Film Review: "Ant-Man And The Wasp" counters small stakes with a big heart
Just as the first Ant-Man served as light counter programming to Marvel’s hefty Avengers: Age of Ultron, so too does Ant-Man And The Wasp allow you to forget about the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War.
It’s just nice to enjoy a Marvel movie where the weight of the universe (or the kingdom, as is the case with Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther) isn’t burdening our heroes’ shoulders. The action scenes, ticking clocks and villains are just a framework on which to hang our protagonists’ insecurities and barely concealed frailties. And this is all quite palatable instead of melodramatic, thanks to some terrific situational comedy; I defy you to point to a classic hero in cinemas this year (white, straight, handsome – that kind of classic) who is more emasculated than Paul Rudd’s master thief-cum-superhero, Ant-Man. In this way, it translates the spirit of a ‘60s Stan Lee Marvel comic book issue. When the superpowers are dynamic and hilariously or poignantly bring the flaws of the superhero into sharp relief, I’m reminded of why I fell in love with those disposable old children’s stories in the first place.
Being free from gargantuan audience expectations and soap opera plot threads that span from one end of the galaxy to the other means that Ant-Man And The Wasp can remain resolute in its loosey-goosey attitude. The action set-pieces have this freewheeling feel about them too, often being as farcical as they are inventive. A car chase scene is not just a car chase scene when director Peyton Reed fully exploits San Francisco’s hilly roads and implements the nifty special effect of car shrinking from normal size to toy size, for example.
However it's Paul Rudd’s first scene where he’s playing with his little daughter Cassie in a crudely assembled cardboard playhouse that immediately reassures that you will be in for good clean fun. It helps that Rudd has easy chemistry with his on-screen daughter Abby Ryder Fortson. That they’re scenes are consistently adorable and funny instead of sappy is miraculous – miraculous because their sweetness feels recognisable instead of written. And it’s a welcome bit of emotional texture that distinguishes Scott Lang from other charismatic Marvel man-child superheroes like Thor, Tony Stark, Star-Lord, etc.
But Scott Lang is just along for the ride this go around. He’s recruited by the Pyms (Old ex-superhero Hank and his superhero daughter Hope aka The Wasp) for a mission to dive into the sub-atomic realm to locate Hank’s wife, Janet, who’s been trapped there for decades. Because he visited that world at the end of the first Ant-Man, Lang effectively functions as a medium for Janet. So this time It’s Hope/The Wasp who doles out the majority of the ass kickings, which is a big improvement over her sidelining in Ant-Man.
Of course, it’s not so easy as just taking the plunge into the quantum realm. Hot on their tails is a black market seller who wants their tech (Walter Goggins, doing his venomous Southerner schtick) and Hank Pym’s old colleague Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), who wants the tech to save his surrogate daughter, Ava aka Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) – so called because an experiment gone wrong renders her molecules unstable. The visual effect of Ghost phasing and fading away illustrates a somewhat tragic contrast to Ant-Man’s and The Wasp’s playful displays of their abilities. And Hannah John-Kamen cleverly emphasises the instability of a personality trapped in one traumatic moment. There’s not much more to Ghost than her pain and desperation, but she sells the hell out of it. The villains here are more obstacles than genuine threats – one a comical obstacle and the other a sympathetic one – but I’m good with that. If you're looking for substantive antagonists in Ant-Man at this point, well, then, I dunno what to tell you.
Not to be forgotten are Scott’s ex-con buddies who damn near stole the show last time, particularly Luis (Michael Pena) with his penchant for ridiculously layered storytelling. They’re opening a low grade security firm, to predictably hilarious results, and almost a whole scene is devoted to Scott complaining he got the shitty desk. It’s the humorous details that add up to the feeling that you’re watching a little adventure that could take place just outside your window. Is it cliché to say this is the perfect chaser to Infinity War’s fantasy opera? Well, so be it. It is.