By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 5 kicked off last weekend with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the highly anticipated trilogy capper for the bite-sized hero. As is the case for virtually every new Marvel Studios project that is released, there are plenty of twists, turns, and surprises throughout Quantumania, along with some huge implications for the future of the ever-growing Marvel franchise.
Quantumania begins quickly and retains a breakneck pace throughout the film. The crew of Scott Lang, his daughter Cassie, and Hope Van Dyne and her parents Hank and Janet are thrown deep into the Quantum Realm, the mysterious universe within a universe that exists completely outside the normal realm of space and time. This is a concept that has been mentioned a number of times in the MCU, particularly in previous Ant-Man films and Avengers: Endgame, and all of the buildup pays off in a satisfying manner here. Audiences have heard much about the Quantum Realm, but never actually have had the opportunity to really explore it until now.
Once plummeted into the Quantum Realm, there are a wealth of spoilers to discuss, most notably related to the realm’s more notable inhabitants. There is, of course, the fan favorite comic book villain MODOK, played by Corey Stoll (unexpectedly reprising his role from the first Ant-Man). Stoll was the first villain that Scott Lang came up against, with the hero defeating him in a memorable battle on a Thomas the Tank Engine play set. In that film, he was Yellow Jacket, aka Darren Cross, but Quantumania finds this character in a completely different place and state.
As MODOK explains, he was sent deep into the Quantum Realm after his in defeat in battle but was saved by Kang the Conquerer (more on that villain later). The man once known as Darren Cross now ceased to exist, or so he thinks, and operates purely as a murder-obsessed henchman for Kang. Ultimately, though, MODOK is treated like a slave by Jonathan Majors’ supervillain, being ordered what to do and lacking all sense of autonomy and control. Although MODOK, similar to the character in the comics, is used by Peyton Reed and company for humor in Quantumania, there is a tragic element to MODOK’s arc in this film, even as the character commits various evil deeds (along with the lingering memory of his villainy in previous films).
MODOK has gotten some criticism from audiences upon the release of Quantumania, and whether or not one enjoys his presence in this film might depend on personal preference and prior exposure to the character in Marvel comics. It’s important to note that MODOK is not meant to be taken seriously here in the same vein as as his comic book counterpart. The somewhat off-putting visual effects to bring MODOK to the big screen, mapping a distorted head of Corey Stoll onto an odd-shaped robot body, comes across as comical – and that’s the point. And it’s with this element of uniqueness and wackiness that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania feels distinct from other MCU stories in the post-Avengers: Endgame era. That is to say, Quantumania is unafraid to get weird.
In a film rich with various character arcs, it is with MODOK that the film (rather unexpectedly) strikes its most touching and heartfelt arc. In being defeated by Scott and company, MODOK realizes it’s not too late to change his ways and become a better person. As he is laying before the film’s heroes bloodied and defeated, MODOK makes a remark about not knowing his purpose in life and that Scott and the others are his friends, a surprising comment given his antagonistic role in Ant-Man and now Quantumania. On the surface, this moment plays for humor – a strange looking, big-headed villain debating existential topics while professing his admiration for enemies. But, there’s more than just humor here. The iconic Stan Lee always spoke about his desire to include important real life lessons in his comic book stories, which is one of the many core elements that attracted readers in the first place and, in turn, a vast audience to Marvel films and television. MODOK’s realization that it’s never too late to do more, become better, and treat others with kindness is yet another example of Stan Lee’s last legacy on the Marvel universe to ground otherworldly characters and stories in relatable themes and messages.
Beyond MODOK, there is, of course, the new big bad of the MCU himself – Kang the Conquerer. Jonathan Majors played a variant of this character, known as He Who Remains, in the season one finale of Loki and returns in Quantumania to play a different version of Kang. This concept of variants has been seen in a number of Marvel projects so far, perhaps most notably in Spider-Man: No Way Home when Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland all played different versions of Peter Parker. The version of Kang seen in Loki had an ominous element, but came across more anxious and mild-mannered. He Who Remains explains to Loki and Slyvie that he has tasked himself as the ultimate guardian of the multiverse, developing the TVA to trim the existence of alternate universes to ensure the presence of a single universe and, in turn, to avoid a multiversal war. As those who watched Loki will know, a vengeful Slyvie kills He Who Remains, who exits with a menacing message about the threats his other variants pose. It takes a little bit of mental gymnastics to relate the events of Loki to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, although the connection is quite rewarding and interesting when thought out. With the death of He Who Remains, there is no one to protect the galaxy and ensure that a single universe exists. In turn, an infinite number of alternate universes begin to spawn, which, in turn, lead to the existence of different versions of Kang all across the multiverse. One of these Kangs is the Kang at the center of Quantumania, who was banished by his variants for his destructive ways. In this sense, the events of Quantumania would not be possible without the multiverse-unlocking that occurs in Loki.
And it’s with Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania excels. Majors is easily the film’s standout, playing a multi-layered character (literally and figuratively) with unexpected depth and nuance. As flashbacks in the film show, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne met Kang during her initial stay in the Quantum Realm. Janet initially viewed him as a smart, kind space traveler, thus why she opted to help him repair his ship. Kang was eventually exposed, however, as Janet connected to his ship and saw a glimpse of Kang’s villainy that lead to his banishment to the Quantum Realm in the first place. Thankfully, Janet was able to trap Kang in the Quantum Realm by wrecking the core of his ship with Pym Particles. With no way to escape the Quantum Realm, Kang took the opportunity to become the self-appointed ruler of this world.
The way in which Majors is able to fluctuate between charismatic and terror gives Kang a decidedly different feel to the MCU’s previous big bad in Thanos. With Thanos, the core villain of the Infinity Saga, there was a sense that the Mad Titan could be reasoned with (maybe). Yes, he killed half of the universe, but did so following a clear code. One of the elements that makes Kang more terrifying than Thanos is the fact that he has already wiped out entire universes for no reason other than basking in the destruction of worlds and the death of trillions. Thanos killed half of one universe. Kang killed the entirety of many universes.
Ant-Man is eventually able to defeat this version of Kang (for now, anyway), but it’s clear from the ending of Quantumania that he’s not going away any time soon. Majors gets the chance to show off his range even more in the two post credits scenes, the first of which shows hundreds of Kang variants that are seemingly ready to strike at any moment. They all are slightly different in appearance and/or personality, but there is a clear and distinct through line between all of them. Seemingly every version of Kang is focused on conquering universes and making worlds submit to his rule, making the task that the MCU’s heroes have going forward that much harder.
The second post credits scene also features Majors in what appears to be a scene from the upcoming season of Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s title character introduces Owen Wilson’s Mobius to Kang and explains the sheer threat that he possesses. In terms of post-Endgame content, Loki certainly stands out as a highlight, and this post credits scene promises more of the same in the second outing.
A more thorough breakdown of the two post-credits scenes and what they mean moving forward for the MCU can be found here.
What’s next for Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is a little less clear, though. His trilogy has now concluded, and if he were to get a fourth film, he would be only the second Avenger to go beyond three solo films after Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. The presence of Cassie Lang and her rising hero status means that these characters are bound to be seen again in some way or another, particularly as this crew know about Kang and the threat he possesses. Just as Gamora was able to warn the other Avengers about Thanos, it seems that Ant-Man and company have the knowledge to sound the alarm about Jonathan Majors’ villain.
In the final moments, during which Scott goes through his daily routine on the streets of San Francisco, he questions whether or not Kang is truly gone after his defeat in the Quantum Realm. That scene provided a welcome flash towards the darker incoming future of the MCU going forward amidst the impending threat of Kang, and illustrates one of the main strengths of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania: raising the stakes and tension for the entire universe while also creating a satisfying and enjoyable individual film.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is now in theaters.