhrman in Endgame), David Dastmalchian as Veb (Dastmalchian appeared in the prior two films as Kurt), Katy O’Brian as Jentorra (a version of the character from the comics who was a member of the Micronauts), William Jackson Harper as Quaz, Bill Murray as Lord Krylar, and musician Mark Oliver Everett as a guy who asks Scott to take a selfie with his dog. Everett is the son of Hugh Everett III, the physicist who originated the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory, which is pretty much the basis of every MCU film since Endgame.

Majors, Hiddleston, and Wilson will next appear in Loki season two. One assumes that at least some of Rudd, Lilly, Pfeiffer, Douglas, and/or Newton will appear in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and/or Avengers: Secret Wars.

 

“Looking out for the little guy”

Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania
Written by Jeff Loveness
Directed by Peyton Reed
Produced by Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard
Original release date: February 17, 2023

Image: Marvel Studios / Disney

We open with Scott Lang doing a reading at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco of his best-selling memoir Looking Out for the Little Guy (while “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian plays on the soundtrack). We also see him in his daily life, being stopped by passers-by and being asked to take selfies, and getting free coffee and pastry from a coffee shop owner who thinks he’s Spider-Man. We also learn that Hope van Dyne has taken over her father’s company, now called PymVanDyne, and is using Pym Particles to do good in the world. (We also see Scott and Hope having lunch at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, because they can.)

His reading ends with a phone call from a police precinct. His daughter Cassie has been arrested at a protest of the treatment of homeless people, of which there are many postBlip. (She also used a Pym Particle widget to shrink a cop car.) Scott is appalled to realize that this isn’t Cassie’s first time being arrested. Scott’s attempt to rebuke her is met with a rather pointed reply that at least Cassie is trying to help people. Since helping save the world from Thanos, all Scott has done is book tours. At least she’s trying to do some good.

It eventually comes out that she’s been doing some science with Hank and Hope’s help, to the surprise of both Scott and Janet. She’s figured out a way—with the help of an army of ants—to create a sort of satellite for the Quantum Realm. She can beam a signal into the QR and then they can properly map it without having to actually go there.

Janet—who has refused to discuss in any detail what she did in the QR for thirty years—grows incredibly apprehensive, and tells Cassie to shut the device off. However, it turns back on by itself and opens up a portal to the QR that sucks all five of them in.

They find themselves deep in the QR, far deeper than Scott, Hank, or Hope have gone during their sojourns to the QR. They’re also separated. Hank, Janet, and Hope find each other, and Scott and Cassie find each other, but the two groups are far apart. Hank keeps hearing weird things in his earpiece. That’ll probably be important later….

Janet uses her knowledge of the area to track down a nomad, who provides them with a mount and with protective clothing to blend in. They go to a bar that you know was described in the script as “just like the Mos Eisley Cantina,” where Janet asks to see Krylar.

Meanwhile Scott and Cassie are captured by a group of refugees, led by a woman named Jentorra, and whose number also includes a goopy being named Veb—if you drink a bit of his oozy body, you can understand any language—and a telepath named Quaz. (Quaz doesn’t like being a telepath, as people are disgusting.) They’re on the run from the conqueror, who removed them from their homes. They travel in ambulatory armed buildings. (Scott is blown away by this and exclaims, “Your buildings are alive?” to which Veb, appalled, replies, “Yours are dead?”)

Image: Marvel Studios / Disney

Upon learning that Scott and Cassie are from the same place as the hated Janet van Dyne, Jentorra wants them gone. She says that the conqueror will burn the world to find them. And just then, some ships arrive with Quantumnauts, robotic foot soldiers, who attack the refugees.

Krylar shows up at the bar—he’s Lord Krylar now, apparently—and it soon becomes clear that he and Janet had a thing going for a while during her exile, and that they fought against the conqueror together. He orders a drink that has a small creature in it, which you’re supposed to both drink and eat (thus killing the creature). To Janet’s horror, Krylar is now working for the conqueror and he’s summoned Quantumnauts to capture them. The trio fight back, with Hank enlarging one of the drinks so that the creature can now eat people instead of the other way around, and one chows down on Krylar.

Hope takes care of the Quantumnauts while Janet and Hank hotwire Krylar’s ship, and they make their escape.

Scott didn’t want to get involved in local politics—Cassie does—but once it becomes clear that they’re in danger, they help the refugees fight. To Scott’s shock, Cassie also has a super-suit, and they help Jentorra, Quaz, Veb, and the rest fight back. However, these Quantumnauts are led by M.O.D.O.K., a genetically modified version of Darren Cross, who was exiled to the QR by Scott two movies ago. Cross is the one who got Cassie’s signal and reflected it back to bring them all here. He’s working for the conqueror, and he captures Scott and Cassie.

Janet finally tells all. Years ago, she saw a one-person ship crash, and she saved the life of the pilot, who is called Kang. They bonded while trying to fix his ship. The ship operates by the power of thought, and once they get it working and Janet touches a component, she sees in her mind what Kang has done, how many universes he’s destroyed, how many worlds he’s conquered. He didn’t crash in the QR by accident, he was exiled here for his crimes.

She takes his ship’s drive and shrinks it down, then, when he catches up to her, makes it incredibly huge, and therefore unusable. However, thanks to her, his suit was fixed, and he is able to conquer the QR. She tried fighting back, but when the opportunity to go home presented itself, she left.

Kang comes to Scott with an offer: steal back his ship’s drive. If he does, he can take them all home and he also will be free. If he doesn’t, he’ll kill Cassie in front of Scott and make him relive that moment over and over again. Scott’s attempt to threaten Kang with being an Avenger and having summoned other Avengers falls on unimpressed ears, as Kang has killed many Avengers in many different timelines. (At one point, he asks if Scott is the one with the hammer. Scott allows as how that’s Thor, and they get mixed up a lot, what with being the same body type, ahem ahem…)

Scott goes to the drive, which requires him to dive deeper (and get smaller), but once he’s at the core, which he needs to shrink, other versions of him start to appear. These are all other possible Scott Langs, all but one of whom are still Ant-Man (the exception still works for Baskin-Robbins). At first, the infinite Langs start to overwhelm him, but they all rally behind him at the notion of saving Cassie’s life.

Image: Marvel Studios / Disney

Hope also arrives and dives into the core, though she’s there to get it away from Kang. She’s able to rescue Scott and together they shrink the engine. Kang then destroys the ship, captures Janet, leaves Scott and Hope in the wastes, and Cassie remains a prisoner. Hank survives the destruction of the ship and is rescued by the ants who were building things for Cassie. They arrived in the QR thousands of years earlier, thanks to the QR’s weird time thingie, so they’ve evolved into major badasses.

Kang restores his ship to its full glory, then gets on a holographic PA to announce that he’s about to go conquering some more places.

Cassie escapes, and frees Jentorra. Together they barge in on Kang’s announcement to rally the troops.

The refugees attack, as do Ant-Man and the Wasp. Cassie and Jentorra also fight, with Cassie getting into it with Cross/M.O.D.O.K. While they’re easily able to take care of the Quantumnauts, Kang himself is another story. At one point, Kang derisively tells them that he’s Kang and “you just talk to ants.”

At which point, Hank and his army of evolved ants show up and kick his ass. They’re aided, not just by the refugees, but also Cross, whom Cassie has convinced to switch sides by telling him not to be a dick. Cross dies in the effort, but he helps save the day.

Janet is able to use Kang’s ship to open a portal back to Earth. Hank, Janet, Hope, and Cassie make it through, but Kang—his suit trashed—stops Scott from going through. Fisticuffs ensue, and Scott does not do well (especially after Kang smashes his helmet), but then Hope comes back through the portal and makes extremely short work of Kang, eventually knocking him into the engine, consuming him, which also wipes out the portal. However, Cassie is able to reopen the portal, because she’s just that awesome, and they go home.

Scott is worried because Kang said that he needs to escape the QR to keep something much worse from happening. Scott is worried that if the bad thing happens, it’ll be all his fault. But then he brushes it off…

In Limbo, three other Kang variants—who look a lot like Immortus, Rama-Tut, and the Scarlet Centurion from the comics—discuss that the exile was killed, and not by one of them, and that “they” are now touching the multiverse, and they need to be stopped.

In 1893, Loki shows Mobius M. Mobius a presentation by Victor Timely, who is a dead ringer for He Who Remains—and of Kang.

 

“It’s never over”

Image: Marvel Studios / Disney

There was a way for this to be a good film—and parts of it are absolutely fabulous—but overall, it’s a massive disappointment on several different levels.

First, let’s start with the inexplicable folding together of Darren Cross and M.O.D.O.K., which starts with the even more inexplicable decision to do a literal interpretation of M.O.D.O.K. in live action. While big giant heads look really cool in a comic book, it’s pretty much impossible to make them look anything but doofy in live action. This is why the MCU versions of Arnim Zola and the Kree Supreme Intelligence weren’t big giant heads, and they should’ve taken that instinct to M.O.D.O.K.

And Corey Stoll goes from being a mediocre villain to a pathetic villain, and it’s not really an improvement. His presence as it stands adds nothing to the storyline.

The storyline itself is just all wrong for this particular corner of the franchise. Setting up the next big bad is not really in the wheelhouse of the Langs and the Pyms and the van Dynes of the MCU. Kang is too powerful a foe for these guys anyhow, which is why they needed to bring in a deus ex formicidae at the end to defeat him.

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And it wasn’t necessary! The basic notion of Ant-Man and the Wasp (both old and new) going to the Quantum Realm to stop a bad guy there could work. In fact, up until Jonathan Majors started sucking all the air out of the room, that movie was what we got, and it was an interesting and fun one. But the comics are full of bad guys they could’ve used (for example, Psycho Man, though he’d need a better name, or a non-Hasbro-owned version of Baron Karza, like they did for Fu Manchu in Shang-Chi). Hell, they could’ve used the one they had! Darren Cross could’ve been the conqueror, having used his super-science to take over the QR. Then you still have the personal hit, because Scott Lang would’ve been the one to have sent him to the QR in the first place.

But that would’ve required a heroic male character to do something wrong in this movie, and scripter Jeff Loveness doesn’t seem to be interested in that. Every single screwup by a good guy in this movie is committed by either Cassie or Janet. Cassie’s device is what catalyzes the plot, and Janet feels guilty for unleashing Kang (which isn’t really her fault) and then abandoning the QR completely (which kinda is). It’s left to Scott and Hank to save the day and rescue them. It’s not a good look, though I suppose I should be grateful that Janet at least lived to the end of this film, which bucks the appalling trend of recent MCU films of killing off its recurring women.

I didn’t mention Hope in that previous paragraph, and that’s one of this movie’s biggest flaws. While she does get a crowning moment of awesome in the climax, saving Scott from being beaten to death by Kang, it’s one of her few major contributions to the film. Mostly she sits around saying, “Mom!” a lot. For a movie whose primary title is Ant-Man & The Wasp, there’s damn little of the latter character in it.

On top of that, there’s so much missing from this movie: no Luis, or the rest of X-Con Security, and no Maggie. Doing an Ant-Man movie without Michael Peña is a crime against humanity, quite frankly, and Cassie’s mother deserves to be part of the story as well.

Good acting can cover a multitude of sins, and luckily this has plenty of that, at least. The five heroes are all fantastic, from the magnificent father-daughter banter between Paul Rudd and Kathryn Newton to the endless scratchy sarcasm from Michael Douglas, to Michelle Pfeiffer beautifully playing Janet’s free-floating guilt. (Evangeline Lilly creates no impression due to not having enough screen time. See above.) Jonathan Majors is incredibly mannered, but he makes it work, and his Kang is legitimately scary as a bad guy—plus, he also skillfully carries the weight of his knowledge of the (much) bigger picture. The movie also has superb support from three great actors in Katy O’Brian (also magnificent in The Mandalorian, as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Black Lightning), William Jackson Harper (who will always be Chidi on The Good Place to me, but who absolutely kills it as the weary telepath), and David Dastmalchian (whose bodily-orifice-obsessed Veb gets some of the best lines). Plus you’ve got Bill Murray at his absolute Bill Murray-est, letter-perfect as the ultra-skeevy Lord Krylar.

 

Next week, we switch over to a DC-based sequel with Shazam!: Fury of the Gods.

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s most recent work includes short stories in the magazine Star Trek Explorer (issues #8 and 9) and in the anthologies Weird Tales: 100 Years of Weird, The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, Joe Ledger: Unbreakable, and The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny.

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Keith R.A. DeCandido

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Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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