Steven Spielberg famously likened the comic book movie craze to that of the era of the cowboy films. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s cowboy movies were among the most prevalent and bankable movies that Hollywood was producing. You only have to look at the showtimes at your local movie theater to see how that trend is fairing today. Spielberg’s ultimate point was that as good as comic book movies are, the trend will not last. Let’s face it, he’s not wrong.
And while the end of this golden age of geek is inevitable, at the moment Marvel is showing no signs of slowing. Where most franchise start showing wear and tear by the third or fourth film, at number twenty Ant-Man and The Wasp is one of the MCU’s most enjoyable movies.
You aren’t going to find anything groundbreaking in Ant-Man and The Wasp, nor will you find many flaws either. It is a brisk and enjoyable movie from start to finish. Most importantly, it manages to break free of the formulaic pitfalls many of its comic book counterparts have fallen into. No bloated CGI battle in the third act, no sky portals, no unnecessary origin stories. Instead Marvel has provided us with a strong group of characters who have an emotional investment in the plot’ resulting in clear and definable motives, arcs, and behaviors. While these are the relative basics of storytelling it is nice to see them at the forefront of summer blockbuster.
The movie picks up two years after the first Ant-Man, and the time jump shows in nearly every character. Relationships have changed, people have grown, and the world is not the same place it was since Scott Lang first put on the suit. Patyon Reed and the writing team behind Ant-Man and The Wasp perform a phenomenal balancing act with the characters. Every character from the first is given enough screen time to reflect the changes they’ve gone through, develop further within the movie and demonstrate their necessity to the plot. Their appearance feels like a natural progression from the first film. There are no “Remember how funny this character was” style appearances. Every returning character serves the plot to some degree and their placement reflects Scott Lang’s world. On top of that several new characters are introduced and are provided the same quality treatment. Clocking in at a relatively short 118 minutes, that’s a worthy accomplishment.
Like the characters, the plot has grown organically out of the events of the first Ant-Man as well as the larger MCU. At the same time it is not utterly beholden to the larger mythos. Thanks to some quick recaps newcomers will be able to follow along, while die-hard fans will nod with sage like wisdom at the far reaching effects of things like the Sokovia accords and the disbanding of S.H.E.I.L.D and H.Y.D.R.A.
The stakes are small here. No world ending technology or threats of world domination. The tension and drama arise from the characters and are enhanced subplots and mcguffins. Themes like family and parenthood play strongly here but are covered with more deft and emotion than other Marvel sequels like Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Unlike, GOTG2, these themes play more directly into the plot for nearly all of the characters. This makes the themes feel more natural and more important. Small jokes and recurring concepts/gags serve as surprising and well formed Chekhov’s guns. (can you pluralize Chekhov’s gun? Well I just did so…) The writing is lean and crisp and serves the actors well. Having the benefit of a largely returning cast, the writers are able to lean into each actors strengths.
Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lange – The Ant-Man. Rudd’s genial everyman shtick is on full display here proving he was the perfect choice for the role. Rudd’s “perpetually in over his head nice guy” routine pairs unbelievably well against Evangeline Lilly’s “no nonsense brilliant minded badass.” Lilly really stand out this time, stealing every action scene she is in. It will be a crime if this character doesn’t get some time with the Avengers down the road. In Ant-Man and The Wasp Lilly has shown that with the right story The Wasp could easily have a series of her own.
Hannah John-Kamen’s gender swapped villain Ghost isn’t likely to be remembered as one of the greatest in the franchise, but shes no slouch either. John-Hamen’s portrayal has a level of subtly to it that is refreshing as are her motivations. Similar to Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Zemo in Avenger: Age of Ultron, Ghost is on a very personal mission, and a relatable one at that.
Laurence Fishburne’s Bill Foster strays slightly from the source material but it ways that are interesting and serve the story well. His character adds some interesting dimensions to Hank Pym and MCU mythology in the years between Captain America: First Avenger and Iron Man. (If only Marvel would make a Cold-War era film with de-aged Fishburne, Douglas, and Pfeiffer I would die a happy man.)
Some more minor characters like Sonny Birch (played by the always fantastic Walton Goggins) and Special Agent Jimmy Woo (played by the charming and hysterical Randall Park of Fresh Off the Boat fame) help keep the action and the tension going without ever overstaying their welcome. These two characters aren’t as well formed or believable as the rest of the cast but in the hands of Park and Walton they are a joy to see on screen. Agent Woo, in particular would be a nice addition to other MCU movies. The few bits we get of Scott Lang’s friends Luis, Dave,. And Kurt (played by Michael Peña,Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian respectively) are even more fun this time around.
The special effects are nothing short of jaw dropping. While the de-aging in the first film have a slightly washed out and blurry quality to them, it is near perfection here. Aside from some unnatural movements of Michelle Pfeiffer’s hair you almost wouldn’t suspect there was any digital trickery afoot. The effect is somewhat lost when it comes to Laurence Fishburne, the man ages like fine wine. I am actually beginning to suspect witchcraft and bathing in virginal blood is involved when it comes to Fishburne’s looks. The various shrinking and growing of people and objects is handled with the same balance of humor and action as before – but on a whole new level and looks even cleaner now. The phasing effect of the new villian Ghost is phenomenal and used to great effect. Lingering faces and gestures have a surprising impact on expressing the characters emotions. Likewise, the actual effect to quote one character “is chaotic and beautiful”
The sound design and score were above average, but nothing overly exciting and are among some of the weaker elements of the movie. I would be nitpicking if I were to really delve into any flaws here. And that is where the strength of this movie really lies. It is an incredibly well made movie. The writing, the acting, the directing, all of it is so smooth and enjoyable.This isn’t going to be a life altering experience at the movies. But I can guarantee it won’t be a regrettable one. As a stand alone movie, removed from the first and the larger MCU franchise, it would be enjoyable but a bit forgetful. But as a sequel and as a part of a greater whole, that esues many of the formulas and problematic aspects said franchise, I think Ant-Man and The Wasp is a triumph.