Size Matters in “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

By Mikhail Lecaros

“Real heroes, not actual size,” Declare the posters for Ant-Man and the Wasp, the 20th entry in the entertainment juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This is the first in the series to give a female hero equal billing to her male counterpart. With Captain Marvel on the way in March of next year ahead of the hotly-anticipated Avengers 4, all eyes are on Ant-Man and the Wasp to deliver the final dose of Marvel big screen action for 2018.


 

THEN…

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When the first Ant-Man premiered in 2015, it was a welcome respite from the excesses of its immediate predecessor, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Under director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man), who inherited the project following the abrupt exit of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver), Ant-Man was an unexpected hit starring a superhero audiences had virtually never heard of.

Streamlined and efficient in all the ways Ultron was uneven and bloated, Ant-Man served as an excellent palate cleanser that showcased (like Guardians of the Galaxy the year before) the sheer variety of genres the Marvel Cinematic Universe could accommodate.

 

…AND NOW

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Flash forward to 2018, and the sequel is here to fulfill a similar function by tiding us over in the wake of the emotional (and narrative) gut punch that was the ending of Avengers: Infinity War. While the film is fun in and of itself, the script leaves one with the impression that it could have used another pass or two. Honestly, at the rate plot threads are introduced, discarded, and brought back (with little concession to rhyme or reason), it is decidedly difficult to attribute any sort of weight to the proceedings.

Of course, as previously stated, one could make the argument that this was always intentional; there was no way no way Ant-Man and the Wasp was going to be as heavy as Infinity War, and that’s fine. However, when the standard of Marvel Cinematic Universe sequels is at Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnarok levels, Ant-Man 2 is simply outclassed.

 

DIRECTION

To be perfectly fair, the fault isn’t entirely Reed’s; prior to his taking the reins of 2015’s Ant-Man, the outgoing Wright had already laid much of the groundwork with his trademark narrative wit, elegantly frenetic visual style, and preternatural ability to pair songs with story beats (watch the fight in the briefcase from the first movie, and tell me that song choice wasn’t pure Wright). That groundwork, paired with the comedic chops of Rudd himself and his Anchorman director Adam McKay doing script polishes to flesh out the characters and introduce the Quantum Realm, meant Reed had a hell of a standard to live up to when it came time to do the sequel. His work here isn’t necessarily bad, mind you – it’s just missing a lot of the idiosyncratic stylings that made the previous film so much fun.

 

THE GANG’S ALL HERE

While it’s frustrating to see elements and sequences that, in the hands of a more experienced director, could have worked so much better, but thankfully, the collective talent and charm of the film’s cast help to cover for many of the script’s shortcomings.

The returning stars include the seemingly-ageless Paul Rudd (Clueless, Anchorman) as former-criminal-turned-superhero Scott Lang, the irrepressible Michael Douglas (Basic Instinct) as scientist Hank Pym, and Evangeline Lily (The Hobbit) as Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne. With charisma to spare, the core trio makes pretty much any scene they’re in better by default.

THE STORY THUS FAR

As the film opens, Scott is serving out the remainder of the two-year plea deal (first mentioned in Infinity War) he took following his arrest in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Still struggling to be a good father to his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, of TV’s Transparent), Lang is estranged from Hank and Hope, whose technology he “borrowed” to fight Team Iron Man in the aforementioned film.

At any rate, Pym and Hope have bigger fish to fry in the form of trying to rescue original Wasp Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns) from her 30-year exile in the Quantum Realm that Scott accidentally found himself in three years ago.

All this, on its own, would be great fodder for a flick, especially when combined with the subplots of Scott’s domestic woes and a gang of black market technology dealers (led by a sorely underused Walton Goggins, of TV’s Sons of Anarchy) trying to get their hands on Pym’s research.

Sadly, somebody felt the inexplicable need to include a subplot centered around yet ANOTHER disgruntled former acquaintance™ (The Matrix’s Lawrence Fishburne, as Bill Foster) with a score to settle, complete with poorly defined murderous accomplice (Ready Player One’s Hannah John-Kamen, as Ghost) thrown in for good measure. If only we hadn’t seen the exact same thing happen in all three Iron Man movies, Batman Forever, Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, and yes, the first Ant-Man.

 

MORE OF THE SAME

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Ultimately, Ant-Man and the Wasp seems happy to coast along on the low hanging fruit of just doing bigger, more expensive versions of jokes and scenes you remember from the first one. In failing to actually bring anything new to the table, the entire experience comes across as a bubblegum sort of affair – you’ll probably have fun while watching it, but good luck trying to remember any of it after stepping out of the theater.

Even while you’re watching, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that you’ve already seen a majority of the gags, because between the trailers and the first Ant-Man’s if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you have. Scott struggling with the use of his powers and Hope outclassing him in combat and overall competence? Yup. Tiny things made large and large thing made tiny, for comical effect? Check. Long-winded flashback sequence narrated by Scott’s motormouthed pal Luis (Michael Peña, The Martian)? It’s all here, and it is all -for better or worse- so very familiar. Heck, even the novelty of Scott growing to giant size is old hat at this point.

 

WHERE’S THE HEART?

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Perhaps the most glaring difference between this film and the first Ant-Man is lack of a of an emotional core to ground the proceedings; take for instance, how in the previous Ant-Man, our hero’s flying friend Ant-thony was killed by the villain in a hail of gunfire, prompting Scott to swear revenge. Here, during a chase scene, Scott causes the deaths of about half a dozen of the flying critters for the sake of a cheap laugh.

Even the drama inherent in reuniting with someone long-thought dead is shortchanged by the unending stream of slapstick and/or extraneous plotlines. Seriously, for all Foster and Ghost add to the movie you could cut them out completely, and no one would notice.

 

A FAMILIAR ENDING

For those of you wondering how Ant-Man and the Wasp fits into the overall MCU, stick around for the end credits, as you get to see EXACTLY what our tiny heroes were up to during the finger snap heard across the galaxy. Yep, after taking us on an otherwise harmless and inconsequential romp through the MCU, Ant-Man and the Wasp takes a sudden turn into darkness.

That the film waited until the end credits to deliver its only genuinely emotional moment is bad enough, but inserting gravitas by straight up stealing it from another movie just seems lazy. Indeed, for as much as this writer wanted to love the second Ant-Man movie, all he managed to take away was something he’s had since April: a desire to know what happens in Avengers 4.

 

 

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