It's as Good a Time as Any for the Funny, Low-Stakes 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' (Review)
Can you possibly think of a better time for Ant-Man and the Wasp to have been released? No matter your current political views, I think it's safe to say that things have been a little crazy in the world as of late, with the last week being particularly tense in the US to say the least. To make things worse, our blockbusters lately haven't exactly been uplifting. Avengers: Infinity War ends with catastrophic, galaxy-changing consequences, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom concerns the extinction of the remaining dinosaurs via a giant goddamn volcano, and don't even get me started on the soul-crushing Hereditary (you can check out my review, if you must know). Needless to say, I think it was time for the world to laugh and enjoy some blockbuster fluff, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is exactly that.
Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up an unspecified time after Captain America: Civil War, with Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) stuck on house arrest after violating the Sokovia Accords, a bill put into effect that regulates super-heroics. Scott juggles visits from his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston) and his parole officer Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), but with 3 days left until he is free from his confinement, he finds himself having strange dreams and reaching out to Hank Pym (Micheal Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), his estranged partners in crime from his first attempt at being a hero. Scott is quickly wrapped up in the father and daughter duo's scheme to rescue Hope's mother, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm, a micro-dimension where she has been trapped for 30 years since she used her and her husband's shrinking technology to shrink "between the molecules" to disable a missile. Along the way, the trio fights the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and the black market arms dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) who has his sights on Pym's innovative quantum laboratory.
If all of that sounds like a lot, it kind of is. Even compared to the relatively scattered focus of Infinity War, Ant-Man's antics this time around lack a central drive. The quest to rescue Janet from the quantum realm may lie at the heart of this movie, but we rarely get to see the original Wasp as the quest progresses, and even the villains don't seem particularly concerned with stopping the heroes as much as they are fixated on getting what they want. That is to say, there isn't necessarily a lot of intense conflict in Ant-Man and the Wasp. In its place there are a number of minor scuffles and, because there really isn't a better word to use, shenanigans that the team runs into. Among them include: Scott continually tricking his parole officer into believing he is home; Pym fighting with his former colleague Bill Foster/Goliath (Laurence Fishburne); Scott's new security company trying to lock down their first contract; and Scott trying to earn back the trust of Hope and Hank after hanging them out to dry while he joined the Avengers. The wealth of low-stakes, minor skirmishes and brushes with disaster has the effect of making this adventure feel at times like a long episode of a sitcom.
All of this might be considered an issue if AMATW wasn't as funny as it is. Being given full control over this movie from the start (after infamously taking over for Edgar Wright in the previous outing) has allowed director Peyton Reed to craft a more unified tone for the film's world. The original Ant-Man mixed light comedy with super-hero and heist movie elements, but Reed heavily puts the emphasis on the humor this time around. The infinitely likable Paul Rudd turns Scott Lang from a spastic but daring, size-changing hero into a goofy everyman trying to make things right with the people he cares about, and he sells some of AMATW's best jokes. Unsurprisingly, the runner-up is Micheal Peña, returning as Luis, Scott's best-friend and business partner. His motor-mouth, nervous energy livens up any scene he enters, and one of the movie's best scenes involves him recapping his relationship with Scott while under the influence of truth serum (though our bad guys wouldn't want it to be called that). Randall Park is also incredibly charming as Jimmy Woo, and his awkward but mostly kind-hearted interactions with Scott are a preferable alternative to the corrupt, nasty parole officer stereotype that we easily could've been saddled with.
The action sequences are nothing to sneeze at either, though like a lot of recent movies, they suffer from the marketing leading up the movie. Seeing Hope van Dyne (who leads most of the impressive action sequences this time around) shrink to the size of a fly and dodge kitchen cutlery is visually stunning, but less-so considering that I have now seen that fight play out 10,000 times in trailers for other Marvel movies. Its hard to fault the film, because the use of size-changing is definitely more creative this time around, but there needs to be more coordination between the directors and the advertising team in the future to make sure that the action still packs an extra punch.
Do I remember a lot of the specifics in Ant-Man and the Wasp? Maybe not. I did have to google the name of one of the villains when I was writing this review, for instance, due to the fact that the bad guys in this film are hardly bad guys at all. But I do remember laughing my ass off in the theatre, and the people around me seemed to agree. Putting the emphasis on humor was a smart move, and although there isn't much character development or drama, Peyton Reed has created another hilarious, fast-paced Ant-Man caper, second only in MCU comicality to Thor: Ragnarok.