Reel Opinions


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

I think for me the big reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has worked as well as it has for the past 10 years is that for all of its superheroics and premonitions about world-ending doom, the heroes at the center of the stories have a certain looseness to them.  They understand the stakes, but at the same time, sometimes when you're facing a planet-conquering titan, you just need to crack a joke in order to lessen the tension.  Detractors will say that this makes Marvel films aimed squarely at kids, and that the much more dark and dire DC Comics fare like Batman v. Superman are superior, because they are more serious, and therefore made for adults.  I never understood this, as to the best of my knowledge, adults enjoy humor too, and it's not often frowned upon.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is pretty lightweight stuff, even for Marvel, but it still works because it's playful with its humor, not cynical.  The filmmakers and writers are clearly having a lot of fun with this world where its hero can shrink himself to "ant size", thereby making everyday objects like Hello Kitty Pez Dispensers into the size of mammoth tanks.  It also has a great leading man in Paul Rudd, who plays Scott, better known as the titular Ant-Man.  This time, he's teamed up with his potential love interest from the 2015 Ant-Man movie, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who gets a super suit of her own, which allows her to not only shrink to ant size like Scott, but can also fly and is armed with blasters on her wrists to knock out foes.  She calls herself The Wasp, and when Scott sees her in action, he asks Hope's father, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who invented both the Ant-Man and Wasp suits why he didn't give him wings and blasters.  Turns out Hank just didn't feel like it.

As the film kicks off, Scott is nearing the end of a house arrest sentence and slapped with an ankle monitor bracelet after he participated in the big smackdown battle in Captain America: Civil War.  He's lost touch with both Hank and Hope, and pretty much spends his days with his adorable 10-year-old daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), and under the constant surveillance of a nosy FBI agent (Randall Park, a hilarious and welcome addition to the series).  Meanwhile, Hank and Hope are continuing their research into the disappearance of Hope's mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who was the original Wasp, and disappeared when she shrank to subatomic size while trying to save the world.  Because Scott went to subatomic size and returned near the end of the last movie, they think he might hold the key to finding her.  The fact that Scott is having strange dreams that seem to be messages sent by Hope's mother only strengthens the notion that not only is she still alive, but she can be reached.

Fortunately, Hank has all the technology he needs to find his missing wife in his lab, which in one of the film's most cleverest visual gags can be shrunk and used as a wheeled suitcase.  But of course, it's not going to be that easy, as various evil forces want the technology Hank holds for their own ends.  First, there's the shady science technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who realizes that he can make a profit out of the work that Hank and Hope are doing, and wants to double cross them.  But the more prominent threat is a masked figure who calls herself Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who has the ability to pass through solid matter after an accident at a lab granted her the ability.  Unfortunately, this genetic mutation is slowly killing her, and she needs Hank's research in order to save her life, and she doesn't care who she has to hurt in order to get her hands on it.

Ant-Man and the Wasp basically becomes one large chase picture, as the heroes constantly try to stay one step ahead of the villains who want their technology.  This by itself sounds fairly routine, but again, the film's imagination and coming up with inventive ways of playing with the size of the main characters and everyday objects is what sets it apart from your standard summer blockbuster.  This imagination and comic use of everyday objects being giant carries right through to the fight scenes, especially during a sequence where Hope as The Wasp battles some thugs in a kitchen.  This is simply a fun movie to watch, and returning director Peyton Reed obviously is having a great time coming up with new approaches to what would be generic action sequences in other movies.  An extended car chase late in the film ends up being a lot more fun than it should, due to the fact that Ant-Man's suit starts malfunctioning in the middle of it, causing him to grow to mammoth size, and he's forced to participate in the chase by using a truck like a child's scooter, riding on the back, and kicking his leg against the street to make it go.

This is also just a wonderfully cast film.  Paul Rudd (who also contributed to the screenplay) brings his signature joyful humor to just about every scene, but he also knows not to overdo it, so that the movie never becomes too silly.  His returning co-star, Evangeline Lilly, is the real stand out here, as she gets to finally step into the spotlight this time around as The Wasp, and proves that she not only can easily act alongside Rudd, but can hold her own in every action sequence.  Even more impressive are the supporting characters, who each bring their own sense of humor to the film.  Michael Douglas brings the grumpy sarcasm, Michael Pena (returning as Scott's business partner from the last movie) is winning with his somewhat detached sense of humor and love for epic, rambling stories, and Randall Park is scene-stealing as an FBI agent who wants to be tough, but can't help but hint he might want to join Scott for dinner one night when he's supposed to be grilling him. 

It's the playful way that Ant-Man and the Wasp lets everyone in on the fun in some way that makes the film more charming than your usual superhero blockbuster.  It's not as self-aware as the Deadpool movies, but it doesn't need to make fun of itself or point out its own cliches.  It's simply a light, fun summer film that's clever enough for adults and never too violent or scary for small kids.  And even though Ant-Man is not exactly an A-List superhero in the Marvel Universe, I would love to see more of his adventures.

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