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'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' review: All hail Kang 

Jonathan Majors elevates what is otherwise a lower-tier Marvel movie, leaving enough intrigue for what's to come in the MCU.

An image from 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' is shown.
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"Is Jonathan Majors the greatest living actor?" That was legitimately my first question when leaving the screening for "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania." In a movie with infinite universes (been there, done that) featuring the Avenger that talks to ants as he shrinks down to the size of one (been there, done that), I came away wanting to know what superlative would be too hyperbolic to describe the performer who plays the supervillain. Because more important than elevating what is otherwise a lower-tier Marvel movie, Majors leaves hope for what's yet to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dude is operating on GOD mode here.

Majors as Kang the Conqueror is easily the best thing to happen in the MCU since the victory lap of a credits sequence rolled in "Avengers: Endgame." That was now almost four years ago, and so much since has felt like the Marvel machine spinning its wheels or just churning out content for the sake of content. For all of its shortcomings, "Quantumania" — the first film in what's considered phase five of the MCU — at least feels like it means something, because it has a sense of forward progress for the larger, connective tissue of superhero storytelling.

It always seemed odd that Kang, the next big bad after Thanos, would make his theatrical debut in the third "Ant-Man" movie (his MCU debut was in the Disney+ series "Loki," a high point of phase four). Now having seen "Quantumania," the decision is even weirder. This feels like two very different movies, with Kang's appearance about halfway through being the dividing line.

Marvel Studios

The first hour of "Quantumania" is a bit of a slog: a bloated "Rick and Morty" episode meets the original "Star Wars" trilogy where Scott/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Scott's now college-age daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) — along with the original Ant-Man and Wasp, Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer) — are all accidentally transported into the Quantum Realm. It's a dimension beneath our world, with lots of peculiar creatures that are sometimes mildly amusing and new landscapes that almost always look fake because Marvel either can't or won't figure out its CGI issues.

As much as I enjoy the concept of a friendly talking gel creature and spaceships that are alive, director Peyton Reed and writer Jeff Loveness' (who notably has worked on the aforementioned "Rick and Morty") world building of the Quantum Realm is mostly uninspired, overly long and filled with tedious exposition saddled on Pfeiffer. Janet was previously stuck there for 30 years, leaving her to explain to the rest of the family what exactly the Quantum Realm is, the different civilizations living there and how Kang came to power. Bill Murray is also in the Quantum Realm, which is notable only because of how inconsequential his role is. He's featured in a section that's such a forced, throwaway side-quest that I had actually forgotten he was in this movie until I saw his name in the credits.

Mercifully, Kang eventually shows up, shifting the movie from the kind of romp you'd expect from an Ant-Man flick to an existential crisis of multiversal proportions. The stakes are so high not even a mound of Ant-Man variants can truly grasp them. Majors' steely intensity forces Rudd to drop the sarcasm and get serious, which Rudd does effectively because he's Paul Rudd; the problem is he's playing Ant-Man, who to this point is a secondary superhero that's good for comedic relief (which has worked really well before; absolutely no knock on Ant-Man).

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So as tonally off as it is for a character like Kang to be dropped into this movie, and for all the heavy-handed exposition he has to recite, Majors fully delivers. Kang comes across like the big deal Marvel needs him to be, with Majors performing line readings like he's in a prestige awards-season film. I was hanging on to every word. He presents Kang as this soft-spoken explorer who seems tortured by the immense power he has and the burden that ultimately carries. It makes him all the more menacing when he feels forced to wield that power, like he's internally lamenting that he always has to do everything himself.

That said, Kang's motivations are left pretty unclear, surely to be explored further in future appearances (with the upcoming "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty," Marvel has already dedicated a movie's subtitle to the character). My biggest takeaway from "Quantumania" is that I want to stick around to see what happens next, despite how much Marvel continues to disappoint. That's what a decade of established goodwill and a formidable supervillain can do for a sputtering franchise. Good on Marvel Studios and president Kevin Feige, though, for going all in on Majors, and to Majors for getting that sweet, sweet Disney money.