Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

by Patrick Bromley
It's a lot of little fun!

Having already released the two biggest and most successful movies of the year (and ranking on the all-time list, too) in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel has nowhere to really go but down with Ant-Man and the Wasp, the follow-up to 2015's Ant-Man, among the lowest-grossing of all the Marvel superhero movies. Attempting to follow-up what was essentially a solid double (triple if we're being generous) just two months after Marvel's biggest, most jam-packed and ambitious movie -- the one that reshapes the landscape of their entire cinematic universe, however temporary -- seems like a recipe for disaster. Having grown accustomed to seeing these movies as gigantic, global "events," can audiences settle in for the low-stakes charm of a third-tier superhero?

I hope so. Ant-Man and the Wasp is incredibly entertaining, and exactly the antidote for a series of movies that were growing overstuffed beyond the point of exhaustion. They couldn't just keep going bigger, and this one feels appropriately (wait for it) small. There's no global threat. The fate of the world is not at stake. It's just a movie about a group of people we like working together to help the people they care about. Even the antagonist is looking not for ultimate power, only help. Goddammit that's refreshing.
Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man and the Wasp finds former thief-turned tiny superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, who is also once again credited as a writer here) confined to house arrest for his role in violating the Sekovia Accords and helping out Captain America in that Germany airport fight. Because he was wearing the suit created by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), both he and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) are now on the run as well. They've been hard at work on creating a quantum tunnel so they can rescue Hope's mom (and original Wasp) Janet van Dyne from the Quantum Realm, from which they now believe she can be brought back thanks to Scott's trip down there in the original film. Meanwhile, a new villain known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is after Dr. Pym's technology for reasons of her own, meaning Scott and Hope -- now wearing her own shrinking suit as the new Wasp -- must team up to stop her from stealing the lab, which is also being pursued by a black market tech dealer named Sonny Burch (played by Walton Goggins with full Gogginsness).

There are a lot of balls in the air in Ant-Man and the Wasp: I haven't even mentioned Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, and Tip "T.I." Harris, all returning as Scott's partners and now trying to land a big client for their new private security business, nor have I mentioned Laurence Fishburne as a former colleague-turned-adversary of Hank Pym, nor have I mentioned the FBI Agent (played by Randall Park) who's trying to bust Scott violating his house arrest, nor have I mentioned Scott's daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), who believes in her dad more than anyone and who provides Scott's motivation for doing any of this. It's a lot for the movie to juggle, and though there are times when it's trying to do some much that some aspects are underserved, the ensemble structure and the small-scale stakes make it much less noticeable that the story is sort of messy. This is more of a hangout movie than one that's driven by the immediacy of the narrative.
It's the looseness of the narrative that makes the movie fun. The original Ant-Man was bogged down by a lot of baggage, both in its need to introduce the title character and provide his origin story and establish the world in which he lives. But it was also bogged down in the baggage of its very public production history, which saw original director Edgar Wright leaving the film and being replaced by Peyton Reed (who returns for the sequel), leaving too many movie geeks -- myself included -- trying to enjoy the movie in the shadow of What Could Have Been. With the world already established and the Edgar Wright baggage out of the way, Ant-Man and the Wasp is much more free and confident to be its own thing. It's a good look for the movie, which carves out its own identity within the MCU by being part heist movie, part rescue, part comedy, part weird sci-fi. It's all the best parts of the original Ant-Man stretched out to feature length, minus the stronger (if more traditional) narrative and clearer character arcs.

Reed takes a lot more license with the possibilities of the Ant-Man powers this time around, meaning there all kinds of gags that involve people and things shrinking and enlarging, all of it inventive and all of it fun. Evangeline Lily's Wasp gets almost all of my favorite action beats (many of which were spoiled by the trailer, thank you marketing), and it's really cool to see her given the chance to step up and be a kickass superhero without the usual growing pains we see with other Marvel characters, including Ant-Man. Paul Rudd is incredibly fun and charming in the role, but Ant-Man and the Wasp tells us almost nothing new about his character except that he's the superhero who screws up a lot.
I liked the original Ant-Man enough, in part, I think, because it could have been so much worse. I like Ant-Man and the Wasp a lot more. It doesn't have the scale or the import of a lot of other MCU movies, but that's a huge part of its charm: it's just a fun side story that exists outside of all the sturm und drang of Thanos and the Infinity Stones and the "I don't feel so good, Mr. Stark." (Well, for now.) It's a superhero movie in which giant PEZ dispensers are thrown and several characters are trying to steal an entire building that's been shrunk down to the size of a piece of luggage. It's about parental figures loving their kids and about doing what we can to help the people that need it. It's a team movie much more than it is a movie about one guy who's "special." It's an unusually joyful and positive summer blockbuster in an era (era) where they've grown grim and dark. I know that both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War are the more successful movies and the ones that are more likely to be remembered years from now, but I suspect Ant-Man and the Wasp is the one I'm going to come back to way more often.

5 comments:

  1. I can't be the only one that read "It's a lot of little fun!" in the Mark Jones voice.

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  2. Can't wait to see it, tomorrow. I really liked the first one, mostly because of Paul Rudd

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  3. Just saw it, and was really blown away. I love how it's essentially just a big chase movie. It's so refreshing and different, and I can't think of a single comic book movie cliche in the whole thing. No one is trying to destroy/take over the world or defeat the evil bad guy. It's about a bunch of people with goals that are getting in each others way. I loved it.

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    1. Definitely, I loved the "race against the clock" and that there was no real Big Bad.

      I also liked that Scott is a dummy that isn't stupid, which is something I feel like recent movies (even good ones, like Game Night) struggle with.

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  4. Saw it. Loved it as much as i loved the first one, which is a lot.

    Also points to the end credits. Marvel always does something very cool with their first half of the credits, and this one was no exception

    What did you think of the mid-credit scene? I read something about how it undoes everything the movie did.

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