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Ant-Man’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been the most comedic. The concept of a tiny superhero, running across kitchen countertops or riding ants as if they’re horses – it’s all antithetical to larger-than-life superheroics. Ant-Man’s antics have often seemed frivolous to many MCU fans and that may be why his movies have leaned hard into all sorts of scientific explanations to qualify his powers, the experiments he’s been a part of, and the adventures he spearheads.

But despite the MCU’s attempts to add such intellectual heft to his existence, the Ant-Man movies are best enjoyed as cinematic fluff, ixnaying any real intellectual rigor. This is why his latest adventure entitled ANT-MAN & THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA, which opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow, is quite frustrating despite being packed with a lot of fun. So much of it is delightfully silly as the Quantum Realm is revealed to be like the STAR WARS cantina on steroids, but too much of it wants to be a serious examination of history, regrets, and the principles of physics. That’s a heavy lift, even for an ant.

The movie does start off heading in the right direction with a light, breezy feel as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is high on life after having helped the Avengers defeat Thanos a few years ago. His new family of Hope/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Hank’s fellow scientist wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) is one big happy group of over-achievers. Lang’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), now a teenager, is even following in the Pym family’s footsteps by showing talent as a science whiz. She’s just found a way to explore the Quantum Realm without endangering any of her family and papa Scott couldn’t be prouder.

Of course, the device she’s invented ends up sucking all five of the clan into the Realm, and soon they’re not only battling to find a way back home but having to navigate all the dangers of the ‘alien universe’ they’ve catapulted into once again. Not only is the terrain dangerous, full of all kinds of odd foliage and landscapes that would make James Cameron jealous, but it’s filled with ridiculously odd inhabitants too. Some of the alien creatures are silly, some are menacing, and one, the new supervillain Kang (Jonathan Majors), is a dangerous dictator.

In the role of Lang/Ant-Man, Rudd gets to play both doofus and straight man. His physical ineptitude as the egotistical hero is hilarious, as are his deadpan reactions to all the zaniness unspooling around him. When QUANTUMANIA makes the most of his mania, the film’s a rollicking good time. But too much of the time the Quantum part dominates, making too much hay of all the explanations of the multiverse. Does any audience member really care to hear the characters dwell on discussions of various dimensions, timelines, and alternate histories when there are broccoli-headed aliens to laugh at?

And yet, every couple of minutes the action stops for someone to explain to another just what is going on in this truly out-there dimension. Even the introduction of Kang isn’t wholly successful despite the formidable Majors. He’s both charming and menacing, like a good Bond villain, but the poor guy has to keep explaining what he’s done, doing or plans to do. He starts to sound like Dr. Evil over-explaining his schemes to Austin Powers. But that film was a parody. QUANTUMANIA is trying to be serious a great deal of the time and all that exposition is a drag.

Still, when QUANTUMANIA is crackling, it’s an oddball delight full of well-timed physical schtick, crazy world-building, and a game cast including Corey Stall playing a sort of Humpty Dumpty version of his villain from the first film. (You have to see it, to believe it.) Pfeiffer is given a lot to do here and Douglas is clearly enjoying his comedic role, particularly when he gets to put his hands in a gelatin slinky needed to drive a spaceship. Newton can play sass in her sleep, and she’s a good addition to the fam. Only Lilly is shortchanged as her Hope is given precious little to do. She is quite the fighter in the epic finale, but the whole battle is pitched way too large for two superheroes named after tiny bugs.

The MCU clearly is in love with the whole multiverse/timeline trope as it has now driven END GAME, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, two DOCTOR STRANGE films, the LOKI series, the MOON KNIGHT series, and the ANT-MAN big screen adventures. But by now, it’s simply too much of everything, everywhere, all at once. And if all these dimensions can be so easily altered and repaired, then where are the stakes? Nothing matters if life and death can be so easily reset.

Frankly, it would behoove Kevin Feige and the filmmakers of the MCU to take a page from the Ant-Man gestalt and scale things smaller during phase five. What made the first two ANT-MAN films so pleasurable was that they were modest. They were more character studies than an all-hands-on-deck epic. Not every MCU film needs to save entire galaxies. Sometimes, it’s enough to engage with an alien whose head looks like broccoli.

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