an emotionless void of digital sludge

Alongside the Iron Man trilogy and what we’re presumably now calling late-period Thor, the first two standalone Ant-Man adventures always felt like Marvel at its glossiest and perkiest. Why? Nothing to do with their storylines or effects: it all came down to them having been carefully tuned to the particular talents of their lead. 

Just as Robert Downey Jr had his motor-mouthing suavity and Chris Hemsworth his beefy comic chops, Paul Rudd was the stumbling, affable, everyman Avenger: the little chap who would rise to the moment, or more often shrink to it, in times of need. Anyway, that time-honoured strategy is nowhere to be seen in this splurgily generic third instalment, in which most of Rudd’s considerable charm, and those playfully ingenious real-world shifts in scale – think the 2015 original’s Aardman-homaging train set battle, or the 2018’s sequel’s San Francisco car chase, with its vehicles zipping down to Hot Wheels size and back – are cleared off-screen to make way for another two-hour blast from Marvel’s inexhaustible multicoloured CG gunge hose.

This latest adventure sees Rudd’s Scott Lang (AKA Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne (AKA The Wasp) and Scott’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton, insect alter ego name pending) sucked down into the Quantum Realm: a “universe beneath our universe”, and the current dwelling place of the evil Kang the Conquerer, the franchise’s latest superbaddie-in-chief. 

For fans, the arrival of Kang (Jonathan Majors, regal in an emotionally fragile Darth Vader way) marks the dawn of Phases Five and Six of the Marvel audiovisual content project: 10 more films and five more Disney+ series to tide us all through the next three years. But as far as the film at hand is concerned, it just spells another jumbo dollop of dimension-bending digital sludge, dished up with the usual multiverse caveat that every plot advancement can and probably will be annulled or reversed in the mid-credits scenes.

So we get lots of Rudd, Lilly and Newton, along with the returning Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, having stilted conversations on various green-screened fantasy landscapes, or reacting to whatever monster or spacecraft or convulsing green and purple whatsit happens to be wibbling overhead.

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