Attention, wisdom seekers!
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (PG-13, 125 minutes, in theaters) has a potentially life-altering message:
“It’s never too late to stop being a dick.”
(Ah, yes. There’s hope for me yet.)
But the third “Ant-Man” movie and zillionth (or so it seems) Marvel superhero flick offers more than this one deep thought.
“Quantumania” is about the need to fight for what’s right, even at personal cost. In keeping with its often tiny protagonists, it’s about standing up for the little guy. It’s about remembering that, as Ant-Man’s daughter tells her dad, “Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
They’re all good takeaways. Still, let’s face it, this movie is primarily concerned with less profound matters: action, excitement, laughs, special effects, otherworldly landscapes and exotic sci-fi creatures.
And while it’s not exactly groundbreaking in any of these areas – a lot of the sights and sounds are purloined from “Stars Wars” – “Quantumania” still works as escapist entertainment.
Paul Rudd has a lot to do with this. He’s back as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, and, as usual, he’s charismatically comical in the role.
The film opens with Scott resting on his laurels as a member of the Avengers team of superheroes. Strangers stop him on the street and ask him to pose for photos – often with their dog. He’s written a book, at one point reading from it with a self-satisfied grin to an appreciative audience at the City Lights Bookstore (he lives in San Francisco). He says that, if called back to duty as an Avenger, he’ll jump into action. But, for now, he’s enjoying his celebrity.
That’s short-lived, though not because of any Avengers business (at least, it isn’t Avengers business yet). The problems begin with Scott’s extended-family dinner with his girlfriend, the new Wasp, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly); Scott’s political activist daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton); and Hope’s parents, original Ant-Man Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and original Wasp Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). They all go to the basement to check out something Cassie’s been working on and wind up sucked into a subatomic universe known as the Quantum Realm.
Like Dorothy, they realize there’s no place like home, but first they have to contend with supervillain Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), who – let’s just say he lives up to his moniker.
Typical of a film like this, the plot’s a lot more convoluted than suggested here. But even if you missed the first two “Ant-Man” movies, or you’ve forgotten most of the details in them (that would be me), director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness slip in enough background information to prevent casual fans from falling hopelessly behind.
Besides, what makes this movie entertaining has next to nothing to do with plot intricacies. Though Majors has the gravitas to make Kang a compelling antagonist, the film is at its best when going for laughs – and, in this regard, it probably doesn’t hurt that screenwriter Loveness is a former writer for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Rudd sets the tone with his engaging, self-deprecating humor, but a couple of actors making surprise appearances, one in a cameo as a smarmy turncoat and the other as a giant head, all but steal the show. Then there’s the towering barfly who looks like broccoli and the gelatinous critter who’s obsessed with the holes in the human body. Good stuff.
Newton (“Big Little Lies”) provides a lively addition to the franchise as Cassie, who serves as the story’s moral compass. She’s the one who delivers the line about how it’s never too late to stop being … well, you know.
Lilly is another matter. She barely registers, which is weird, since her character’s name is in the title. Whether this is a matter of how the film was edited or written, or simply a lackluster performance, it’s hard to tell.
But the rest of the cast picks up the slack. *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.