Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Abby Ryder Forsten, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Tip ’T.I.’ Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale
If Marvel Studios are going to release franchise instalments at the frequency they do – twenty superhero movies in ten years, five in the last 18 months – they can’t stick to the traditional blockbuster strategy of trying to outdo themselves with each film, of constantly striving to raise the bar with bigger stories and more extreme spectacles. Such an approach would be unsustainable, not to mention exhausting for fans. Instead, they opt for variety and modulation. Of scale, of tone, of stakes. The Ant-Man series is, fittingly, the smallest scale of the various strands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is some canny forethought from Kevin Feige’s team to offer up Ant-Man and the Wasp as a modest, low-stakes breather for superhero movie fans after the epic Avengers: Infinity War.
After opening with a flashback featuring the original Ant-Man and Wasp, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), in action, Ant-Man and the Wasp returns us to ‘the present day.’ But MCU fans wondering how the film would follow on from the incredible cliffhanger of Avengers: Infinity War will quickly glean that ‘the present day’ actually means slightly before the events of Infinity War (there is a post-credit sequence which clarifies exactly where things fit together). Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, has spent the last two years under house arrest in San Francisco for his involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War. Neither Hank Pym nor his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) have talked to him since, both suitably unimpressed that his actions have left them accessories on the run from the law. While Scott has spent the two years trying to be the best dad to Cassie (Abby Ryder Forsten) that circumstances will allow, Hank and Hope have been hard at work building a tunnel to the Quantum Realm. Hank believes that it might be possible bring back Janet who has been trapped for there thirty years. When Scott contacts them out of the blue to say he had a strange dream about Janet, Hank and Hope believe it might be something more than a dream.
A story of one family’s quest for reunification, Ant-Man and the Wasp does not place the fate of the universe on the line. In fact, while the action will of course spill out onto the streets of San Francisco, including the customary tourist stops at Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street, for most people living in the city our heroes’ mission will have almost no impact. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun story with lower, more personal stakes. It works effectively because director Peyton Reed understands what makes the Ant-Man movies distinct, and it starts with the character himself. Scott is not a billionaire genius, a super soldier, a god or a monster. He’s a thief, a goofball and, most significantly, a dad. As the only superhero we have met who has a child, he is guided by an entirely different set of motivations to what we see elsewhere in the franchise. And as far as being a thief goes, just as Julia Roberts played the hooker with a heart of gold in Pretty Woman, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is the sweetest darn ex-con you will ever meet.
Of course, the title promises a two hander, and after spending much of the first film on the sidelines because her father didn’t trust the safety of his tech, Hope now gets to be the Wasp, and she is everything she threatened to be in the first instalment. As well as kicking some butt, as a character Hope makes a good foil for Scott. Competent, clinical and powerful, she is just generally better at this than he is, and they both know it.
Reed also does a good job of using the heroes’ ability to shrink and grow to give the films a visual point of difference that is tied to character experience. In the first Ant-Man, we spent a lot of time in the miniature form. For Scott, as for the viewer, this was all new, so much of the spectacle of that first film came from being tiny and seeing the world from that perspective: being washed down the drain, slipping between floorboards, running through ant tunnels. The climactic battle of Ant-Man took place atop a model train set. For the sequel, rather than giving us more of the same, the idea has evolved. Scott and, to a greater extent, Hope are now very practiced at maximising the potential of the powers their suits gives them. Instead of being about characters learning the micro-space, this film is about functionality and mastery. We spend far less screen time miniaturised, with the focus instead being on the switching between big and small. There are some really impressively choreographed fights in which Ant-Man and the Wasp pop in and out of micro size, giving you a real appreciation for how difficult it would be to fight them. The manipulation of size also extends beyond the heroes themselves, with all manner of objects, vehicles and even buildings being shrinkable and portable.
As superhero movies go, Ant-Man and the Wasp is charmingly modest. It is a sequel that is comfortable with where it fits in the grander MCU scheme of things, not attempting to grapple with big ideas and lofty themes, not trying to reinvent or reimagine the genre. For Marvel fans, 2018 will always be the year of Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. Ant-Man and the Wasp will be a very distant third, an afterthought. But while it lacks the event status and narrative importance of Infinity Wars, and the cultural significance and zeitgeistiness of Black Panther, it is a well rounded movie and ultimately the most fun of the three.
Review by Duncan McLean
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