Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes everything that's happened since Endgame, was an incoherent and disconnected mess full of stories that barely ever even referenced each other. But Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania is the start of a new day. It's a movie that should help the franchise regain its focus by putting the next big bad, Kang the Conqueror, front and center and kick off a new unifying story thread.
That's what it was supposed to do, anyway. And maybe that version of the movie exists on some other version of Earth. But in our reality, Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania is the most generic Marvel movie imaginable, smoothing over every edge that might alienate viewers until anything of substance has been expunged. That's not to say it's an unpleasant experience. It's not. Rather, it's the kind of movie you'll completely forget within a couple of days because there's nothing really worth remembering.
The setup here is that Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has spent the time since Avengers: Endgame doing nothing, and his newly grown-up daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) has been secretly working with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne/the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) on a project to remotely map the Quantum Realm.
Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) isn't happy about this when she finds out, but within seconds, the group all get sucked into the Quantum Realm and have to figure out how to get home while dealing with the nefarious Kang (Jonathan Majors), who wants to use our heroes to mount his own escape from the Quantum Realm.
Even just that setup, which happens within minutes of the movie starting, is emblematic of how slapdash the MCU has become. While it's basically assumed that Kang is somehow responsible for Ant-Man and friends getting sucked into the Quantum Realm, it's never actually confirmed or explained. It's just a thing that happened because it's what happened, and we shouldn't worry about the details. Because there aren't any details to worry about.
It's incredibly frustrating because it means that a delightful Jonathan Majors performance is completely wasted in this story. Kang is a character who claims to be, and who should be, at least a little bit beyond our understanding. And for a while, Quantumania pretends like it might go in that direction.
But in the latter half of the film, the mask slips and he suddenly becomes the sort of person who rants and raves about getting revenge on those who marooned him in the Quantum Realm, reducing the whole thing to a petty revenge plot--that's not really an interesting direction for the first major MCU villain since Thanos, and a cliched character arc that is unworthy of the effort Majors put into the performance.
And if Majors wasn't able to elevate the film beyond its extreme Marvelness, who else could? Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Black Widow were all films that were elevated to varying degrees by their filmmakers. None of them could fully escape the stink of Marvel's ugly obligatory CGI battles, but they at least all had their own interesting vibes and visual flair--Wakanda Forever even managed to be an actual great film.
That's not really an interesting direction for the first major MCU villain since Thanos
But Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania has no signature flair of its own. Aside from one short sequence near the beginning, the visual style is functional, with a Disney Plus-style point-and-shoot approach. While I'm sure it cost more than an FX-heavy episode of Loki, it doesn't really look like it. This, in turn, makes it feel even stranger that Quantumania makes no references at all to the events of Loki Season 1, where the man who would become Kang the Conqueror was introduced.
Maybe I could ignore all of that stuff if Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania had at least been funny. The previous movie was completely incoherent and full of plot holes, but it was still an extremely entertaining ride that worked as a comedy. Quantumania can't even really manage that much--the jokes miss far more than they hit.
So what are we even left with? A personal drama that lacks substance. A low-concept sci-fi movie pretending to be a high-concept one. And a movie I probably won't ever watch again. It's extremely frustrating--the Ant-Man movies were low-key gems because they were primarily comedies with a superhero twist.
Quantumania is no gem. It's not really funny, the action is generic, the storytelling is subpar, the visuals are standard CGI stuff, and the performances are just fine aside from Majors. It's not a bad movie, per se, which is on some level probably a credit to the Marvel machine. But it definitely isn't a good one, and certainly not what Marvel needed to jumpstart a new phase in the MCU and give it a North Star to move towards.