The new “Ant-Man” and the creaky, spasmodic Marvel machine

No hero, it seems, is immune to the franchise’s darkest obsession yet: gobs and gobs of CGI.

Marvel Studios

Marvel films have never been overly attached to the real world due to their affinity with Norse gods, alien warriors, flying wizards and the like. Still, some of these films had at least a vague sense of tactility, and perhaps the most down-to-earth hero was the plucky little Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd, the perfectly grinning 21st-century everyman. Ant-Man’s strength is that he can grow very small (although he sometimes changes it and grows very large). He lives with his family in San Francisco and is engaged in combating petty theft or sabotage at the local laboratory. The main villain of his last film, the charming one Ant Man and the Waspwas a criminal restaurateur named Sonny whose superpower was that he owned a gun.

For Ant-Man’s latest exploit, which bears the splashy title Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, he puts himself in a slightly higher weight class. In Peyton Reed’s film, the hero battles a grumpy time lord named Kang (Jonathan Majors) who exists on every plane of reality and in every parallel universe, seemingly striving to be villainous in all of them. He was banished to the Quantum Realm, a subatomic dominion of swirling purple clouds and strange gooey creatures. And so, Ant-Man must delve into that land and face off against Kang for reasons that will appear in another sequel over the next few years.

Forgive me for sounding a bit weary. No Marvel hero is immune to the franchise’s newest, darkest obsession: worlds created almost entirely through computer-generated imagery, superimposed on green-screen backdrops in front of which the actors wander while staring in awe at an outlandish horizon throw. Doctor Strange recently spent time in the “Multiverse of Madness”, and Thor stumbled into the ghastly “Shadowrealm” in his latest entry; These days, even the movies that are mostly set on Earth look pixelated. For his part Quantumania is mostly unconcerned about our humble planet, where he spends only a few early minutes reminding us that Scott Lang aka Ant-Man is happily working with Hope van Dyne aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) raises. and feuding with Hope’s heroic parents, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Then this ensemble is sucked into a portal to the quantum realm. Janet had previously been trapped there for 30 years, and the whole gang soon learns of her involvement with Kang, who has become the despotic ruler of the realm. Kang, played by Majors, previously appeared in the Disney+ television series Loki, but be forgiven if you didn’t get through it all; Only the bravest still have the stamina to consume any Marvel-branded content. Kang’s introduction in this film is so significant that the franchise is apparently rolling him out as their next major cross-series villain. Much like his predecessor, Thanos, he has a penchant for long, booming, and irritatingly ambiguous monologues.

Jonathan Majors sits on a velvet throne
Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios

Kang’s problem is that he has a big velvet chair that lets him travel through time (I’m not kidding); this power has bound him in existential knots and possibly genocidal rage. He calls himself a “Conqueror,” but the only thing Majors can truly conquer is the realm of the Gravitas, projecting such complete and utter sincerity that I practically begged him to crack a joke. The previous two ant man Movies, both also directed by Reed, are delightful because they’re light-footed capers that have real wit and not just the meta-wink at the camera that gets laughs in most superhero movies. That cleverness, combined with the special effects silliness of people and objects getting big and small, drove the series – and it’s basically been scrapped here and replaced with a series of heavenly showdowns between Kang and Ant-Man.

At any time Quantumania allows itself to be a little silly, it’s in much better shape. The screenplay by Jeff Loveness, a Rick and Morty The author often has the show’s ancient energy, and uses the conceit of the “parallel world” to portray whimsical species, including a gooey creature yearning to grow vents and a frustrated telepath (played by William Jackson Harper), who would appreciate it if everyone did it Please Stop thinking about so many disgusting things. Though I missed Ant-Man hanging around in San Francisco’s criminal underworld, he gets a few minutes here and there to fool around with subatomic aliens, and Rudd meets the challenge with his usual aplomb. But by and large, the story is in the service of the larger Marvel engine, an increasingly creaky machine that nonetheless grinds on and dumps superstar cast members in CGI glop because the show just needs to go on.

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