- Marvel Studio's "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" currently holds a "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- This is only the second Marvel Cinematic Universe film to earn a Rotten rating.
- Jonathan Majors shines as Kang the Conqueror, but the film is an overstuffed mess, critics say.
Are the pint-sized heroes of Disney's "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" enough to take on the newest — and baddest — villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Not quite.
Peyton Reed's previous Ant-Man installments offered the MCU a smaller-than-life look at what it means to be a hero. The small-stakes romps were welcome excursions away from the apocalyptic stakes of the wider franchise and offered a lighthearted counterbalance to the greater threats of the universe.
However, the demands of Disney's Marvel machine came calling for Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his partner the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly).
Enter Kang the Conqueror.
Played by "Lovecraft Country" star Jonathan Majors, Kang is the next overarching villain of the MCU and is expected to remain a looming threat throughout the Multiverse Saga, which includes the planned phases four, five and six of the franchise. He was introduced in the Disney+ show "Loki."
Critics praised Majors' performance in the film, as the actor was able to bring gravitas to the the role and exude the kind of menace that made previous big bad Thanos (Josh Brolin) such a compelling, and threatening, villain. However, Kang's larger-than-life presence overshadowed the quirky and charming narrative that fans have come to expect from Ant-Man side quests, critics say. (Majors will also appear as the antagonist in next month's "Creed III.")
"Majors is certainly chilling and captivating, but Kang seems like a mismatched foe for a standalone Ant-Man film and the result is a 'Quantumania' that is trying to be too many things," wrote Lindsey Bahr in her review of the film for Associated Press.
"Quantumania" is at its best when it keeps things "light and quippy," Bahr said.
This sentiment was shared with numerous other reviewers, as the latest Marvel film became one of only two in the 31 movies that have been released as part of the MCU to receive a "Rotten" score from Rotten Tomatoes.
"Ant-Man and the Wasp in Quantumania" held a 48% "rotten" rating from 293 reviews, as of Saturday. The only other film from the MCU to slip below the 60% "fresh" threshold was 2021's "Eternals," which ultimately earned a 47% rating.
"Quantumania" centers on Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, and Hope Van Dyne, aka the Wasp, after their family is sucked into the subatomic Quantum Realm. There, they face off against Kang, a dimension-hopping tyrant who is trying to escape from the realm after being exiled there for his rampages across time and space.
Here are what critics thought of the film ahead of its release Friday:
Kristy Puchko, Mashable
"Michael Pena's absence should have been a warning," wrote Kristy Puchko in her review of "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" for Mashable. "The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown so massive and all-consuming that it's not enough for an Ant-Man movie to be an Ant-Man movie."
What fans are given instead is a "chaotic, woefully unfunny mess that has forgotten why its hero was such fun."
Puchko bemoans that both Ant-Man and the Wasp as almost relegated to sidekicks in their own movie, as Kang and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are given the spotlight — and shine in it. (Michael Douglas also reprises his role as Dr. Hank Pym.)
The film itself is anything but light. Puchko likened the dark action scenes to those seen during the final season of HBO's "Game Of Thrones," blurry, dim and incoherent.
"Yet when the lights are turned up, you might wish they weren't," she said, noting that the Quantum Realm, a place of endless possibilities, has been imagined as "a mash-up of 'Star Wars,' 'Strange World,' slime, and those Magic Eye posters that made us squint to make sense of them."
"In the end, with its clumsy collision of influences, star power, CGI that is often rubbery or outright ugly, and a convoluted plot that should have an Excedrin tie-in, 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' is like a child's mixed media project, made of paper mache, glitter, and hunks of rotting ground meat," she said.
Kate Erbland, IndieWire
Majors as Kang "doesn't disappoint," said Kate Erbland in her review of "Quantumania" for IndieWire.
"Towering over 'Quantumania' and its little ant friends with genuine pathos, pain, and fear, even if the most studied MCU scholars will likely be confused by what exactly his Kang the Conquerer wants and, uh, is," she wrote. "But cramming Majors' Kang against Rudd's Scott Lang [and family] ... as they zip and zag through a tiny, 'Star Wars'-influenced world doesn't just feel confusing; it can feel outright mean."
Erbland calls Kang "formidable," noting Majors' powerhouse performance solidifies the character as "the MCU's scariest bad guy to date."
Majors has signed on for at least two more MCU films, but won't make an official return until Phase Six.
Charlotte O'Sullivan, Evening Standard
"The first instalment of Phase Five of the MCU comes with a lot of baggage," wrote Charlotte O'Sullivan in her review of the film for Evening Standard.
The film is not only the third standalone Ant-Man flick, but it also has the heavy lift of introducing Kang to the big screen.
"Sometimes the weight of all this responsibility causes 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' ... to buckle at the knees," O'Sullivan wrote.
Still, the film has heart, she said. Scott Lang's crippling desire to care for his daughter and keep his family safe is the driving force behind the film, which hosts a solid cast.
"If you can ignore the convoluted plot – not, sadly, a rarity in the increasingly complex Marvel Cinematic Universe – you'll have a blast with these characters," she wrote.
Hoai-Tran Bui, Inverse
"Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania" has the unenviable task of wrapping up "an already scattershot MCU" and introducing the franchise's next big bad, said Hoai-Tran Bui in her review of the film for Inverse.
"Ultimately, 'Quantumania' does a middling job of both. But in the process, it commits the worst sin a movie can make: it's boring," she said.
The film's biggest problem, Bui posits, is that "Quantumania" is not a movie, but a building block for the future of the MCU.
"There are three movies jostling for screentime within 'Quantumania' — Scott and Cassie's father-daughter story, Janet van Dyne's repressed guilt over Kang's origins, the Quantum Realm's long fight to overthrow the tyrannical Kang — but they're all overshadowed by the MCU of it all," she wrote.
"Marvel movies have long become less like movies and more like feature-length commercials for the next thing, and 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' is sadly the greatest embodiment of that," Bui added. "The result is an undercooked, overstuffed action movie that feels like a shadow of better pulpy adventure sendups before it."
The films overstuffed plot may have been forgiven "if it could have lived up to the absurd humor of the first two films," Bui wrote.
Read the full review from Inverse.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.