Real heroes. Not actual size.
After Black Panther and Infinity War upped the stakes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, correcting the studio’s previous problem with creating memorable villains and substantive threats, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a return to business as usual. There is no imposing big-bad who leaves a lasting impression, nor are there any significant roles for the wealth of overqualified character actors cast in supporting roles – and that’s before we get to the resurgence of the previous Marvel problem, where narrative jeopardy is undercut by a dash of irreverent humour at every turn.
And yet, despite following two of Marvel’s best efforts and looking every bit their inferior, director Peyton Reed’s sequel is a light-footed and consistently amusing affair, whose lighter attributes are much more rewarding when following two of Marvel’s darkest instalments to date. It’s undeniably disposable, and is almost remarkable in how little it figures into the expanding world-building narrative mapped up by super producer Kevin Feige. When viewed on its own terms, it’s perfectly charming, but likely to get lost on casual multiplex audiences due to the more consequential blockbuster competition around it. When viewed as part of the MCU, however, it’s an enjoyable palette cleanser that offers a moment to breathe before the high stakes of the fourth Avengers outing.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is nearing the end of a home imprisonment sentence following his contribution to the German airport fight in Captain America: Civil War – surprisingly, the only reference to another Marvel property within the story. However, in a dream, he gets a strange subconscious message aimed at his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily). He calls Hank on a whim to detail it, and discovers that for reasons best described as “bullshit science”, it was a message from Hank’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has been entangled in a quantum realm for years.
Hank and Hope kidnap Scott from his house arrest, and have a meticulous plan to rescue their long lost family member – but the equipment needed ends up causing a kerfuffle with a black market dealer (Walton Goggins), and reignites Hank’s feud with a former partner (Laurence Fishburne) he tracked down for help. With the clock ticking to rescue Janet, and Scott under close watch from the FBI due to his house arrest, the trio have to carry out their most unusual heist yet.
The film’s storyline, as intricately plotted as it may be, is practically an irrelevance. All Marvel movies overtly flirt with comedy, but Ant-Man is the only one that benefits from a renowned comic actor in the lead role, not just a performer who has infrequently dabbled in making audiences laugh. As a result, the plot contorts itself into following offbeat trajectories for the sole purpose of throwing Paul Rudd into increasingly outlandish situations for pure, unadulterated laughs. There are flimsy narrative excuses as to why Scott Lang has to shrink down to the size of an elementary school pupil and break into his daughter’s school (a tasteful variation on Deadpool 2’s similar baby legs joke), nor why he should grow to over 60 feet to hassle a departing cruise ship. But Rudd’s charming, wisecracking performance manages to sell the silliness – only leaving you to question the very logic of the storytelling once the credits have started to roll.
On a visual level, this is a far less impressive offering than Reed’s inaugural Ant-Man outing. There, he seemed to follow the Edgar Wright style of visual storytelling closely, to the extent that you’d likely assume it was actually made by the director who very publicly departed the project after all. Here, the visuals are more akin to that of a sitcom, interspersed with generic (if sporadically eye-catching) science fiction visuals. The visual novelty of playing with different sizes and proportions has dissipated, now existing purely as an excuse to throw characters into bizarre situations. Effects that were previously extravagant are now only used as set-ups for weird punchlines. It’s admittedly a waste of the concept’s potential, only hinted at in 2015’s Ant-Man, but when it achieves its humble aim of making the audience laugh consistently, it’s slightly nitpicking to take apart its faults in that arena. This is, by design, a light palette cleanser – an inconsequential piece of entertainment that’s as amusing while watching as it is forgettable when trying to dissect the actual storyline afterwards.
Not all the jokes hit their mark, however; Michael Peña’s glorious return as Scott’s former cellmate Luis is hampered by a recurring joke where he explains his love of Morrissey. Yes, the Tommy Robinson apologist Morrissey is the subject of an ongoing gag about the quality of his music, right as he’s becoming best known in the public consciousness for his support for far right causes. Even while the film was in production, the gloomy Mancunian had numerous unpleasant opinions to his name, making it a tone deaf inclusion in an otherwise broad, kind hearted and altogether inclusive blockbuster (this might have the most diverse blockbuster cast outside of the Fast and Furious films, with the POC characters mercifully less caricatured than the previous Ant-outing).
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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