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Josh Reviews Ant Man and the Wasp

July 10th, 2018
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2015’s Ant Man was a delight; a fun, relatively low-stakes romp in which Kevin Feige’s Marvel Studios team demonstrated yet again that they could bring an obscure (at least to non-fans) comic book character to gloriously vibrant life on-screen.  The new 2018 sequel, Ant Man and the Wasp, is more of the same in the best possible way.  After the enormous, universe-shaking Infinity War, this is a palate-cleaning change of pace, a light, funny adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been unfolding in something close to real time, and so as this new film opens, we check back in with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) two years after having been arrested for helping Captain America against Iron Man’s pro-registration forces in Captain America: Civil War.  It turns out that Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are quite pissed at Scott, because Scott’s very public siding with Cap put them on the wrong side of the law due to their association with him.  And so while Scott has been serving house arrest for two years, Hank and Hope have been on the run, attempting to piece together the tech necessary to attempt a rescue of Janet van Dyne, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, who vanished into the “quantum realm” thirty years ago when she shrank super-small small in an act of heroism.  Hank and Hope’s efforts hit a snag at a critical junction when they find themselves beset by the super-powered “Ghost” on one side, who is after their tech for reasons unknown, and the criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) on the other, who is after their tech in order to make millions on the black market.  And so Scott has to choose between loyalty to his friends who need his help, and his responsibility to his family, especially his young daughter, who needs her father to stay out of prison.

As with the first film, director Peyton Reed (working this time from a script writtem by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari) has crafted a very fun, funny, light adventure film.  Thankfully, Mr. Reed and his team have not tried to match the intense fate-of-the-universe tone of Avengers: Infinity War, and have instead had the confidence to continue with the low-key style that worked so well in the first Ant Man film.  I love that the stakes in this sequel are so low — arguably the lowest they have been in any Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far.  The events of this film really only matter to the lives of the handful of main characters.  There isn’t even a token threat to the denizens of a single city thrown in.  I love the film for that.

At the same time, this isn’t a farce.  While the stakes are low in a cosmic sense, they are very, very high for this group of people.  That’s a smart choice, and a more difficult task to pull off than one might imagine.  The drama in this film is deeply rooted in its characters.  And that is why the film is able to be exciting and engaging without universe-threatening peril.  That, and the spectacular cast.

The first Ant Man film established a wonderful ensemble of main characters, and it is a joy to see them all back for the sequel.  Simce the beginning, the strength of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been its casting, and I particularly love the group of talented (and very funny) actors who were assembled for Ant Man.  Let’s start with Paul Rudd, who remains a delight as Scott Lang.  He’s loose and funny, and his natural enthusiasm and charisma serve him very well here.  Mr. Rudd makes it impossible not to root for the good-natured Scott, even when he’s being something of a doofus.

I love that this film is called Ant Man and the Wasp, rather than Ant Man 2.  That means something.  Even in a post-Wonder Woman world, a female lead of a super-hero film is an extremely rare thing indeed.  The Wasp is the first female character to have her name in the title of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film.  (Captain Marvel, coming next year, will give us our first female solo lead of a Marvel Studios film.)  I love that Evangeline Lilly’s Hope is presented as a full and equal partner to Scott, rather than his sidekick.  In many ways, Hope is a far more competent hero than Scott is!  (I love the sequence, early in the film, in which Hope effortlessly takes down a whole group of Burch’s goons in a hotel lobby and kitchen.)  Ms. Lilly is great, and I love her chemistry with Paul Rudd.  The two actors make as good a team as the two characters.

It’s easy to forget how amazing it is that Michael Douglas is in one of these Marvel superhero films.  But wow, he is!  And he is SO GREAT as the prickly Hank Pym, a genius who has managed to alienate almost everyone in his life.  I love how well Mr. Douglas’ movie-star persona fits into this universe, and I love how skillfully Mr. Douglas can play both the drama and the comedy.  It’s fun to watch such a master at work.

Michael Peña was the secret star of the first Ant Man as the jovial, chatty Luis, and he is once again comedic gold here in Ant Man and the Wasp.  Mr. Peña absolutely destroys in every single scene he is in.  He gets some of the film’s funniest moments, and while the film makes us wait a good long while for another one of his stories (one of my favorite stylistic devices of the first Ant Man film), when it finally arrives, it’s a doozy, and so well worth the wait.

Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale return as Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband, and I love the new very-huggy relationship the three of them now have.  Abby Ryder Fortson also returns as Scott’s young daughter Cassie, and she is very impressive in several critical scenes.  Also, thank heavens, Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian are back as Dave and Kurt, the two other members of Scott & Luis’ ex-con-run security company.

Several wonderful new actors join the ensemble for this sequel.  Laurence Fishburne plays Bill Foster.  In the comics, Bill was one of the men who took the identity of Giant Man/Goliath, and I love how he has been woven into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a colleague from Hank Pym’s era.  Mr. Fishburne is a fantastic actor and he brings tremendous gravity to the relatively small role of Bill.  It’s also super-fun seeing the great Mr. Fishburne (who was under-used as Perry White in the recent DC Universe films) crossing over to the Marvel side of the tracks.  Hannah John-Kamen plays the film’s major new villain, the Ghost.  I love the look of this character, and I love that they have made Ghost a woman — and, indeed, a woman of color — in the film.  I was pleased that they gave Ghost a complex and sympathetic back-story, elevating her above a simple tech-wearing mercenary.  Walton Goggins plays the film’s other major new villain, and the always funny Mr. Goggins is a spectacular addition to the ensemble.  He’s able to be very dangerous and very funny all at the same time.  The character of Sonny Burch is pretty thin on the page, but Mr. Goggins elevates every scene he’s in with his manic intensity.  I loved every second he was on screen.  Also a fantastic addition to the ensemble: Randall Park as Scott Lang’s parole officer, FBI agent Jimmy Woo.  Mr. Park is hilarious, and his performance combined with some clever writing takes what could have been a boring, stock character, and turned him into one of my favorite characters in the film.

Ant Man and the Wasp has a lot of terrific action.  I already mentioned that great Hope fight from early in the film, and there’s a third-act multi-vehicle chase, involving a lot of shrinking and growing of stuff, that was spectacular.  As might be expected from an Ant Man sequel, this film is filled with lots of fun and clever size-related gags.  I loved how all of the major action sequences in this film were able to be exciting, but also fun and funny.  Everything in this film had a lot of style, and a potent comedic energy.

OK, folks, some small SPOILERS ahead, so beware if you haven’t yet seen the film.

With this film coming out so soon after Infinity War, fans have been speculating for months as to where this film would fall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.  As I’d suspected, the bulk of this film takes place prior to the events of Infinity War.  That was the right choice.  The fun tone of this film would have been impossible had it been set after the events of Infinity War’s grim ending.  As I had been suspecting and hoping, Ant Man and the Wasp waited until it’s first post-credits scene to link up with the events of Infinity War.  I loved that scene, and I really loved it’s surprising cliffhanger final moment.  I loved that ending, and I am very, very curious to see to what degree Scott Lang and Hank, Hope, and you-know-who will be involved in next year’s concluding Avengers film.

After that incredible mid-credits scene, the lame joke at the very end of the credits was a let-down, possibly the worst post-credits scene in a Marvel film for quite some time.  As has happened a few times with these Marvel films, I feel they put the credits scenes in the wrong order.  It would have been better to have put the joke first, and then have the big Infinity War connection scene at the very end.  The joke might have played better if we hadn’t had to wait so long for it, and the cliffhanger would have been a great final beat to end on, leaving the audience desperate to see the story continue in a future film.

Marvel has tried somewhat to keep the name of the actress playing Janet van Dyne under wraps, though fans have known for quite some time that it would be Michelle Pfeiffer.  This was brilliant casting, and though Ms. Pfeiffer doesn’t have much to do in the film, I thought she was great in her few scenes.  It was a hoot seeing Ms. Pfeiffer in this film (another DC universe crossover, after having so memorably played Catowman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns), and she was particularly great together with Michael Douglas.  (I laughed a little that she was wearing so much eye-shadow when she first took off her helmet, after living all alone in the Quantum Realm for 30 years, but I guess I can live with that.)

I will comment, though, that the film dropped the ball, narratively, in exploring the story of Janet’s survival.  I didn’t need everything spelled out in great detail, but I did need the film to tell us SOMETHING about how the heck she could have possibly survived, all by herself, alone in the Quantum Realm for 30 long years.  How did she breathe?  What did she eat?  How did she prevent herself from going mad?  How was she able to connect mentally with Scott Lang when Hank and Hope first opened their “Quantum Tunnel” portal?  And why was there that silly ticking clock of “if we don’t rescue Janet in the next two hours, we’ll never be able to find her again”??  That was silly.  (I understand, narratively, why the writers felt they needed the suspense of that deadline in the third act.  But story-wise it was ridiculous and made no sense.  It wasn’t like Hank and Hope knew there was only a tiny window of time in which to rescue Janet and so had been planning this operation for years.  No, they opened the portal as soon as they’d finished building the device.  And they connected with Janet nearly instantly.  So why would that connection vanish and Janet would become impossible to ever locate again, a few hours later?  That doesn’t make any sense to me.  It was just a huge coincidence that after 30 years, they just happened to finally have everything ready during the only tiny window of time in a century in which they could get to Janet?  Come on.)

I loved the way the film developed a father-daughter relationship between Bill Foster and the Ghost.  I didn’t see that coming, but I loved how that paralleled the familial relationship between Hank and Hope and Scott.  It also gave the film a complexity, and a sweetness, that neither Bill nor the Ghost were really evil… and I was pleased that they were able to reach an understanding with Hank/Janet/Hope/Scott by the end.  Ant Man and the Wasp has a good-natured heart that I find to be quite endearing.

Marvel’s twentieth film keeps their win streak alive.  I loved Ant Man and the Wasp, and I can’t wait to see it again.

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