Rant Review Rating: 6/10
2015’s Ant-Man was a movie that never should have worked. The story – a petty criminal works with a genius inventor to steal something from a corporate fat-cat by utilizing a suit that will shrink him down to the size of an ant, and allow him to enlist fellow ants in the fight – is completely absurd, even by comic book standards. However, the film managed to overcome its ridiculous premise (and audiences’ general apathy towards a superhero whose power was getting really little really fast) to become a thoroughly enjoyable, stylish, self-aware, and funny heist flick with immense character issues. In order to break down what does and doesn’t work about Ant-Man and the Wasp, I think it’s worth discussing how Ant-Man was anything other than a complete trainwreck.
To begin with, the decision to frame the story as a comedic, superhero-filled Ocean’s 11-esque adventure presented a number of opportunities. The most vital of these is the fact that neither the filmmakers nor the audience were meant to take anything they saw too seriously. By owning just how fundamentally stupid Ant-Man was, Marvel was able to use it to their advantage.
This idea is fully supported by what is easily the strongest element of the film: scale gags. Considering that the titular character’s gimmick is size manipulation, why not mine that particular vein for all it’s worth? Thus, we get a dramatic action setpiece atop a model train, some enormous ants, and a finale that proudly features a life-sized Thomas the Tank Engine. These images are insane, but all the funnier for it.
A few additional steps for success: hire charming, charismatic actors to deliver funny lines in a funny way; stay away from anything too serious or heady, this is a comedy, after all; keep the rest of the MCU at arm’s length to avoid bogging your side-story down in the mire of a decade of superhero movies. Check, check, and check. Ant-Man was by no means perfect, it had a number of substantial problems, not the least of which were the boring/generic rent-a-villain, and the fact that the film was determined to portray Paul Rudd as a bad-news career thief despite never actually showing him doing anything particularly damning. Even so, this can’t change the fact that the film was simple, funny, and refreshingly small-scale.
So, what does any of this have to do with Ant-Man and the Wasp? Quite a lot, actually, as these ideas still work as well in 2018 as they did in 2015, but unsurprisingly, when you ignore them, you run the risk of outspending your audiences’ suspension of disbelief budget.
The first and most obvious issue at hand is that Ant-Man and The Wasp takes itself far, far too seriously. The story revolves around Hank Pym and his daughter attempting to recover their wife/mother (played by and henceforth referred to exclusively as Michelle Pfeiffer) from the ‘Quantum Zone,’ where she has been trapped for thirty years. Attempting to stop them, help them for personal gain, or steal their technology are a bevy of villains with intimidating comic book-ey names like ‘Ghost,’ ‘Sonny Burch,’ and the far less creatively dubbed Bill Foster.
Considering the fact that the plot of this film revolves around attempting to rescue a woman who has spent three decades stuck in a hypothetical pseudoscientific realm that exists between molecules using what is essentially a quantum dune buggy housed in a laboratory that shrinks down to the size of a suitcase, perhaps a lighter approach would yield better results. Instead, the screenplay (at least ninety-five percent of which is composed of the word ‘quantum’) treats these ideas like the most serious and believable concepts the writers could come up with.
There are obviously moments of levity; this is still very much a comedy. However, the majority of the humor fails to recognize the absurd level of b-movie schlock upon which everything in the film is based. Is the ongoing ‘truth serum’ gag funny? Absolutely. Is it hysterical to watch Paul Rudd video-chatting with his daughter while duct taped to a chair? Surely. Is it side-splittingly silly to watch Michael Douglas ride his quantum dune buggy through a field of psychedelic goo with a perfectly straight face? One hundred percent yes, but almost certainly not for the intended reason.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is, much like its predecessor, at its best when it uses the core conceit of size manipulation for physical comedy. Watching a tiny Paul Rudd waddling around an elementary school in an oversized hoodie is an image that I may never be able to forget, no matter how much I might want to. The concept of reducing an entire building to the size of a rolling suitcase is clever and provides for some unique action sequences, as does the Hot Wheels variety pack filled with real cars. For another thing, in what other superhero franchise would said hero ever be seen using the bed of a semi truck as a kickboard to chase down bad guys?
Outside of these moments, though, the screenplay really struggles to find its footing. Paul Rudd and Michael Peña are as charming as ever, but even they can only do so much with an extended conversation about pastries and desks. More often than not, the writers tend to fall back on well-worn tropes like a grown man screaming in a high register, or obvious, sophomoric bits like Paul Rudd and Lawrence Fishburne engaging in a thinly veiled dick-measuring contest. This kind of humor might play well to the eighth graders in the room, but the rest of the audience may be out of luck.
These issues aside, there is one last thing that I found to be consistently, inescapably irritating. This is the fact that Ant-Man and the Wasp is fundamentally tied into what may be the single most frustrating film in the MCU: Captain America: Civil War. At this point, I will harness every minute scrap of my self-control in an effort to keep this review from devolving into a never-ending tirade about how god awful that movie was, but I will allow myself the following brief release: Civil War was an overlong, boring, pointless exercise in stupidity that served absolutely no purpose outside of confusing its audience and minorly inconveniencing its characters. My personal gripes aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp pins a great deal of its emotional stakes and the entirety of its setup on Ant Man’s role in the airport fight in Civil War.
It seems that Paul Rudd was captured by the authorities after his throwdown in Germany, and since he was fighting on Captain America’s side, which the MCU incessantly reminds audiences is not particularly well-liked by the government, he was placed under house arrest for two years, forcing Hank Pym and his former lover Hope to become fugitives. Furthermore, if he ever takes up the mantle of Ant-Man again, or has any contact with either Pym, he will be in violation of the Sokovia Accords, and immediately sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Here’s the thing: there is quite literally no way that I could possibly care less about the Sokovia Accords. They were pointless and unnecessary in 2016, and seem to have no apparent impact other than making sure that big, bad Paul Rudd has one more obstacle to overcome this time around. His house arrest is used to enjoyable effect throughout the film, but the tension between his character and both Pyms feels shallow and unnecessary. It’s put aside with ease and based on an infraction of international superhero regulation legislation. That hardly makes for compelling drama.
Even when saddled with all of these frustrations and inconsistencies, Ant-Man and the Wasp continues Marvel’s streak of enjoyable, energetic blockbuster flicks. It lacks some of the charm of its precursor and a fair amount of the jokes fall flat, but it’s still damn fun and unique to watch a giant pigeon peck at a tiny little car on the road. With a bit more self-awareness it could have been exceptional, but why push for excellent when acceptable will guarantee you a $150 million opening weekend?
Disney’s™ Marvel’s™ MCU™ Review Rating: 7.5/10
At a certain point, these MCU-specific reviews kind of lose their value, and I think that point may be Ant-Man and the Wasp. I’m fairly certain that if you were to take a poll of all Marvel fans, the consensus would likely be that Ant-Man is arguably the least popular character to get his own standalone movie. That’s not to say that the franchise is disliked, more so that it’s not particularly impactful or relevant to the rest of the cinematic universe.
Adding this assumption to the fact that this is the first Marvel movie released in a post-Infinity War world, but it takes place in a decidedly pre-Infinity War one, it’s unlikely that this particular title was going to draw many casual fans. My point being that if you ran out to see Ant-Man and the Wasp during its opening weekend, it’s probably because you’re the type of person who’s going to really enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp.
That’s certainly not a bad thing, as it’s a perfectly enjoyable film and hardly one of the weaker entries in the series. For the most part, if you had fun with Ant-Man, you’re in for a pleasant time at the movies. If nothing else, it’s another movie to see before you subject yourself to Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado.
There really isn’t much to say that I haven’t already covered in a previous MCU review. There’s plenty of kinetic action, some good chuckles, a generic romance, some villains with clear intentions but dubious motivation, and some digitally de-aged celebrities. It’s par for the course; a thoroughly safe, successfully manufactured piece of cinema. The only real surprise comes during the credits scene, which successfully ties Ant-Man into Infinity War, and raises a number of intriguing questions about where things will go in Avengers 4.
Other than that, I’m pretty much left rewriting the same review I’ve already done to death numerous times before. This is a Marvel movie. If you like those, you’ll probably like this one. If not, you’ll probably passively enjoy it and walk away from the experience with no change in your perspective. If you don’t know what you’re in for by this point, I’m not entirely convinced you’ve ever seen a movie before.