“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is fine. It's aggressively fine, in that it was created with the singular goal of mass consumption. It is palatable; it is available. It's like a bag of pasta you find in your cupboard when you haven't gone grocery shopping in a while and you're scouring your house for something to eat.

This wouldn't be that disappointing, given much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's output lately. However, the first two Ant-Man films are pretty fun, and “Quantumania” is missing two of the things that make those movies work.

The first missing element is a sense of fun. “Ant-Man” and its first sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” get a lot of laughs out of poking fun at the silliness of the increasingly self-serious MCU. While it’s still directed by the previous films’ helmer, Peyton Reed,“Quantumania”  has a lot less time for jokes, thanks to its billing as the foundation of the next of Marvel’s increasingly-creaky franchise-spanning sagas.

In “Quantumania,” Ant-Man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is pulled into the subatomic Quantum Realm by a science experiment gone wrong. Joined by his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton),  his partner The Wasp (aka Hope Van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lily), and her parents (the former Ant-Man and Wasp, played by Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer), he must navigate through this strange and alien world and thwart the plans of the malevolent Kang (Jonathan Majors), a multi-dimensional time-traveler who seeks to escape the Quantum Realm so he can conquer the rest of reality.

If only the plot summary in the movie itself was this succinct. “Quantumania” takes forever to explain itself, usually doing so in portentous, faux-epic language that is parceled out in momentum-killing dribbles throughout the movie (it has to take at least 30 minutes before anyone says Kang’s name, despite the character being placed at the forefront of the film’s marketing). This feels mandated by the film’s producers; Reed, known for his comedy bona fides, seems much happier when managing the parts of the film that are trying to be funny – often quite successfully, thanks to Rudd’s natural comedic chops and a very good recurring visual gag that I will not spoil. That said, most of the self-skewering jokes that animated the other entries in the Ant-Man series are nowhere to be seen. There’s IP to market!

The other missing element is the previous films’ trademark size-changing action. Ant-Man and Wasp, you may recall, have the power to get very big or very small, and to make other objects do the same. This has led to some of the more entertaining action scenes in the MCU’s roster, particularly in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which showcases such delights as a rollicking car chase through San Francisco featuring vehicles that vacillate in profile between sedan and Hot Wheel. Scott and Hope (and eventually Cassie) do change sizes from time to time in “Quantumania,” but because they are in the Quantum Realm’s context-free CG void, the comedic and kinetic novelty in seeing objects of unusual size interact with each other has largely been stripped away.

I don’t hate “Quantumania.” The trailers for it looked like computer-generated mush, and I was pleased that the final product, while not great-looking, was at least more visually clear and in possession of a particular visual aesthetic (specifically, it reminded me very much of the Star Wars prequels of the late 90s and early 2000s, a unique vibe that I’ve always appreciated). The script, penned by “Rick and Morty” veteran Jeff Loveness, has a bit of fun when it’s allowed to meander down some narrative or comedic rabbitrails, but I was always let down when the film was forced to get back on track.

The last two MCU movies, “Quantumania” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” are probably the two best Marvel films to be released since the franchise returned from its pandemic-occasioned break. Here’s the problem: Between those two movies, “Avatar: The Way of Water” came out, and it was more exciting, heartfelt, better-looking and even funnier than anything Marvel’s done for at least the last three years. Even if the only thing you get out to the theater for is franchise-focused, computer-driven action, it’s so obvious that there are entertainments more worthy of your time. “Quantumania” is fine, yes, but shouldn’t we expect better?

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