Itsy Bitsy Sequel
Following the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, regardless of how much you may or may not have liked it, left most audiences completely drained emotionally and intellectually. Which is inevitable when you’re dealing with big, epic, sweeping story lines drawing closer to their conclusion, but Marvel Studios still has two other movies to get through before we arrive at said grand finale. First up to the plate is the sequel to one of Marvel Studio‘s most troubled productions: Ant-Man. The final product wasn’t bad mind you, it was perfectly fine but it did suffer from an identity crisis on account of Edgar Wright leaving the project right before filming began. Well the man who took over for Wright, Peyton Reed, is back in the directing chair for its sequel with the majority of the cast from the first film in tow. How does it compare? Let’s find out.
So following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has been under house arrest for two years for assisting Captain America, which consequently soured his relationship with his predecessor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyke (Evangeline Lilly) on account of the fact he used the Ant-Man suit without the former’s permission and forced the two of them into hiding to protect Pym’s shrinking technology. But after receiving a bizarre message from the Quantum Realm, Lang makes contact with Pym once more as Pym’s long-thought-dead wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) reaches out to the once-Ant-Man with instructions to break her out of her prison. However, the trio of Scott, Hank and Hope have to deal with an aggressive arms dealer (Walton Goggins) and a mysterious assassin named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) before they can free Janet. With the life of one woman on the line, Scott dons the Ant-Man outfit once more with Hope sporting her very own unique shrinking suit to become The Wasp.
So the stakes in this movie feels a bit “reduced” from the usual world-ending threats that usually face the Marvel super hero pantheon, but going for a smaller conflict has lead to some pretty decent results for the studio in the past, so I appreciate Ant-Man and the Wasp going for a less cataclysmic problem especially after the widespread destruction following Infinity War. Thing is, you also need to be ready to accept that this is much more of a straightforward comedy than it is a traditional superhero yarn as well as the jokes mostly take precedence over any science fiction or action scene presented in this film. Which of course means that I have to judge it by whether it made me laugh or not? A good thing too, in my mind, because I would be criticizing the shit out of the plot on any other day.
But mercifully, many a plot hole and dumb decision are glossed over on account that the jokes kept coming a mile per second. While some landed with an audible thud, the majority got several decent chuckles out of me. This is mostly thanks to the seasoned cast and especially the charisma of Paul Rudd delivering the funny on many of the lines with pitch perfect delivery. Evangeline Lilly, for her part, gets significantly much more to do (makes sense as she’s now a title character) and she’s also provided some solid banter to share with her co-stars while also being provided with many of an opportunity to get into some super heroics. For the most part, Rudd and Lilly have some great, believable chemistry that makes their constant flirting and partner act feel genuine, except for one incredibly stupid act that I’m not going to spoil…but rest assured it only existed because the director was relying on all bad habits.
And I’m only being hard on Peyton Reed because I’ve seen a tremendous improvement from his direction in the first film. The action sequences genuinely feel imaginative while taking full advantage of the shrinking premise to create many fun and amusing sights for audiences to enjoy. But he comes from a school of comedy that crams as many jokes into every scene bar none while also encouraging a lot of improvisation from some of its actors. To Reed’s credit, he pulls back when Michael Douglas is in the fray as the guy is much more of a traditional actor and he’s allowed to display his strengths in that particular arena. But other times, Reed lets his actors either run a joke into the ground or drone on and on to the point that barely anybody was laughing in my theater for certain sequences. I think Thor: Ragnarok was a much more consistently funny picture than this was, but it also benefited from a particularly fearless director who could dip into some startlingly shocking social commentary in between the laughs.
See, besides the comedy, the plot is honestly a bit of a mess. From a relatively straightforward start with the rescue of Janet, you get about three other subplots but their heads in all headed up by different antagonists with conflicting agendas. First you have Walton Goggins doing an absurdly obvious Southern accent (better than the bore he was in Tomb Raider (2018)), then you have an ineffectual FBI agent played Randall Park to harass Scott Lang, and finally you have the phasing-assassin Ghost. Now of the three antagonists, she’s definitely the most dangerous threat and the one with sufficient development to understand her perspective. But she’s practically forgettable by film’s end, partially because she’s constantly getting sidelined by other characters trying to crack wise like Michael Pena’s Luis (who’s still funny, sue me) or by her own powers. In the end, all this conflict gets hastily resolved but nothing about the conclusion felt earned or complete.
And I think that’s why I’m not as excited about Ant-Man and the Wasp as I was with the previous three Marvel productions: there’s not much else to hold my attention besides the superhero comedy bits. The film is fine for what it is, but it doesn’t offer me anything emotionally satisfying as Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 provided nor anything intellectually stimulating as Black Panther delivered. This is more of a step below Spider-Man: Homecoming which exists for the same reason this film does: to fill out a contractual obligation. While both movies do offer their entertainment and even some cool moments, neither one is going to stick out in my mind among the TWENTY films in this series. No, they’re not Thor: The Dark World bad, but I’m not as giddy and excited as I was about all these previous examples.
Still, if you’re looking for a good time in the theaters to kick back and relax, you really can’t go wrong with this film. In many respects, it’s a step up from its predecessor even if the plot doesn’t feel as tight or as cohesive as the first Ant-Man. So I’d check this out as a high…
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