Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Ant-Man goes to the Quantum Realm


  As everyone now knows, Marvel has created a  universe of interrelated characters who often find themselves fighting to save the world — or perhaps many worlds in the case of Marvel's multiverse extravaganzas. 
  I'm far from a Marvel zealot, so I don't always find it easy to remember all the ways in which Marvel has woven its intricate tapestry of superheroes and supervillains, Avengers and those who must be vanquished.
 Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, the third free-standing Ant-Man movie, can be seen as one more stop on Marvel's never-ending highway. It's not without some pleasures but doesn't climb to the top of the Marvel mountain either.
  In what probably counts as a miscalculation, director Peyton Reed inflates the Ant-Man universe, downplaying the low-stakes quality of the previous movies by setting most of the story in the Quantum Realm.
    What’s that? If you’re looking for a scientific explanation, you’ll have to search elsewhere. The Quantum Realm is one more big-screen arena for the display of bizarre creatures, weird landscapes, and other digital creations that, at least in this case, amount to a mixed bag of goodies.
    At one point, multiple versions of Ant-Man appear, forcing the “real” Ant-Man into a pseudo- identity crisis or some such. 
   And late in the movie, an impressive army of ants launches a pivotal attack. These ants, we’ve been told, have techno capabilities but the story is less interested in ant genius than in stuffing the Quantum Realm with as much bric-a-brac as possible.
    What’s notable about the humans who carry the Ant-Man banner?
     Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man and continues his comic take on the character who, in his human form, is known as Scott Lang. 
    Ant-Man’s teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) plays an important role, setting off the plot when she sends signals into the Quantum Realm, thus transporting the major characters to a dimension beyond space and time -- also possibly belief.
     Michael Douglas returns as Dr. Hank Pym, Ant-Man’s inventive, ant-obsessed father, and Michele Pfeiffer gets more screen time as Janet Van Dyne, mother of Hope Van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly). 
      The WASP, who shares the movie’s title with Ant-Man, appears when needed but sometimes seems like a bit of an afterthought.
     Inside the Quantum Realm, the screenplay divides the characters into groups, one centering on Janet Van Dyne; Janet’s importance stems from having spent nightmarish decades in the Quantum Realm. She knows its dangers.
      Ant-Man leads another group. Both groups are committed to a shopworn aspiration: They want to return home. 
     Of course, a villain must emerge.
     Meet Kang The Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), a soft-spoken fiend who has been banished to the Quantum Realm and is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.     
      Well, not really. Kang, too, wants out. If only he had the power core that’s necessary to launch the ship that would allow him to travel to any realm. So many realms. So many opportunities to terrorize. 
    Say this for Powers, he imbues the story with a gravitas it barely can support.
     The movie's best creation might be MODAK, a golden sphere that houses the face of what's left of a man. MODAK bills itself as the Ultimate Weapon. It’s more like a sight gag, what might have happened had Salvador Dali decided to paint Humpty Dumpty.
    Early on, Bill Murray shows up as Lord Krylar. Seems he and Janet Van Dyne had a fling during her long stay in the Quantum Realm. Reed gives Murray an entrance befitting a significant character and then allows him to vanish. 
       A word on the name Krylar: How did the drug companies miss this one, as in “ Ask your doctor about Krylar?” 
       I can’t get too worked up about Quantumania’s stumbles. I also can’t say found this edition as amusing as the original Ant-Man, which was notable for its humor and, by Marvel standards, modesty.
       I left a preview screening with a shrug. I returned from the journey to the Quantum Realm feeling less like a satisfied moviegoer than a traveler who had acquired another stamp on my Marvel passport. 

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