Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Peyton Reed
Stars: Abby Ryder Fortson, Bobby Cannavale, Evangeline Lilly, Hannah John-Kamen, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas, Michael Peńa, Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd, Randall Park, T.I. Harris,Walton Goggins
Released: August 2nd, 2018 (UK)
I heard a bug hit the windshield on my way home from the theater after seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp and genuinely felt bad about it. If that tells you anything about how well this movie will hit you. That isn’t to say this superior sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man is something of an emotional roller coaster that evokes real sympathy for characters that get minor in the most minor of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, but in some ways…it kind of does. In its earnest portrayal of these characters we come to easily invest in each of their plight’s largely (isn’t that ironic?) because they are dealing in stakes that are so personal and thus small when compared to that of the end of the world. Is it kind of ingenious? Yeah, a little bit considering Doctor Strange goes to another dimension to stop a blob called Dormammu from engulfing the earth and all things considered that should terrify me far more than if Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang survives his last few days under house arrest, but it didn’t and I would rather watch Ant-Man and the Wasp a hundred times over than sit through Doctor Strange again. The best part of that? Doctor Strange isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, Strange is simply a generic and forgettable one in the scheme of the last decade of MCU films whereas director Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) and writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, as well as Rudd himself lend their movie a more memorable signature by allowing it to indulge in its inherent goofiness while simultaneously proving this isn’t as cheesy an affair as it has to be. I mean, the basis of a super hero being a super hero because he shrinks down to the size of an insect and can then communicate with said insect is a premise wholly owed to whatever drug-induced haze Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby were in at the time (1962 to be exact) which isn’t a bold claim considering Lee’s cameo here hints at how crazy the sixties were, but the fact is despite their powers being corny and their abilities being used more so for their own agendas than maybe any other heroes in the MCU Reed is still able to execute and exhibit these technologies and the capabilities they enable in ways that are effective and dare I say it…even kind of cool. There are less than a handful of big action sequences here, but that doesn’t matter because everything about Ant-Man and the Wasp is enjoyable, but more each of those few action sequences are crafted in ways where it feels every facet of who these characters are and the world they exist within is being utilized in creative and fun ways. This kind of passion for the material also assists with the level of compassion we, the audience, feels toward the characters and thus the level of investment we pledge to what is admittedly a less vital piece of the MCU puzzle. That Ant-Man and the Wasp challenges this precedent set by the first film is enough to solidify its worthiness among the ranks as well as its quality outside of them.
Paul Rudd is a genius. I’m just going to flat-out say it. The man, who had a breakout role at twenty-six, but didn’t really see his career take off in a leading man kind of way until over a decade later and only then-after another decade of going through the broad comedy circus-realized and decided the shtick was up in so many words decided to slyly change directions without changing much about his approach; Rudd’s last theatrically released comedy in which he was the leading man was 2013’s Admission co-starring Tina Fey and that only grossed a domestic and worldwide total of just over $18 million on a budget of $13 million. Sure, the guy was in Anchorman 2 a few months later and that was a huge success, but if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen America’s favorite comedic actor on the poster of any upcoming movies at the multiplex that’s because movies like They Came Together and The Fundamentals of Caring don’t make money anymore even when someone with as likable a face as Rudd’s is on the poster. And so, how does one continue to do what they love as well as what they’re exceedingly good at while still turning a profit in a cultural landscape that is more selective than ever about what they’re willing to fork over their hard-earned cash on at the theater? Well, that would seemingly be to pick the goofiest super hero Marvel Studios was willing to place a bet on, get a guarantee you could put your own polish on the screenplay, and turn in the same kind of performance you would were you making a movie about a cat burglar trying to turn his life around for his daughter while at the same time falling for the daughter of your new boss. In short, Rudd has taken what he does best in his best out and out comedies like Role Models and I Love You, Man and applied that to the only profitable game in town: super hero movies. On top of this, Rudd is in fact a comedic genius, so that doesn’t hurt either and in fact allows both its predecessor and Ant-Man and the Wasp to possess this playful, quite sincere tone that is often too far removed from being the main objective of these tentpole, super hero flicks. In Ant-Man and the Wasp it would be easy to mistake the emotional crux of the movie for that of the overriding quest to rescue Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) wife and Hope Van Dyne’s (Evangeline Lilly) long lost mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), and you wouldn’t be far off given it is this objective that spurs much of the action and that sends our protagonists spiraling into a bevy of undesirable circumstances, but you’d also be fooling yourself if you said the thing you weren’t most concerned about throughout the entirety of Ant-Man and the Wasp was that of whether or not Lang would successfully complete his house arrest stint and be able to return to life as usual with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). This is all I could concentrate on the longer Lang was pulled away from where he should have been and it is this connection, this feeling of concern that speaks to how well Rudd is able to convey what he chooses to convey-especially when he knows it will be given an audience to connect with.
So, why is Lang on house arrest in the first place you ask? Well, that would be due to the events of Captain America: Civil Warwhere they seemed to write off Lang’s character as much as Kevin Feige writes off the Ant-Man movies. Lang was credited as being a man always on the opposite side of the law and so, why would he have any hesitation in supporting Captain America despite the fact his entire first solo movie was about him doing whatever it took to be able to be a part of his daughter’s life. Luckily, Ant-Man and the Wasp is here to undo all of that confusion as Lang’s two-year house arrest is the result of a deal with the government that conveniently places the San Francisco-based super hero out of the picture for the past five Marvel movies. This also explains why we didn’t see Ant-Man join in on the action a little over two months ago when Thanos finally came to earth in Infinity War, but I digress. If you’ve seen the latest Avengers film, and I’m assuming most of you have if you’re reading this review or interested in Ant-Man and the Wasp in any capacity, you’ll no doubt be wondering whether or not this latest MCU feature takes place before or after the events of that pivotal entry to which the answer is an easily presumed before. As disappointing as this may be to some given the more interesting dynamics that could have come into play were this sequel to take place in the midst of the chaos Thanos brought to the universe it might then be something of a relief or rather a surprise to learn that the events depicted in Ant-Man and the Wasp unravel over the course of a mere seventy-two hours. With three days left on his sentence Rudd’s Lang is keen on doing whatever it takes to remain right where he needs to be as he is getting regular visits from Cassie and is on good terms with ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), and her new husband (Bobby Cannavale). Lang has also struck up a seemingly solid small business with pals Luis (the hilarious Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and Dave (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris) as the former thieves now design and install professional security systems. While things are going well in most aspects of Scott’s life aside from being confined to a confining premises he is not on good terms with either Hank nor Hope who are on the run due to Scott’s involvement with the Avengers squabble over the Sokovia Accords and the fact he used their tech in the fight. Hank seems most angry over the fact Scott would so carelessly use his tech in a fight they had no business being near whereas Hope seems more disappointed in the fact she wasn’t invited to the party. Things between the estranged parties must be resolved quickly though, as Scott begins experiencing strange connections with the thought to be long-lost Janet after Hank and Hope open a new portal to the Quantum Realm with a tunnel device they’ve been working on in hopes of rescuing their wife and mother. Add into this equation Walton Goggins’ Sonny Burch, a man who deals in black market tech with ties to the FBI, and Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost/Ava who can phase through just about anything and is after the same tech Hank and Hope are desperately in need of that Burch just so happens to be withholding and what one has is a lot of balls in the air that somehow turn into more points than they do failed attempts.
Speaking to the cultural landscape in which Ant-Man and the Wasp has been born into, it is a time when we take for granted the fact sequels are now often times improvements over what came before them rather than only being opportunities to pull a little more cash out of a property that was more successful than anticipated the first time around. With this cinematic universe mentality as honed by Feige and his minions there is vision to where these different series of movies could potentially go and Reed, Rudd, and their writers room seem to have taken the most advantage of this in recent MCU memory as they implement a number of different ideas that seemed to be little more than intentions for the world they were building in the first film. For example, the line continues to blur between strictly good and strictly bad and while John-Kamen’s Ghost isn’t nearly as memorable as some of the more recent MCU villains she isn’t exactly the villain of the piece one might expect her to be either. In this way, Ant-Man and the Wasp veers away from formula in favor of something a little more layered and complex. The MCU has done a fine job of doing this in a number of their films lately, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first to come to mind, but in the confrontations with Ghost Hank, Hope, and Scott find themselves fighting over a piece of equipment not for nefarious reasons of taking over the world or blowing up a something for the purposes of making a statement, but rather both parties have personal investments in how this tech might assist them in accomplishing the goals for those aforementioned personal agendas. We not only feel a sympathy for Ava as we come to peel back the layers of who she is beyond her abilities, but we hope for a resolution that sees her become as successful in her mission as our heroes are in theirs. It’s a weird line to walk, but one that will ultimately be to the benefit of the universe as a whole given the biggest issue with the first two phases of the MCU was its lack of compelling antagonists.
All things considered, there are certainly shortcomings with the film such as the Pfeiffer’s storyline being underdeveloped and Goggins being as wasted here as he was in Tomb Raider earlier this year, but the function his character serves in the plot as that of a point of all-around maliciousness helps balance the scale and ease the transition to grayer pastures. And while this installment feels more substantial than its predecessor it seems the Ant-Man films will by default always feel a little more slight than everything else in the MCU; of course, this also likely has much to do with the fact it is following the bleakest entry in the MCU to date. To this extent and to the extent I should mention Laurence Fishburne is in this movie it should be noted that Hank does in fact seem to have made a large number of enemies in his time with S.H.I.E.L.D. and as CEO of PYM Technologies. This may or may not inform future sequels, but one thing that certainly will is the evolving relationship between Scott and Hope as Lilly celebrates her coming out party as the titular Wasp in a fashion that can only be summed up as gloriously fulfilling. This is a big deal and one that should probably have a bigger word count dedicated to it than it’s getting, but the biggest compliment one can pay the inclusion of Wasp this time around is that it feels like a completely natural and logical next step never mind the fact it is a vital one for equal representation of powerful women in the super hero cinematic landscape. As mentioned earlier, there are less than a handful of large action set-pieces here, but Reed makes the most of each by meticulously detailing how both Ant-Man’s and The Wasp’s powers might best be utilized and effectively conveyed by using the environment they find themselves getting small in; an early scene where Lilly’s Hope is fighting a bunch of cronies in a restaurant kitchen is a perfect example of such as the casual environment quickly becomes a death trap. This is also a scene that exemplifies how effortlessly badass and how much more capable the Wasp is as a super hero than her counterpart. Needless to say, there is a lot to love about Ant-Man and the Wasp as it underpins all of its top notch action and comedy (thanks again, Mr. Peña) with a heart that is best exemplified by the love between a father and a daughter (and in contrast, a mother and daughter). It also somehow ends up being more kid and family-friendly than Incredibles II which is of note even if it will require multiple viewings to figure out how exactly they pulled that one off. There is a fair amount of talk about misdirection in Ant-Man and the Wasp too, which is to say that while this venture may in fact itself be a form of deception in which to focus our attention away from what we just witnessed unfold in the far more grave Infinity War it’s hard to imagine a more entertaining or satisfying sleight of hand that Marvel could have pulled.