Sunday, July 8, 2018

It's a Little Bit Funny - Ant-Man and the Wasp, Reviewed

Wow, has it already been three years since I reviewed the first Ant-Man movie? At the time, I thought of it as well done but disposable entertainment, saddled by Marvel's tendency to use mirror-image villains.

The sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, is much the same, with one critical difference, but it feels even lighter coming on the heels of more moving and socially relevant pieces like Infinity War and Black Panther. Maybe that's okay though.

The house arrest mentioned by Rhodey in that later film is where the sequel picks up, with an officious federal agent (gosh I miss SHIELD being a thing) explaining to the daughter of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) that his hijinks in Captain America: Civil War mean he is confined to his residence for three more days, and on probation for another three years after that.

Faster than you can say "two weeks until retirement" though, Scott finds himself running about with scientist Hank Pym (an increasingly acerbic Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Due to quantum entanglement from his trip to the not-Microverse Quantum Realm, they need his help to rescue Mrs. Pym (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has been trapped there for thirty years.

Antagonism, however, comes from not one, but two individuals. The first is an unsavory black marketeer named Burch played by the always awesome Walton Goggins, who is smart enough to have figured out what Pym and Co. are up to, and eager to monetize it via the dangerous people he deals with.

The vital component he holds is also sought after by Ghost, a young woman out of phase with reality who we learn might die if she doesn't extract some energy from the Quantum Realm. Hannah John-Kamen spends most of her time in an ominous looking suit which a) is pretty badass-looking in a Splinter Cell kind of way and b) looks almost nothing like the shrinking suits worn by the title characters, but also doesn't give her a lot of room to emote. In her time out of the suit, she comes across as far more desperate and tragic than she does actually villainous, although you do get to witness her desperation putting her on the razor's edge being self-interested and evil.

She's no Killmonger, but please, Marvel, more like this! Not every adversary has to be a maniacal moustache twirler, and the last few outings (Michael Keaton's Vulture, Josh Brolin's Thanos, Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster) makes me wonder if they have perhaps turned a corner on this.

Paul Rudd is well cast as the well-intentioned but hapless ex-con and wanna-be hero, and he does a great job conveying his dedication to his daughter. They spend almost five minutes at the beginning showing the lengths he has gone to make house arrest playdates as engaging as possible, and it is absolutely charming. With Hope a far better fighter and more at home with the tech than he can ever hope to be, his imaginative approach to problem solving keeps him from being a mere passenger in a movie with his name on the title.

If you enjoyed the jocularity of the first film, have no fear: Michael Pena and his crew are back, now as the staff of X-Con Security consultants, the business they are using to go straight. All of the Marvel movies have laughs in them, but none of them mine their supporting cast for material like Ant-Man does, and there is a gag involving what exactly a truth serum is and does that had me in stitches.

On the action side, the intangibility of Ghost and the tactical shrinking of the Wasp makes for some great sequences, including one where Wasp gets judoed through a table WWE-style while her opponent phases it right through it.

As much as I love a good caper flick, I was glad to see they didn't go that route this time around. Instead, you have an interdimensional race-against-time rescue mission focused around a laboratory building shrunk to the size of a suitcase, and compromised by an ethereal combatant with her own agenda, a wanna-be gangster now on the hook to his would-be buyers, and Federal agents looking for not just Scott but Dr. Pym and Hope as well.

It all holds together pretty well, honestly, and as our last MCU entry until next year's Captain Marvel, it makes a swell sorbet, a light and tasty way to cleanse the palate between courses of stronger and potentially darker stuff. Be prepared for some fast and loose physics (say, how does a two-inch car keep up with traffic when it has such tiny wheels?) and as much technobabble as you got from Geordie LaForge on Next Generation. Honestly though, would you rather have them waste time No-Prizing it for you, or packing in more jokes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp is not going to change the minds of anyone who dislikes comic book movies on principle, but after Logan and Black Panther, what would? As a piece of summertime escapism, it does exactly what it sets out to do, while still connecting to the wider MCU (stay for the mid-credits scene!) (I found the end credit scene pretty funny as well, but is more shawarma-like, if you know what I mean.

If I have a bone to pick, it is with Marvel's marketers. Although they don't give away much of the plot (partly because, well, there isn't a ton there to give away), there are a ton of gads from the third act they used in the first full trailer. I mean. come on, man! When I find that djinni lamp and become boss of the world, the first change I'm gonna make is a global statue that no more than three seconds can be shown in the trailer from the last 30 minutes of any movie.

Even though you may have already seen some of the best parts, you can stil scratch your action-comedy itch very satisfactorily with Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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