2018 | rated PG-13 | starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen | directed by Peyton Reed | 1hr 58mins |
Studio Pitch: Further develop the Ant-Man world and connect it back to Infinity War.
Let it never be said that Kevin Feige and the people at Marvel don’t know how to build out a universe. After the first Ant-Man came out to a mediocre reception, they lined it’s sequel up to be first out of the gate after the blockbuster team-up Avengers: Infinity War. They knew the events that concluded that entry would suddenly make Ant-Man and The Wasp very interesting. This colorful, frothy, funny comedy is a perfect pallet cleanser after the battle with Thanos. Does it “answer questions” left hanging by Infinity War – I’ll leave that to the click bait articles.
Like the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp plays more like a wacky sitcom than a superhero film. The stakes are pretty low and the focus is on character comedy. It’s a welcome change from the Marvel formula, if not the most pressing reason to go out to the cinema. Centering around the affable charm of Paul Rudd, ex-con Scott Lang is now under ankle monitor house arrest after his involvement with Captain America’s treason under the dogged watchful eye of an FBI agent (Randall Park). In cinema’s most underwhelming pre-title sequence we flashback to the time when Michael Douglas’ quantum scientist and his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeifer) went on a mission that ended with Janet lost in the quantum realm. Now he’s finally invented a machine to travel to the quantum realm just as Scott’s own memories from his voyage into the realm in Ant-Man show a linkage to Janet that could help the group find her. The driver of most of this is Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) who dons a winged shrinking suit of her own and uses a command of butt-kicking and clever shrinking/growing technology to dispense with thugs (lead by I’m-in-Everything Walton Goggins) and get her mother back. And there’s a villain, who can walk through walls, called The Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who in the tradition of weak Marvel villains is more tortured soul than bent on evil destruction.
It sounds like a lot but Wasp never gets too busy. It’s all exactly enough to keep the plot together for as long as it needs to. That includes turns from Laurence Fishburne as Douglas’ former partner now personal enemy and Michael Pena again in a role written to steal the film. The highlight of the first film was Pena rapid-fire telling a story and the movie breathlessly recreating his version of events and we get a reprise of that here that is just hilarious. It’s a funny movie. It works. What also works are all the inventive ways the movie plays with size, structuring chase and fight scenes around shrinking and enlarging cars, salt shakers, buildings and all sorts of things. Now this is a comic book come to life.
There is a very often used, but rarely called out movie trope that involves a man in a movie doing something to impress a woman – say shooting cans off a fence – doing ok with it and the woman stepping up, putting him to shame and knocking out the task perfectly. The original joke was “what?! a woman can shoot/fight/whatever” wa wa, but as it spread it created the trope of the Perfect Woman to contrast the hapless male’s antics and ground the story. In many ways, Lilly in this movie is the Perfect Woman trope. Unlike Black Widow or Scarlett Witch, she is without flaw, without internal conflict, her goals are noble and she can out-punch and out-kick everyone on screen. The entire movie is that trope. Ant-Man had his turn at bat and now the Wasp is coming in to get the job done.
Meanwhile Marvel has been running around popping the champaign and patting themselves on the back for this being “the first Marvel film in the current cinematic universe with a female character in the title”. Got all that? Black Widow? Not in the title. Catwoman? Not a Marvel movie. Electra? Not in the current Marvel universe. We’re splitting hairs inside of hairs now to make comic book movies seem like milestones of social representation. Ironically, what’s actually on screen is not at all self-congratulatory. It’s more accurate to say that Wasp in this movie serves a critical narrative function to counter-balance Scott Lang: because Ant-Man isn’t a superhero. He’s an ex-con who wants to see his daughter (an adorable scene stealing Abby Ryder Fortson). He isn’t really a fighter, doesn’t want to get involved and left up to him this narrative doesn’t get off the ground.
Much of Ant-Man and The Wasp plays out like one of those Jackie Chan movies where he gets paired up with a motor-mouthed American and the movie bends over backwards to think of something for that guy to do while Chan is doing his martial arts thing. Lilly fights and Rudd wise-cracks and it works here because it’s true to the characters. Staying true to that scriptwriting challenge makes for some unique bits and the quippy interplay between the scientists and the cons (as well as Park’s FBI agent who chases around trying to catch Lang like the principal in Ferris Bueller) keeps the movie moving at a quick clip. It’s a fun and very imaginative film. I just wish the stakes were a little bit higher.