By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
2018’s Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken somewhat of a darker tone in comparison to what we’re predominantly used to. BLACK PANTHER was, perhaps, the most relevant and socially aware of the MCU films, while AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR took an emotional and happiness destroying approach to its narrative. Fuck that movie. But also goddamn, I love that movie. It’s been tough, but the quality is through the roof, and now ANT-MAN AND THE WASP has arrived, and instead of depressing death montages or important themes of oppression, we have an ant that plays the drums.
Set between the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, we pick up on hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) coming to the end of his two-year house arrest. His track record is clean, but the law still wants him under close surveillance. But when Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) uncovers a secret hidden in the quantum realm, they’re going to need Scott to don the Ant-Man suit once more and team up with alley Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) in order to retrieve a piece of technology before the villainous Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) finds it first.
There’s not some profound, over-arching theme tying this film together that hasn’t been delved into in several Marvel movies before. Nor is the story a game changing, wholly original exploration into unknown territory. But it doesn’t have to be. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is nothing more than a fun, mindless bit of escapism that perfectly fits into the ever-growing world around it, continuing the endlessly creative story arc the first film established while further exploring who these characters are.
It doesn’t quite have the same charm or unexpected delight that the first film did, but it’s not very far behind, either. Paul Rudd brings about his signature charm, once again co-writing the screenplay and having an absolute blast with the ridiculousness of this whole situation. His chemistry with Lilly’s Wasp takes a more prominent position this time around, and this works for the better. Their dynamic is fresh and exciting, and Lilly suits her newfound titular role perfectly. The love-hate relationship they explore is a ton of fun.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? This film can be described in a single word – fun. It’s an inconsequential, easygoing, smaller scale adventure confined to a single city. Don’t expect buildings to crumble or villains seeking world dominance, you won’t find that here. But that’s why I really enjoy these ANT-MAN movies. The first film was, essentially, a heist story. The sequel is to a degree, strangely like the superhero equivalent of reality TV show THE AMAZING RACE. You’ve got a number of different teams all head butting together while racing to collect an item they all desire.
The plot’s fast, tight and enjoyable, but harnessed together through a strong emotional layer of family. Scott’s relationship with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), is an effective reminder that we’re still dealing with real people who, at the end of the day, just want to be there for their kids. This also plays an important role in developing the story revolving about Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne, who’s been lost in the quantum realm for over thirty years. Don’t expect much screen time from Pfeiffer, but what’s there I enjoyed.
Visually speaking, this is a big step up from the first. There are more creative shrinking-growing elements, most of the best parts spoilt in the trailer, but the possibilities are endless. Each new cinematic appearance of Ant-Man seems to add to the weirdness of it all, and while I definitely liked the development of his power-set and the exploration of the quantum realm, there were so many missed opportunities for creative visual gags. Sure, the ones there work wonders, and there’s a brief seagull sequence that’s absolutely hysterical, but the gist of every gag seems to be “hey, this little thing is big now,” and the fun wears off after a while.
What really sets this film back from recent Marvel hits derives from a mixture of puzzling editing and narrative choices. A few of the more intense moments see characters in different locations, quickly cutting between them, but a few scenes with jarring cuts left me confused as to how certain characters got to certain places. One scene sees Laurence Fishburne’s Dr. Bill Foster (who’s absolutely wasted in this film) walking into a lab, then cutting to Michael Douglas grabbing a suit in a different room, then to the reverse shot of Foster a second letter where he’s already in mid-conversation with Douglas’ character, despite implying that no time has passed. It has no flow.
While I found the character of Ghost to be a rather interesting, emotionally motivated villain, and the performance from John-Kamen is great, she’s about the only interesting new character. I don’t even remember what Walton Goggins’ motivation was, and at the time of writing this I only got out of the movie five hours ago. One scene in particular that I won’t spoil sees two characters discussing an evil plan, foreshadowing a new and sinister motivation being brought to light, only to have that idea abandoned seconds later and the plot moving on without them. There are so many dumb, pointless setups like that throughout, all without payoff.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP’s shortcomings are frustrating after such a brilliant string of Marvel movies all in a row, but if a fun, lighthearted bit of escapism is on your mind after some of 2018’s more serious blockbusters, you might want to buy your tickets now. It doesn’t do a lot in its own right, but the stage has certainly been set for next year’s untitled AVENGERS sequel. And goddamn, April 2019 continues to feel further and further away.
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