REVIEW – ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’

Not every superhero can be Iron Man. Or Captain America. Marvel’s immense catalogue of superheroes are not all colossal god-like figures. When Ant-Man was announced for Marvel’s 2015 slate, it was a surprise, to say the least. Here was a character no one ever really expected to be given his own stand-alone film, especially over more obvious and expected choices from the Marvel vault. But the resulting film was a breath of fresh air, with its sarcastic humour, pitch-perfect casting, and absurdly entertaining set pieces.

While the film didn’t exactly reach the lofty box-office heights of Marvel’s heavy-hitters (although $519 million is nothing to sneeze at), Scott Lang/Ant-Man had left an indelible mark. A sequel became entirely deserved. Continuing their string of home runs, Ant-Man and the Wasp is another glorious achievement for a studio we keep expecting to fail, yet seemingly never do. Providing precisely the antidote we needed after the devastating hole left in our hearts with one snap of Thanos’ mighty fingers, the hilarious Ant-Man and the Wasp could not be more pertinent. It’s time for Marvel to provide us with some fun and levity again, and, boy, do they deliver.

Standing as more of a sequel to Captain America: Civil War than the original Ant-Man film (and, yes, it takes place before/during the events of Avengers: Infinity War), Ant-Man and the Wasp finds our lovable rogue Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) under house arrest, as part of a plea deal following his violation of the Sarkovia Accords. With only three days left of his two-year sentence, Scott is achingly close to freedom and the chance to return to being the goofy and devoted dad to his adoring daughter, Cassie (a scene-stealing Abby Ryder Fortson).

Determined to “go straight,” Scott has been biding his time learning magic tricks, singing karaoke (Rudd has a surprisingly great voice), and attempting to start a small business called X-Con Security with his former criminal pals Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). He’s even completely cut contact with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (MVP Evangeline Lilly), the father and daughter pair responsible for Scott becoming Ant-Man in the original film. Yep, he’s Ant-Man no more.

But a mysterious dream forces Scott to reach out to his former cohorts, and the duo quickly (and unwittingly) drag him into their daring scheme to rescue Hope’s missing mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). Janet, the original Wasp to Hank’s original Ant-Man, disappeared into the Quantum Realm 30 years ago, and may still be alive. As Scott is the only person to enter the Quantum Realm and survive, he could hold the key to locating Janet and rescue her from doom. Stepping back into the suit he desperately tried to leave behind, Ant-Man is now joined by his new partner Hope, who has assumed her mother’s former mantle of the Wasp.

Complicating matters is the appearance of a mysterious new villain nicknamed Ghost (a terrific Hannah John-Kamen), who, after a lab accident when she was a child, has the ability to phase through objects. But her powers leave her in constant, debilitating pain and on the brink of impending death. Her only salvation may lie with Hank’s technology and research, leaving her determined to literally steal Hank’s laboratory (in a delicious running gag, a giant building continually gets shrunken down to the size of a wheely briefcase) that could save Janet. Adding to our trio’s woes is Sonny Burch (a rather underused Walton Goggins), a black-market trafficker also hell-bent on stealing Hank’s work for his own financial benefit.

If the plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp sounds a little overly-complicated but light on stakes, you’re not wrong. There’s a heavy amount of setup here, which is odd for the superhero genre where sequels usually hit the ground running. But, thankfully, the film wisely avoids the nauseating sequel trope temptation to go bigger, just for the hell of it. There’s no impending world doom on the horizon. Ghost is no Thanos. Her villainous motivation is entirely (and a little disappointingly) self-contained. And the crux of this narrative is merely a simple rescue mission and nothing more. A husband and daughter just want to find their missing wife and mother. It’s a slow-burn follow-up that takes it times to get where it’s really going. Thankfully, the payoff is entirely worth it.

Once again, director Peyton Reed plays with the concept of size and scale to wonderful comedic effect. Everything you loved about the original film’s dizzying dance between miniature and oversized objects is back. Who doesn’t want to see a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser being hurled at a bunch of henchmen-loaded cars? Or the sight of Giant-Man rising from the ocean to thwart the ferry getaway of a dastardly villain? It’s goofy and silly, but therein lies this film’s endless charm and appeal. Much like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp never takes itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. When a film includes a giant ant reclining blissfully in a bathtub, while another bangs about on a digital drum machine, you know you need to let go and just have a blast.

At its heart, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a straight-forward comedy. Its self-deprecating style makes fun of the film’s own absurdity, taking great pleasure to rightly and wisely poke fun at itself. At one point, Scott quips about his scientifically-minded friends’ insistence on placing the word “quantum” in front of everything, which is precisely what we, the audience, have already noticed. One particular sequence involving Luis, a dose of “truth serum,” and a rapid-fire monologue is a hysterical scream that proves Peña is one of the most underrated comic talents in the business. The screenplay (written by five (!) people, including Rudd) takes a page out of the Deadpool handbook, throwing one-liners at you with such breakneck speed, it’s rarely concerned with how many of its jokes actually land. They do, for the most part, but even when they don’t, there’s no time to dwell. Reed mixes comedy and action with expert precision, creating a dazzling display that’s as entertaining as it is humorous.

The action sequences are typical Marvel, with thrills and spills aplenty, made all the more uproarious by Ant-Man and the Wasp’s deft use of their size-controlling technology. When the pair finally teams up, the results are spectacular. Their fighting styles perfectly compliment each other, gifting us a dream team duo to match any other pairing in the MCU. Much like any major superhero film, Rudd’s casting was initially met with fanboy confusion. With this sequel, he’s only further proving it’s the part he was born to play. With equal doses of brash confidence and witty self-deprecation, he’s a true acerbic delight to behold. There’s a continued freshness to his performance that’s equally matched by Lilly’s film-stealing turn. After being relegated to the sidelines, it’s a joy to see Hope/Wasp take plenty of Ant-Man’s spotlight. Lilly runs with the opportunity, stealing focus in both the scene’s action sequences (she kicks some serious ass) and its lighter moments.

The film does suffer some disappointing setbacks. While it’s refreshing to see a villain with rather subdued intentions, it robs the film of a truly menacing and imposing figure. Perhaps this is only made worse by following in the 2018 footsteps of grandiose Marvel villains Erik Killmonger and Thanos. By unfortunate and unavoidable comparison, Ghost just doesn’t measure up. That’s not to suggest every bad guy (or girl, in this case) needs to have world domination plans. But there’s a noticeable lack of a true threat here that leaves our heroes with very little to overcome. That being said, John-Kamen does instil Ghost with a surprising level of emotional gravitas, which elevates the villain higher than expected.

The narrative also features a rather pointless and unnecessary conflict between Hank and a former academic partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) that serves very little purpose besides a silly twist you can see coming a mile away. Fishburne’s performance is surprisingly flat and bogs the film down whenever he’s on-screen. And don’t be fooled by Pfeiffer’s heavy involvement in the film’s marketing. She disappointingly has barely more than 10-minutes of screentime, which is a true tragedy. When Janet finally appears, she’s given very little to do, suggesting a larger role in the future but serving nothing much of merit in this chapter.

Despite these minor quibbles, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a terrifically entertaining and wonderfully joyous piece of cinema. Much like the original film, it deftly revels in its own ridiculousness. It knows the absurdity of its premise and setpieces, never shying away from how outrageous its narrative ultimately is. Its goofy heart is infectious, as is its glorious cast of characters. It may not have the social importance of Black Panther or hefty franchise weight of Avengers: Infinity War, but who cares when the end product is this much damn fun.

Speaking of Marvel’s gargantuan cross-over event, do not miss (like you were going to) the mid-credits scene to see how Ant-Man and the Wasp truly connects to the current open-ended state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s all I’ll say…

Distributor: Walt Disney
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barber, Gabriel Ferrari
Producers: Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Production Design: Shepherd Frankel
Music: Christophe Beck
Editors: Dan Lebental, Craig Wood
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: 5th July 2018 (Australia)