Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but Ant-Man’s raised the ante by leaving behind his first two movies there. Aside from a brief opening sequence in the Bay Area, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania takes place wholly in the Quantum Realm, the mysterious subatomic universe that lies beneath our reality—and a whole lot of others, as it turns out.
As a result, Quantumania looks and feels nothing like 2015’s Ant-Man or 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, which take place almost entirely in and around the streets of San Francisco (old-school TV fans will see what we did there). Instead this time around director Peyton Reed hurtles Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hope Van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) headlong into the depths of the Quantum Realm and smack in the middle of a conflict that Janet herself previously fought during her 30 years down there.
That conflict hinges on a ragtag army of resistance fighters struggling to free the Realm from the tyranny of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). There’s a space opera vibe to all of it, and some have already called Quantumania the Star Wars movie of the MCU. With Peyton Reed having a foot in that universe too—he directed two episodes of The Mandalorian—the comparison is not unreasonable.
“Listen, I’ve been a lifelong Star Wars fan as many of us are,” Reed tells Den of Geek. “And having some fun in that Mandalorian world was definitely great. George Lucas created such a vivid universe in those movies. This [Ant-Man] wanted to be something altogether different.”
Reed says he reached back even further into the history of science fiction, from old serials to the now legendary pulp magazines of the 1950s, to latter-day illustrated stories, all to draw inspiration for the imagery of Quantumania.
“It keys off everything from Flash Gordon to Barbarella, or any of those sorts of ‘70s or ‘80s things like Heavy Metal magazine,” Reed explains. “We really wanted it to be kind of a grab bag of all these science fiction movie and literary touchstones that I grew up with. So to me, it’s just like, we have worlds within worlds to create in the Quantum Realm. So they can be all these different things.”
Reed notes one influence in particular that might be especially obscure to a lot of viewers, but at the same time could trigger a memory in a certain generation that grew up with one specific Saturday morning animated show from the 1960s (which was briefly revived in 1981).
“David Dastmalchian plays this character Veb, who is sort of this red globby character,” the director says. “To me, it was like, ‘Do you remember the Hanna-Barbera Herculoids animated series? One of those guys was named Gleep or whatever it was called. What if we had a photo-real version of something like that?’ I love the idea of just having a lot of different aesthetic qualities to represent all these different life-forms down there.”
In designing and visualizing the full breadth of the Quantum Realm, which had only been hinted at in the previous two Ant-Man movies, Reed says he wanted the artists working on the project to introduce the wildest ideas they had.
“To create this entire corner of the MCU that hadn’t been explored yet and did not belong to any of the other heroes in the MCU … [we assembled] a team of artists under our production designer Will Htay,” the director elaborates. “We had so many different worlds within the subatomic world to create, [so we said], ‘Bring your best ideas to the table and open your portfolios. Let’s see some of the strange stuff you created.’”
A number of the concepts generated were truly weird in the best sense, and provide Quantumania with a setting and atmosphere unlike anything we’ve seen yet in the MCU.
“If I had an idea that, like, what if they have a freedom fighter camp, and there are these buildings there, but they turn out to also be freedom fighter soldiers, and they have a symbiotic relationship with the soldiers that live inside them—let’s run with that. That for me was a joy,” says Reed. “Let’s introduce something that feels organic to the Ant-Man world, but gives us a whole different visual palette to operate in.”
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is in theaters this Friday, Feb. 17.