With the literal dust of half the MCU barely settled after the events of Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp does the completely predictable in breaking Phase 3’s hot streak – it lasted from Civil War through the solid Doctor Strange and Guardians Vol 2, to the brilliant Spider-Man Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and the aforementioned movie that pitted Thanos against everyone.
When the decidedly average reviews for Ant-Man and the Wasp came out, many writers commented on the fact that this particular movie couldn’t possibly be as good as Infinity War (yeah, no shit) and that it certainly couldn’t follow the exceptional epoch-defining team-up. Okay, I know what these writers are saying – an Ant-Man movie is always going to suffer in comparison to one of the defining blockbusters of a generation- but if you are someone who rates each MCU movie up against the last release then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I realize that all of these movies are connected in some way, but Winter Soldier isn’t a better movie because it followed the dire Thor 2, it’s just a great movie. Which means Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t made weaker by following Infinity War. Nope, it sucks just fine on its own.
Even though I basically hated the first Ant-Man I was hoping for some improvements from the sequel, especially since this was director Peyton Reed’s first go at the character without the shadow of Edgar Wright hanging over things. In this sense Ant-Man and the Wasp is a better movie than its predecessor: it’s funnier, the action is a little more creative, and Evangeline Lilly makes a good hero as The Wasp. That sounds like praise which I realize is confusing, but this is only credit because it’s better than Ant-Man’s debut cinematic effort (the only movie it should really be compared to) but that isn’t saying much.
The fact is this little corner of the MCU is the place where the creative team plays things extremely safe. There is no real sense of drama, danger, or real stakes in this movie. The humor is only vaguely there about 10% of the time with the rest of the gags feeling like the camera was left rolling as each actor was riffing on their worst material. The action is better than the first movie but that’s only because it ripped off the freeway fight from Deadpool (though the car chase that this scene is part of is mildly entertaining) and there is still a little novelty from things like buildings, cars, and even Pez dispensers going from big to small and back again – but that gets old really quick.
It feels like the movie is going for a Homecoming-style of comedic tone, but Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t have the deft skill of that movie or the ability to give the dramatic moments their full weight – mainly because the effort put into characterizing these people has been shrunk to the same microscopic levels as it’s leading man.
Scott still just feels like Paul Rudd on an off-day, whereas Hope might as well just be wearing a sandwich board with “clearly better than Scott at everything” on it. This might be the movie’s biggest sin: every time Hope does something awesome it just raises the question of why she isn’t the hero of both of these movies, as it makes so much more sense from a motivational standpoint. Michael Douglas gets to be a little more than an exposition machine as Hank Pym: this time he’s upgraded to third wheel, which is…better? If you don’t look too closely. Scott’s sidekicks continue to be awful, though Michael Pena is giving it his all as Luiz and I appreciate his passion (the best scene in the entire movie is Luiz filling in what happened between the first and second movie in hyper-speed hammy voiceover, and I kind of wish the entire movie was told in this way).
Ticking the Romance Box
Hope is so monumentally out of Scott’s league that she has to be on the run from the law and thus unable to make any true romantic connections in order for him to still be in with a shot. Rudd and Lilly lack any meaningful chemistry, and I’m just pulling for her to realize how much better she is than him and move on. And get a suit without a pair of tits nailed on the front, because it’s 2018, for God’s sake.
The Wasted Villian Corner
Character actor extraordinaire Walton Goggins elevates his second underwritten villain of the year (Tomb Raider being the first to waste his exceptional talent) as a petty arms dealer who wants Hanks lab for science/money reasons, but he’s still barely more than a sneer and a bad haircut. Hannah John-Kamen turns in a performance way better than her character deserves as Ghost, a woman who is slowly phasing out of reality after an accident that killed her parents changed her body chemistry. Or something. Either way, the visuals are pretty cool. She is aided by Lawrence Fishburne, another superb character actor, who can’t seem to decide whether he is actually a villain or not. This duo’s grand plan is to suck the quantum energy out of Janet Van Dyne after she is returned from the quantum realm, and thus cure Ghost’s affliction.
Which brings us to the movie’s biggest problem: it doesn’t bother to really explain itself. The main goal of the movie is to get Hope’s mother Janet, played by Michelle Pfieffer, out of the quantum realm where she has been trapped for 30 years. After some science mumbo-jumbo, which includes Hank shrinking down into a little buggy to rescue her, Janet reappears and magically heals Ghost because, well, the magic of Michelle Pfeiffer. There’s also the problem of how, despite Janet being in a realm of literal nothingness, she was able to get new clothes, a weapon, and maintain a consistent make-up regime for 30 years. I know it’s Michelle Pfeiffer, but she should be faring a little worse, no? It’s just lazy hand-waving and it leaves the movie feeling frustratingly unsatisfying.
Ant-Man and the Wasp repeats the sin of the first outing by being a mostly boring movie that in better hands could have been a truly fun time at the cinema. Perhaps Peyton Reed and his writing team are the wrong people for the job. Or perhaps Ant-Man just isn’t suited for full-length cinematic outings – his finest moment on the big screen is still, of course, a ten-minute cameo in Civil War. And maybe that’s what he should stick to.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image courtesy of Vox)