Review: Ant-Man And The Wasp

Director: Peyton Reed

Stars: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña

Ant-Man And The Wasp doesn’t feature any crossover characters from any other quadrant of the MCU. After the “everybody in!” maximalism of Avengers: Infinity War there’s actually something nice about a pit-stop this insular. Peyton Reed’s follow-up to his 2015 underdog is pleasingly small-scale, but it lands late here in the UK at the end of a fatiguing season of superhero movies and under the shadow of Tom Cruise’s sixth outing with the IMF. And very little buzz, pun intended.

It’s two years since Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) made his gigantic cameo in Captain America: Civil War; two years that he’s spent under house arrest for his exploits in Germany. In one of many awkward cascades of information, we’re brought up to speed that, by association, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are outcast from the law also. But they’re not resting on their laurels. Having seen Scott disappear into and return from the Quantum Realm, Dr. Pym is now determined to rescue his long-lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer).

If you thought that paragraph was clunky, just wait ’til you see how out of breath these actors get telling it. There’s a lot of ‘previously on’ dispensed for the audience’s benefit in this movie and it is clumsy – almost knowingly so à la Big Trouble In Little China – but that pales to the reams of technobabble batted back and forth in an effort to establish the franchise’s ongoing love affair with Quantum theory. And yes, Quantum is most certainly spelled with a capital Q around these parts.

That’s not all Ant-Man And The Wasp have to contend with. On your right there’s Walton Goggins’ greedy, err, restaurateur, after a piece of Dr. Pym’s advanced research for, well, money, I guess? While on your left is a mysterious ‘phasing’ girl in a kick-ass outfit who is quickly monikered Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen).

And over here is Hank’s old rival Dr. Foster (really) (Laurence Fishburne)while over there is Scott’s motormouth former sidekick Luis (Michael Peña) trying to save his small business.

Honestly, don’t you miss the simple days of Thanos trying to accessorise?

Reed’s Ant-Man charmed, not just because of the modesty of its stakes, but through the compact heist-movie structure it adhered to, coming off like a big-hearted tea time movie of yesteryear. The stakes in Ant-Man And The Wasp are again relatively small, but the many narrative threads feel messy, like badly tied shoes liable to make the wearer trip over their own feet. The end credits reveal a total of five writers – Rudd included – and frankly it shows. More often than not this entry in the MCU feels like it’s constantly pulling itself in different directions. At its worst it’s a little painful to watch; perhaps because the first made it all seem so easy in spite of major creative upheavals.

Ant-Man landed like balmy relief following Avengers: Age of UltronAnt-Man And The Wasp similarly arrives on the heels of one of the series’ ‘bigger’ films. But also with the power of Black Panther and the taste-the-rainbow excess of Thor: Ragnarok still thrumming in the mind. Marvel have had a pretty good run of it, and the ordinariness of Ant-Man And The Wasp (both in terms of scale and cinematic dexterity) doesn’t really do it many favours. There’s still plenty of charm, but without the benefit of a tight script, its charm as faulty as Scott’s frequently troublesome suit.

Rudd makes Scott ever-likable, although he feels curiously extraneous to the story beats a lot of the time. Peña, meanwhile, wholesale steals the movie from everybody. As previously, this is a tale bundled up in a great deal of family pride. Reed pushes hard on the sentiment particularly during one scene shared between Scott and his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Ferguson), but the pair are so good together that it’s a sugar-coated pill that’s easy to swallow. While elsewhere, the technology to both shrink and enlarge people, animals and objects is put to evermore creative uses, especially during the last half hour, which is a total blast.

Thanks to the knotty nature of the narrative (ooo alliteration), it’s a shame to report that John-Kamen and Fishburne get short shrift; their stories barreled through in haste to keep things moving forward. As such they feel underdeveloped (and, as suggested, Goggins doesn’t even come near to this much).

Between them all, however, its somewhat refreshing to realise that Ant-Man And The Wasp hasn’t one Big Bad; the usual Marvel template. The main portion of the story sees all sides struggling to get their hands on one unlikely McGuffin which bounces back and forth between the lot of them, Scott included. Everyone has a need for it, and most aren’t entirely selfish either. I’d be tempted to relate it to the inherent nature of humanity when faced with anything deigned valuable, but this is a featherweight MCU film and as such almost impervious to pretentious afterthought.

Curiously, I found myself thinking of a mid-eighties entry in the Dirty Harry series. Running on fumes and by this point prone to the ridiculous, the film in question features such absurdities as Jim Carrey as a drug addled punk rocker, Liam Neeson as a music video director, a scene in which Clint Eastwood shoots someone with a harpoon and, most pertinently, a chase sequence between a toy car and a real one. Through, if memory serves, San Francisco (like this movie!). And the name of this opus? The Dead Pool. Spooky.

Where was I…? Oh yeah. It’s a bit of a muddle, this one. Fun half of the time, but often stuttering and prone to the sense that not everything gets saved in the edit. Which is a real shame, because I wanted this, again, to be the little underdog (or ant) that could. But it just ain’t.

And I can’t help but wonder… I mean, what happens to the plumbing system when you miniaturise a building and take it somewhere else? And what do you eat when you’re stranded in the Quantum Realm for years? Y’know?

Sometimes it’s the little things.

Score:  2-5

 

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