A welcome breath of fresh air after Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp succeeds in some areas, disappoints in others, but is hilarious and remains great due to having the most relatable hero of the Marvel bunch.
After Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is coming to the end of a couple of years of house arrest, and is estranged from scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily). Thrown back into the world of quantum realms and flying ants, Lang juggles his daughter, criminal status, new career and helping Hank and Hope (aka the Wasp) find wife/mother Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).
I’ve frontloaded that synopsis with mention of Ant-Man as opposed to the Wasp – this is supposed to be a bigger deal, Marvel’s first superheroine. Unfortunately, not that much development is given to flesh out Hope, compared to how much Lang gets, and that imbalance is a disappointment, though director Peyton Reed (and a team of writers including Rudd) appear to have tried to spin too many plates.
To be honest, the reason for this is probably that the film feels incredibly quick! It doesn’t drag and is great fun, frothy and not too deep, meaning most characters have small chances to make an impression. While not as anarchically amusing as the last, it’s still hilarious, particularly the return of Scott’s reformed criminal crew and Lang’s everyman reacting to the absurd.
The film is written quite well in that for once antagonists are less black and white as in other Marvel films (perhaps a growing trend given Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Infinity War). Characters also don’t necessarily end up where you expect , and the core of the story is men and their daughters, extending out into families (whether extended, surrogate, estranged or reunited).
This all makes for a more chummy, fun and child friendly Marvel movie, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it doesn’t get dark, or that jokes are aimed younger – there are some laugh out loud scenes, particularly involving Michael Pena’s Luis (one of the standouts of the original film). The story doesn’t go exactly where you expect toward the end (in some senses), taking a unique premise (Lang under house arrest) and cleverly syncing back to this. If there’s a quibble beyond underserved characters, it’s that the ending feels too rushed and neat, and the film could have had more time to breathe.
Perhaps I’m being a bit needy after Infinity War – to follow that film’s epic, operatic scale and feel is incredibly unfair! In regards to that, as with every Marvel film STAY AFTER THE FILM HAS FINISHED – your mileage may vary on staying until the bitter end (a scene more amusing than plot relevant), but make sure you stay about three minutes after. Trust me!
The visual sensibilities around shrinking and expanding are again played for effective laughs, with ingenious effects work melding with stunts for maximum amusement. Marvel absolutely astounds again with de-aging Douglas, Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne, and I’m wondering when an entire film might star an older actor de-aged in this universe. It’s honestly quite unbelievable, and a little unnerving!
Elsewhere, the stellar effects work is in the quantum realm, evoking memories of the madness of Doctor Strange. Musically, Christophe Beck’s theme sticks in the mind thanks to a funky, zany feel, and feels a bit different to Marvel’s other scores (it reflects the fun and the inanity of Lang, and his bumbling attempts at being a hero and a dad).
If you don’t like Paul Rudd, there’s something wrong with you! He perfectly balances Lang’s fish out of water, normal bloke in the midst of superheroics with a very caring, emotional aspect, and being very capable with comedy his scenes are naturally some of the funniest. With a role in the final Avengers film, I look forward to seeing him mix with the whole group.
Lily is underserved despite her character being in the title, but still gets way more to do than in the previous film. I wish there was a little more to her story beyond being defined by the search for her mum, but the actress is comedically adept, has good chemistry with Rudd, and ought to have more opportunities to shine in future!
Michael Douglas continues to set Hank Pym apart from the other science geniuses of the MCU (I would kill for scenes with him, Stark, Banner, Strange or Shuri), by virtue of being a grumpy, arrogant and disdainful old bastard. He maintains a twinkle in his eye, gives as good as he gets in the comedy scenes, and gets to act a little more here too – given what his character experiences, future films could be interesting.
Michael Pena shines as motormouth Luis, often the funniest character in any scene and in one particular part, involving an interrogation, bringing the house down. Laurence Fishburne takes his foot off the overacting gas as Pym’s old colleague, drawing him somewhere between a kindly, helpful older genius and a man regretting choices made.
Nominal villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is quite unique, but again not as fleshed out as she should have been. However, the choices made for the character throughout are more nuanced, and the British actress does well in snippets to portray anguish and a simmering steely fury. Walton Goggin’s stereotypical but welcome turn as a dapper, malevolent southern gent of a criminal broker provides the film with an unexpected third wheel to the heroes and villains.
Randall Park’s hapless, quirky FBI agent provides more laughs, essentially childminding Lang at home, while Pfeiffer has very little time to make an impact, but ought to down the line. Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie is great in scenes that show Lang’s love for his daughter and how important she remains to him (despite the heroics), while T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian only add to Pena’s zaniness as the other ex cons.
It could have been better, but it’s still a great laugh, and Ant-Man and the Wasp does a great job of reminding us not all is doom and gloom in Marvel land (at least until next May…)