Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Abby Ryder Fortson with Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer
Plot: As Hope (Lily) and Hank (Douglas) try to find the missing Janet (Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm, Scott (Rudd) is three days away from his house arrest sentence being finished.
As my moaning reviews of the 2017 Marvels may indicate, I am not a massive fan of the ‘fun’ Marvel movies. Yes, I think that the tongue-in-cheek approach to the blockbuster is Marvel’s secret ingredient to the winning recipe that DC, The Dark Universe and the Titan universe is lacking. But the best Marvel films are the ones that filled the movie with impending doom and dread, then added the jokes in second. Assemble is a movie about Earth facing an alien invasion for the first time, Winter Soldier saw the government unravelling before our very eyes, need I even mention Infinity War? The jokes cut the tension of these films, rather than defining them. The films that put the jokes first always felt lacking to me (Guardians, Ragnarok). Therefore, as Ant-Man and the Wasp, another of Marvel’s entries that put the emphasis on comedy, stepped up to the plate, it felt like another hit and a miss. In some ways, was Ant-Man and the Wasp the planned train wreck to re-set expectation after the critically-acclaimed and financial success of Infinity War? Were Marvel Studios planning on advancing from the rubble of Ant-Man in order to continue their franchise?
However, there is a difference to the comedy in Ant-Man and the Wasp to the comedy in Ragnarok? Ragnarok followed the ridiculous Guardians 2 and the light-hearted Spiderman movie – it arrived at a time when the audiences were in dire need of a more serious instalment. Ant-Man and the Wasp follows the darkest chapter in the canon yet, not to mention the politically-fuelled Black Panther movie, which had its fair share of weighty segments. Right now, what the audiences needed was a bit of fun, a distracting adventure movie where we could forget the teary cliff-hanger of the last film. And right from the opening, Peyton Reed delivers it. The first few moments establish why Ant-Man, and perhaps more specifically leading man Paul Rudd, is an important face in the Marvel series. While Tony Stark is a swaggering, arrogant billionaire and Steve Rogers is a heroic muscle-man with impossibly good values, with Scott Lang, we have a hero we can see ourselves in. Rudd’s Lang is a man with a dodgy past that he is spending every moment trying to make right. The character is defined by his past mistakes. The story’s biggest obstacle is Rudd’s house arrest punishment for his actions in Civil War, both in terms of him having to outsmart the ankle device that’s trapping him in his own home, and in trying to make up his actions to Hope and Hank Pym, who are now criminals because of Ant-Man’s participation in the Civil War battle. But while he is a character who is constantly making foolish errors (to the point where the bad guys plan for Scott’s mistakes, when coming up with their evil plans), he is endearing for his willingness to always make up for them. Rather than feel diminished by his house arrest, he spends all day learning magic tricks and building outstanding fantasy worlds for his daughter (still adorably fantastic in the sequel), in order to prove himself as a better father. And while there is still a fledgling love interest between him and Hope, it never feels like Scott is playing the long game in wooing the girl. He is genuinely trying to make her forgive and respect him. This deep back-story, wonderfully played by Rudd, becomes important in the chemistry between him and Hope, because now, as proven by the title, he is joint lead to Evangeline’s Wasp. The change is arguably seamless and, if it wasn’t for Marvel hammering home the point in the marketing, you might not have felt that anything overtly significant was happening. But there is a clear sharing of duties here. Rather refreshingly, Evangeline is left in charge of the more outlandish action sequences (a brawl in a kitchen, a car chase), while Paul Rudd does the character stuff on the side. This feels like a fair smattering of jobs, as Rudd is far more compelling than Lily’s straight-faced, icy Hope, yet she is definitely more fun to watch kick ass.
The action is where Ant-Man and the Wasp really surprises. No, it doesn’t come close to having you as on-the-edge-of-your-seat as Infinity War, but it is gripping in other ways. There was a time when the ability to shrink was seen as a naff super-power where the creative challenge was to make it interesting. Here, Peyton Reed finds himself with endless possibilities with this fun, inventive technology. The imagination and creativity bursting from Ant-Man and the Wasp is what makes the film so appealing. The Macguffin here is Michael Douglas’ laboratory that can be shrunk to the size of a briefcase. The heroes keep a collection of Hot Wheel cars that can be turned into a getaway vehicle at the press of a button. And the fight scenes are played with such fierce fun that it is hard to keep track of what is actually happening. You are inspired to buy the DVD and watch each punch frame-by-frame to track the Wasp across the screen. It is like Reed looked back to the first film, with that inspirational Thomas the Tank Engine gag, and saw it as a blueprint for what the entire movie should be like. No, the film is not perfect, perhaps getting a little too messy. There is a sub-plot with Walton Goggins’ shady arms dealer which is played on a bit too long, feeling like an excuse to drag the supporting characters (Pena, for instance), into the fray when they start to fade away. It is a shame, because with the incredible newcomer Hannah John-Kamen added to the story, it isn’t as though the movie is stuck for things to focus on. With a bit more screen-time, Kamen could have been one of the strongest Marvel villains (and following Thanos to boot!), captivating and menacing. It feels like there is far more story lying beneath the surface that Ant-Man and the Wasp never gets around to unpacking. Regardless, the villain is still a strong one, partly because you both pity her and fear her, a tough balance for any screenplay to get right. On one hand, you want her to make it out of the story okay; on the other, you are aware she can tear out the heart of any character who stands in her way.
Final Verdict: Ant-Man and the Wasp proves that there is room for the ‘fun’ Marvels, as long as they are as creative, well-acted and as exciting as this one.