Busy, noisy and thoroughly uninspired, “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is the latest, though doubtless not the last, installment in a Marvel franchise that took unsteady flight in 2015. Simply titled “Ant-Man,” that first movie was two hours of nonsense and branding, and disappointing enough to suggest that the character would be more farm-team material than A-lister. Given Marvel’s own superpowers, though, the movie turned out to be a hit, ensuring that the buggy guy would dart around for a while. Three years later, the agreeably buoyant sequel “Ant-Man and the Wasp” followed, and was an even greater success.
“Quantumania” will most likely vacuum up yet more cash, partly because there’s not much else shiny and new in theaters now, never mind that this movie isn’t especially new or shiny. A hash of recycled ideas and schtick, it borrows from Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” the “Star Wars” cycle and Marvel’s own annals and largely serves as a launching pad for a new villain, Kang (Jonathan Majors). Once again, after some perfunctory table-setting, Ant-Man a.k.a. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his brainiac romantic partner, Hope Van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), suit up, flying high and zipping low to save their family and the world amid quips, the usual obstacles and household drama. (Kathryn Newton plays the Ant kid.)
Directed by Peyton Reed from Scott Loveness’s barely-there script (the first movies each had multiple writers), “Quantumania” bops along innocuously at first, buoyed by the charm and professionalism of its performers and by your narrative expectations. Something is going to happen. After some jokey blather and reintroductions (hello again, Michael Douglas), it does, and once again Ant-Man et al. are sucked into the so-called Quantum Realm, a woo-woo alternative universe filled with swirls of color and looming threats. It’s there that Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), as you’re laboriously reminded, spent many enigmatic years and where, after the some narrative delay, the mysteries of that adventure are revealed.
The Realm features darkly ominous hues, fractal shapes, biomorphic organisms, streams of fire and strange beings, including Bill Murray, as a lord, who briefly drifts in on the vapors of his celebrity and flirts with Pfeiffer before drifting out to cash his paycheck. Murray notwithstanding, there are enough attractions to keep your eyes engaged, and the creature design is fairly witty. It isn’t pretty; the palette runs toward dun and dull red with slashes of marine blue. But it is diverting to see how movies realize alternative realities, and at least some of the C.G.I. wizards here — who do yeoman’s work in movies like “Quantumania” — seem to have spent time studying the deep-space images captured by the Hubble Telescope.
As is too often the case in the franchise realm, far less attention has been paid to the story. None of what transpires is surprising, which puts the burden on the actors. Rudd is fine. A professional cutie-pie, he is a reliably anodyne presence, a human warm blanket. Good-looking but not dangerously so, he has easy charm and a signature crinkly smile that telegraphs that he isn’t worried, so you shouldn’t be, either. Mostly, he excels at playing a durable Hollywood type — the ordinary guy who proves extraordinary — a character that flatters half the audience and will never go out of style as long as men run Hollywood.
Pfeiffer, Majors and Douglas (as Hope’s equally big-brained dad) are the truer stars of this show, and each brings something valuable to the mix. (Lilly’s character now feels like an afterthought.) For the most part, Majors strikes important poses while glowering imperiously. But he brings some complicated, wounded intensity to his role, and while his sotto-voce delivery sometimes edges into near-parodic Shakespearean overstatement, he effortlessly holds your attention, as do the sublimely chill Douglas and Pfeiffer. Douglas has even less to work with than Pfeiffer, who turns out to be the movie’s M.V.P., but they’re both wonderful to watch even when doing nothing much at all, which of course is its own kind of superpower.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Rated PG-13 for comic-book violence. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. In theaters.