“Who is Kang?”
“Who I need to be.”
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a 2023 film from Marvel Studios. Directed by Peyton Reed from a screenplay by Jack Loveness, Quantumania is the springboard for the fifth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a sequel to 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and a follow-up to events depicted in Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Returning stars Evangeline Lilly, Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer are joined by Jonathan Majors, Katie O’Brian, Kathryn Newton, and William Jackson Harper with an appearance by Bill Murray.
The chief antagonist of Quantumaia is the time-tossed warlord known as Kang the Conqueror. His publication history is tangled with all the wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey stuff one would expect from a temporally-traversing entity of Kang’s stature. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963 as a foil for the Fantastic Four, Nathaniel Richards is a descendant of Mr. Fantastic from a thousand years in the future. Bored with what he perceived as a lack of challenge in his utopian surroundings, he becomes a student of the more turbulent times in his history. Richards discovers a long-abandoned time platform belonging to the despot known as Doctor Doom. Deciphering the workings of the device, he creates a Sphinx-shaped craft and uses it to appear in ancient Egypt where he uses his superior technology to enslave the local populace. Rama-Tut is defeated and driven off by the Fantastic Four who are in the past on a mission. Richards voyages to the 20th century where he encounters the doctor himself and derives inspiration from Doom’s battle armor to create his own.
Crafting a colorful, weapons-laden outfit, he calls himself as the Scarlet Centurion and attempts to conquer the present with a convoluted, reality-changing conspiracy using two versions of the Avengers as pawns in Avengers Annual #2 from 1968. Thanks to some quick thinking by Hawkeye, the Avengers prevail. Richards is forced to flee back into the timestream.
Heading for his home time, something goes awry and he ends up overshooting his destination by a thousand years, arriving in a war-ravaged world where the combatants used ancestral weapons they no longer understand. Swiftly mastering the awesome artifacts of the far-flung future, he uses them to bring the world to heel. Creating an even more formidable suit of powered armor, he becomes known as Kang the Conqueror as he expands his rule across the galaxy. The worlds of the future are destitute and denuded after the countless decades of warfare so he declares his intent to capture the resources of the past.
Nathaniel returns to attack the Avengers for the first time as Kang in Avengers #8, published in 1964, and is driven off when Thor uses Mjolnir to reflect Kang’s energies back at the Conqueror, forcing him to flee. Two issues later, the Avengers encounter another foe with the ability to manipulate time, called Immortus. In 1974, Immortus would be retconned into a future version of Kang who had ultimately grown weary of conquest in Giant-Sized Avengers #2. He would later be shown to be allied with The Time Variance Authority, an institution introduced in The Mighty Thor #372 from 1986, an agency Immortus would work in tandem with to ensure the integrity of infinity and the multiverse therein.
Kang meets an individual he is most often paired with, the Princess Ravonna, in Avengers #24 and #25, printed in 1965 and ’66. Kang encounters her when he annexes her father’s kingdom and is smitten by her beauty. He captures the Avengers to impress her, hoping to win her heart but she wants nothing to do with him. Kang’s officers recoil and revolt when they notice their dread commander’s reluctance to execute Ravonna just like he’d slain every other beaten sovereign so the Conqueror is forced to free the Avengers in an attempt to maintain control. Something about the scenario touches Ravonna’s heart. Revealing her true feelings, she sacrifices herself to save Richards, leaping in front of a shot meant for Kang.
He is able to keep her wounded and comatose body alive in a stasis pod while searching through time and space for a treatment of her injuries. None of his schemes are successful, his hunt is fruitless and she dies.
Kang would meet his end in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, published between 1984 and 1985. Plucked from his power center in the far future by the near-omnipotent being, the Beyonder, he is disintegrated by the same Doctor Doom who initially inspired Richards to adopt his alternate, armored identity. At the resolution of this conflict, he is reconstituted by the Beyonder and returned to the domains of Immortus in Limbo, where he would find the time-lord long dead.
Gaining free rein over the Citadel of Immortus and using the timelord’s devices, Kang is able to pluck Ravonna from the timestream the moment before she is blasted. He is elated to be in her company again, but distraught when he realizes that by removing her, the beam struck that Kang instead, killing him and creating an alternate reality.
He discovers that his chronal manipulations have created countless divergent Kang copies and can’t stomach the idea of sharing the multiverse with any of them. Reluctantly teaming up with two of his more resourceful doppelgangers, the three begin murdering countless Kangs across dimensions in Avengers #276-279 during 1986. When they triumph and only the three remain, they turn on each other. Naturally, the Avengers get involved. It’s revealed that Immortus faked his death and is culling Kangs in cahoots with Ravonna who learns that since the late Sixties, Kang has squandered several chances to revive her with his selfishness. She is incensed.
Ultimately only one Kang escapes and is invited to join the Council of Cross-Time Kangs. The Council is an organization composed of the survivors of every local-reality Kang war like the one Richards has just lived through. They have gathered from across all eras and dimensions to seek a weapon created by the Celestials that is capable of cracking entire universes. This cosmic conspiracy gets resolved between Fantastic Four #337 and #341 in 1990, requiring a good deal of chronal cleanup by the TVA in subsequent issues.
Kang has another incarnation known as Iron Lad, a younger version of himself made aware of his conquering destiny long before he becomes Rama-Tut. This Nathaniel rebels against his preordained path, preferring to find his own way. Iron Lad tries to fight the good fight, first appearing in Young Avengers #1, but he’s not relevant to the film or the MCU so far.
“It’s never too late to stop being a dick!”
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame, Scott Lang (Rudd) has become a minor celebrity who has published a memoir, Look Out for the Little Guy. He’s determined to make up for lost time with his daughter Cassie (Newton) due to his previous incarcerations as well as being trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years during The Blip.
Hope (Lilly) is running the Pym/Van Dyne Foundation, with the goal of making the world a better place using Pym Particles in practical, non-military applications. Hank Pym (Douglas) continues his work with his ants, infusing a hive with nanotechnology and creating the most sophisticated ant colony on Earth. Janet (Pfeiffer) is stonewalling her loved ones and ignoring all entreaties to discuss her lost years. Hank helps Cassie put together a transmitter to map out the microscopic universe Janet had been trapped in for over a quarter century, attempting to get her to open up in the guise of assisting the in assembly. Instead of being pleased, Van Dyne panics as Cassie primes the transmitter.
She screams that Cassie’s cartographer is sending a signal that could be tracked up to the macroverse, straight up through San Francisco and into the workshop. Before she can get Cassie to shut down the device, a beam bursts from the emitter diode which creates an incandescent portal inexorably vacuuming everything in the garage into it. Cassie, Pym, Janet, Hope, and Lang, along with the advanced ant farm, are drawn down into the depths of the Quantum dimension by the malevolent monstrosity known as MODOK. He is acting at the behest of a being called Kang the Conqueror who has some unfinished business with Janet.
They find themselves beneath the Quantum dimension they knew of, in a secret universe, a place outside of time and space. A Quantum Realm full of quantum people (near a quantum farm by a quantum stream, presumably). The group is separated, Cassie and Scott arriving after Jan, Hank, and Hope. Janet’s many years of experience come to the fore and once she regains her bearings, she’s able to guide Hank and Hope to some old acquaintances where they are able to acquire transportation. She tells them that she used to run with a rough crowd and that one of her old friends in particular will probably know precisely where to find Scott and his daughter.
Janet also finally opens up about the early part of her Quantum Realm experience. She tells them about how one night many years ago, she witnessed a vehicle that looked like a gleaming, golden egg crash near her dwelling. She investigates and discovers a survivor in a burned-out ship; a lost and hopeless man who nevertheless agrees to help Janet repair and recharge his vessel. After far more time than they care to admit and with repeated attempts ending in failure, they are able to restore the engine’s power core.
Van Dyne is able to coax the true identity and intentions from the man known as Kang, a warlord and genocidal mass murderer. A man who was sent into exile in the deep of the Quantum Realm, a prison she was unwittingly about to help him escape from. Now knowing what he is capable of and knowing she could never let him get out, she does her best to destroy the core, then flees to rally the dwellers of the Quantum dimension for the fight she knows is coming. A guy who calls himself “the Conqueror” isn’t going to give up his goals that easily. For almost thirty years she’s been hip-deep in that fight, only calling it quits when Hank comes to get her.
Meanwhile, Cassie and Scott have a few adventures with the local flora and fauna before being captured by a group of only vaguely humanoid sentients. The film’s inspired interpretation of the Babel Fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gets everyone on the same page and they realize that they’ve fallen in with a group of resistance fighters led by Jentorra (O’Brian) and her telepathic right-hand man, Quaz (Harper). However, Kang’s forces swiftly overrun the camp and the Langs as well as Jentorra are taken into custody.
Ant-Man is given a simple, dreadful, Hobson’s choice: do exactly what Kang wants and restore his engine’s power core, or the Conqueror will kill Cassie in the most horrible way possible in front of Scott and then make him relive the experience endlessly. Can Scott stop Kang from cracking out of prison and save his daughter at the same time? Can Janet return to the role of rebel leader she once reveled in and bring the fight to the Conqueror? Will Cassie learn to look before she leaps? Will Hank ever stop talking about ants and really, what the hell IS a MODOK? The answers can be found on screen. Please see Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to find out.
There is an interesting evolution in the character of Scott Lang and the performance by Paul Rudd. He’s still a charming, awkward goofball, but his breezy character is tempered and burdened with the nagging fears any parent will recognize. In the past, his concerns for Cassie and her future was abstract, in this film, his concerns are far more concrete and are matters of life or death. His focus on Cassie and her well-being is a great payoff to the groundwork put in during the earlier films of the trilogy.
Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror is a tour de force. This dude can act. His character’s emotions run the gamut from desperate loneliness and shallow regrets through cold calculations, blistering rages, grandiose scheming, and yearnings for revenge to complete and abject terror. These feelings flash out across his face so clearly, you can see them from orbit. His character also gets one of the most comic-accurate outfits in the entire MCU.
Kathryn Newton’s Cassie is a cute, clever, headstrong ball of fire. She really wants to do the right thing while making her father proud and she’s VERY confident she knows what that right thing is. In other words, her Cassie is a perfectly-played teenager. She is the third actress to play the role after Abby Ryder Fortson in the first two Ant-Man movies and Emma Fuhrmann in Avengers: Endgame. Her character is known as Stature in the comics. Between her and Hailee Steinfeld, plus the two kids from Wandavision, the Young Avengers team is coming along nicely.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s job in this film is largely thankless. Though she gets two decent action sequences, her role is basically that of data-dumping exposition machine. They have also completely forgotten that she had superpowers in Ant-Man and the Wasp, derived from being in the Quantum Realm for decades, an experience that she stated had “evolved” her. She has touching moments with Evangeline Lilly, but they are few and far between.
Hope Van Dyne is considerably less coarse with Scott than she has been in previous films, and Evangeline Lilly plays it much warmer. Though Hope’s relationship with Lang takes a back seat to the focus on the relationship between Cassie and Scott, she’s able to make up ground with her mom in the few scenes they have together. She is also practically beaming with pride in regards to Hank’s accomplishments, just a complete reversal from the icy distancing they had between them before Janet was rescued, the event that restores Hope’s faith in him.
O’Brian’s Jenturra is a solid bit of work. The character is a bog-standard rebel leader seen in countless films, but O’Brian’s empathy sells the role and matters more than her kickass action chops. She also has good chemistry with Harper’s Quaz.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a very imaginative, very ambitious, kaleidoscopic hallucination of a film. The visual language of the movie is just stunning and brings along with it the awe a viewer felt from seeing the Cantina scene in Star Wars for the first time in 1977. The creatures, the characters, the costumes, and the CG are all top-notch. The Star Wars influence is on this movie’s sleeve and Peyton Reed’s experience with Disney+’s The Mandalorian is quite apparent.
Many of the comic callbacks are really well done. MODOK is absurd, but exactly as he should be. The Council of Cross Time Kangs is on point down to the tiniest details. Doom’s time platform is perfect. This reviewer’s jaw dropped when he saw Rama-Tut. Kang is disturbingly proficient in both the use of his armor, his beam weapons and hand to hand combat. His fistfight might be the most brutal, bloody beat-down in MCU film history.
Quantumania also solves one of the nagging problems the MCU has had since 2008’s Iron Man: The Stark tech, space tech, Vibranium tech, and the Asgardians just being there in New Asgard amongst other things, should’ve completely changed the world of the MCU. Yet none of it has, presumably in order for the film worlds to feel grounded, more immersive, and relatable to the viewing audience. In setting up the Pym/Van Dyne Foundation with the explicit goal of using the high technology of the Pym Particles to make the world a better place, they nip that problem in the bud.
It’s not made clear why Janet ages as much as she did while she was trapped and yet Paul Rudd ages not at all. Where are her superpowers? Shouldn’t she recharge them just being in the Quantum Realm? In Quantumania the time travel aspects of the Quantum Realm are almost completely discarded, given just one mention. Bill Foster and Ava the Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp are dropped. They don’t rate even that much. Their fate isn’t afforded a single line of dialogue.
The origins of the disparate denizens of the Quantum dimension are never discussed. What sustains them is never revealed. Do they farm? Do they Fish? Is everything they eat imported? What’s their economy based on? Very little is divulged at all in regards to the residents of the vast technopolis, nor the ever-present, oppressive police force in their opaque and featureless blue-faced helms. Nothing is really learned about the neighboring and similarly science-based sister citadel, the nano-ant colony. Do they not know the ants are out there? Kang’s patrols are VERY vigorous, how can he not know of the ant capitol? For that matter, how is it that his super-science doesn’t detect Hank’s ant-communication signals?
One of the other issues is the tonal inconsistency. Humor is used to bigfoot emotional beats over and over again. That technique is used repeatedly, especially with MODOK, who just looks ridiculous and is the butt of many jokes. MODOK’S absurdities deflate almost every dark and dramatic moment and Reed doesn’t seem comfortable letting the movie breathe through its feelings without a laugh to break them up.
Once the super-ants and their nanotech ant colony were introduced in the opening, this reviewer was eagerly waiting for that Chekhov’s Gun to fire. When it did, when that gun went off, it happened in the best possible way, at the tail end of a rant that went something like, “I destroy worlds! I conquer universes! What do you do? You talk to ants!” It was such a satisfying payoff. This reviewer was definitely chortling.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a fun, funny romp through a sprawling, innovative, intense ocular feast with the occasional side mission swerving into high drama. The film is a bit jittery and jumpy as a result of that mashup but is still a really nice ride. This feature is so trippy, innovative, and visually overstuffed that all of the gritty work going on in the background is almost unnoticeable.
Building foundations and laying groundwork for what’s to come (in this case Phase V), is difficult. That demand has derailed several of the earlier Marvel Studios movies but here has never felt more effortless. That work is integrally interwoven seamlessly into the plot. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a must-see film for any dedicated Marvel film fan and is also accessible to the casual viewer. The movie is full of good, eye-popping, and entertaining stuff that you will find nowhere else, even if its math doesn’t always add up. Look out for the little guy, indeed. There was one major thing missing though: This franchise needs more Michael Peña. The loss of Louis is palpable. Seriously, can we have more Peña, please?
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in theatres 2/17/23.
Kang the Conqueror, Rama-Tut, Immortus, and MODOK were created by Stan Lee and JackKirby
Hank Pym was created by Larry Lieber, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby.
Janet Van Dyne was created by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart, and Jack Kirby.
Scott and Cassie Lang were created by David Michelinie, John Byrne, and Bob Layton.
Hope Van Dyne was adapted by Edgar Wright and Paul Rudd.