USA TODAY International Edition

‘ Ant- Man 3’ loses some charm, but gains a star

- Brian Truitt

“Ant- Man” films used to be the fun heist movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, full of sci- fi strangenes­s and Paul Rudd’s shrinking ex- con/ superhero dad, and existing as needed humorous breaks from the higher- stakes “Avengers” extravagan­zas.

These days, nothing is safe from becoming an all- out Marvel epic, and so goes “Ant- Man and the Wasp: Quantumani­a” ( ★★g☆; rated PG- 13; in theaters Friday). Gone are the usual quirky personalit­ies and breezy shenanigan­s ( we miss you, ginormous Hello Kitty Pez dispenser!), though returning director Peyton Reed pumps in enough family bonding and signature whimsy to complement the massive world building and a new time- traveling big bad played by a terrific Jonathan Majors. Laying important groundwork for Marvel’s film future unfortunat­ely means losing some of the franchise’s essential scrappy charm.

After helping to save galactic existence ( see: “Avengers: Endgame”), Scott Lang ( Rudd) is feeling pretty good about himself, enjoying the celebrity life in San Francisco and doing readings from his memoir. His 18- yearold daughter, Cassie ( Kathryn Newton), who shares her ex- con father’s tendency to get in trouble with the law, thinks he should be less complacent with the hero- ing and still be looking out for the little guy.

They’ve formed a close- knit unit with Scott’s partner Hope Van Dyne, aka the Wasp ( Evangeline Lilly), her mom Janet ( Michelle Pfeiffer) and her dad Hank Pym ( Michael Douglas), who hatched the size- changing technology behind Ant- Man’s and the Wasp’s powers. Cassie has been getting a crash course in superhero science and experiment­ing with sending a signal to the subatomic Quantum Realm. Janet’s not too pleased, since she was stuck there for 30 years and has been keeping secrets since, and a mishap sends them all down there “Wizard of Oz” style.

After being split up, Janet uses her knowledge of the place to try to find sanctuary for Hope and Hank. Meanwhile, Scott and Cassie meet an oddball group of freedom fighters and ultimately the scarred face that runs the place. Exiled to the Quantum Realm, Kang the Conqueror ( Majors) coolly boasts about killing Avengers in assorted timelines but needs to use Scott’s penchant for stealing stuff to escape his current predicamen­t.

The recent MCU, especially with its movie output, hasn’t been all that welcoming for total newcomers and “Quantumani­a” is not the place to start your superhero quest. ( In fact, let’s give out some homework: The Disney+ “Loki” series is an extremely helpful watch to understand­ing the Kang business.) Like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Quantumani­a” crams a ton in so it can shape a piece of a larger story. If you’re a hardcore fan, it’s all good. But it does com

plicate matters for the more casual viewer ( assuming those still exist).

Reed’s film does wonders mapping out the spiffy landscape of the Quantum Realm with jaw- dropping beings and splendid sights, all with a “Mad Max at the ‘ Star Wars’ cantina” vibe. Bill Murray drops in as the eccentric Krylar, a shady character Janet knows well, while Scott and Cassie even meet a Guardians of the Galaxy- type misfit crew, including telepath Quaz ( William Jackson Harper) and warrior Jentorra ( Katy O’Brian). Yet these interestin­g new players get limited screen time thanks to a busy narrative with endless Ant- Men, a guy with broccoli for a head and forced callbacks.

Majors thankfully rights the ship every time he pops up with his deliciousl­y disconcert­ing presence. Kang’s deal is slightly more confusing than the last MCU big bad, a large purple alien collecting pieces of jewelry. One day, though, we’ll probably be talking about the multifacet­ed Kang in the same breath as Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Majors brings an innate and understand­able humanity to a king in his own mind who is all about manipulati­on and winning but not without weakness.

While rolling out the ubiquitous kitchen- sink finale, “Quantumani­a” lets Scott and Kang duke it out in a rousing slugfest that’s the highlight of this dizzying adventure.

Even when the ant- sized Avenger headlines a large- scale Marvel epic, it’s still the little things – like two dudes throwing hands, with no superpower­s in sight – that mean a lot.

 ?? PROVIDED BY JAY MAIDMENT/ MARVEL STUDIOS ?? Scott Lang ( Paul Rudd, left) meets Kang the Conqueror ( Jonathan Majors) in Marvel’s “Ant- Man and the Wasp: Quantumani­a.”
PROVIDED BY JAY MAIDMENT/ MARVEL STUDIOS Scott Lang ( Paul Rudd, left) meets Kang the Conqueror ( Jonathan Majors) in Marvel’s “Ant- Man and the Wasp: Quantumani­a.”
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