Following on from a year in which T-Challa opened the boarders of Wakanda to the rest of the world, not to mention Thanos’s success in turning 50% of sentient life into kitty litter, Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne team up to close 2018’s trio of Marvel Cinematic features in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
I’ll fess up and admit right at the top that I am not exactly a massive fan of the first Ant-Man (2015) for variety of reasons. Much of this was down to timing. 2015 was an odd year for the MCU. Phase two had started strong, and with the exception of the dismal Thor: the Dark World (2013), the post-Avengers set proved to be stronger than that of phase one. This was also the period in which Marvel decided to start working toward setting the foundations for its future. Whereas features such as Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) tried to force too much foreshadowing into its script – resulting in an overpopulated mess – features such as Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) helped to revolutionise this particular franchise. It introduced a cosmic rebelliousness and insanity to this cinematic series on a level we’d never seen before. Sure, Thor (2010) and Avengers (2012) had helped to introduce some of the more fantastical elements yet to be seen in this reality, yet it was here where we really were invited to explore just what this fictional space could offer us. Except Guardians distanced itself from the larger bulk of the MCU in case such a risk never hit it off with audiences; meaning we were yet to see this sort of zaniness collide directly with the larger narrative playing out within this interconnected series.
Ant-Man was the one moment in which the cosmic madness collided with the earth-bound stories. Finally a feature set on the same planet as Tony Stark, Steve Rodgers and Nick Fury was about to embrace the odd and unusual. Remote controlled insects and adventures into the quantum realm elevated the earth-bound side of this franchise right into Guardian-level strangeness. Which is why it was all the more frustrating when the movie transpired to be dull, uninspired and nothing more appealing than an unimaginative Iron Man (2008) knockoff.
The biggest problem with Ant-Man, however, was probably more to do with the fact that it was once upon a time slated to be directed by the exceptionally talented Edgar Wright. Over the years, Wright had proven to be something of a unique visionary within Hollywood; especially when it came to taking beloved genres and throwing them into unfamiliar environments. Shaun of the Dead (2004) took the zombie horror subgenre and positioned it amidst a romantic comedy taking place in working class London; Hot Fuzz (2006) translated Michael Bay-style action so that it worked in a southern-western English village; Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) used videogame-based aesthetic as a metaphor for teenage romance; and The World’s End (2013) was able to utilise an alien invasion to execute a drama concerning a middle aged man trapped in his long since deceased glory days. The notion of this director making a film in which big-budget action sequences would inevitably take place amidst domestic items, children’s playthings and other seemingly insignificant every day settings was too irresistible to the mind’s eye. Think of how that final showdown would have looked had Wright directed it. A true piece of mind-bending cinema kicking off on a toy train track. An innocent play set blown up and transformed into something extraordinary.
Except Wright was kicked off the project and the final result was a painfully mediocre echo of a script that could have been brilliant. There was a dash of creative fun in some of the action sequences, yet one couldn’t help but wonder what Wright would have done with all of this material had he been given the chance to shoot it.
Seeing as three years has passed since the first Ant-Man, much of this post-Wright envy has long since subsided. Wright has gone on to direct cracking pieces of work such as Baby Driver (2017), whilst the MCU has dived further down the rabbit hole into a realm more bonkers and more gorgeous than anything it did during phase two. This means that Ant-Man and the Wasp is free from being compared to a non-existent feature as well as able to confidently strut its stuff in a universe which has now managed to fully embrace the very bonkers nature of comic book movies.
Watching vehicles whizz about San Francisco at varying sizes, miniscule items get used in contexts we’d never otherwise see them used in, insects playing drums, heroes dashing for survival across kitchen counters, salt pots larger than doors knock enemies unconscious, lorry-sized hello kitty toys knock baddies from motorcycles and seagulls chasing our protagonist through the skies makes for some seriously entertaining moments. There’s a real child-like playfulness to all the action, a creativity seldom seen in modern movies. Mundane items are remodelled into threats, turning the everyday into the epic. In many ways, this is the sort of context-shattering madness many expected Wright to bring to the series had he stayed aboard. Despite Wright’s total absence, director Peyton Reed has finally realised this vision, delivering what’s essentially a multi-million dollar recreation of a Saturday morning superhero cartoon.
Providing Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man) with a sidekick really helps a great deal too. Having a comic relief protagonist like Lang is all fun and games – plus Paul Rudd’s camp foolishness works a charm here – although having someone to ground him goes a long way. If you’re going to place a joker at the centre of a big booming blockbuster, it’s always good to bring someone in who can ground them whenever their silliness gets in the way of the more earnest of moments. MCU stories have often fallen foul of Bathos in the past – choosing to undercut dramatic moments with poorly timed gags – which is why promoting a character like Hope Van Dyne to leading role level works toward controlling this sort of a problem. Admittedly her character does suffer from being undeveloped and one noted at times, however putting her front and centre really does help the series a great deal. Here’s to hoping they continue to flesh out her role, should they chose to make a third instalment.
Hope helps control the humour, preventing Rudd and the supporting cast from turning the entire movie into an extended stand-up routine. That’s not to say the film isn’t funny of course. Quite the opposite in fact. There’s plenty of humour to go around, and for the most part, it lands. As I’ve already mentioned, Rudd does a good job playing the daffy darling of the Marvel bunch; lovable and mischievous in a manner not too dissimilar to that of Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool (minus the extreme wall-breaking edge).
Whereas Wasp helps keep Lang on track, the comedic moments of the movie help the narrative stay on track in many ways too. For instance, when one of the more frustrating characters – such as stereotypical baddie Sonny Burch – starts dulling up a given scene, the rambling tangents of Luis and co prevent it from descending into eye-rolling hogwash. Same goes for FBI agent Jimmy Woo; your formulaic government nasty saved by his habit of slipping into the role of a high school chump who wants to hang with the cool kid.
Except despite the humour preventing the film from slipping into tediousness, the fact of the matter remains that Ant-Man and the Wasp suffers from shoddy antagonists. For one thing, there’s far too many of them in this story. This is perhaps an intentional decision to try and make the climax more thrilling. There’s certainly an appeal to the idea of Lang and Van Dyne trying to prevent a hoard of self-serving crooks from stealing a size-shifting building, except this doesn’t prevent the movie from becoming overpopulated with enemies. Instead of taking the time to flesh out any one of these adversaries, Ant-Man and the Wasp presents them as one-dimensional obstacles more than genuine threats. There’s the one seeking revenge, the old friend who believes he’s doing the right thing, the grubby tycoon after his fortunes and the FBI clown working to catch Scott with his trousers down (so to speak).
The primary villain is probably Ava (aka Ghost), a young girl who suffers from quantum disfigurement after both her and her family became collateral damage in one of Dr Hank Pym’s botched experiments. At first glance, Ava ticks all the right boxes when it comes to the successful villain formula which Marvel seems to have mastered in recent months. She’s the victim of one of our protagonists’ errors, been grossly mistreated by the “good guys” and after the same goal as that of our heroes (albeit for her own reasons). Sounds similar that of Black Panther’s Killmonger; a character who’s been made the villain by misfortune and poor circumstance. Fantastic! Except the film does bugger all with her. There’s no heart felt moment between her and Bill Foster, no touching memories shared between her and her deceased family, no point in which we’re forced to realise any awful truths about the “good guys” who screwed up her life, or the point in which her actions are justified. She’s played as the straight up opponent with no depth or complexity to her character.
I suppose much of Ava’s failure to ascend to the ranks of complex villain is down to the fact that Ant-Man and the Wasp opted to throw far too many villains into the mix. Instead of having all these clichéd bad guys popping up all over the script, why not focus on actually doing something interesting with the one that actually had potential? In a year where the ideological influences of Killmonger’s father and Thanos’s desire to save reality in the most genocidal manner imaginable resulted in us getting Marvel’s finest villains to date, this is one hell of a crappy way to wrap up the 2018 set.
When it comes to reviewing these sorts of film’s I strive to do so in isolation to the larger story playing out amidst this expanded cinematic universe. Despite belonging to a larger narrative, if I’m attempting to break down how that particular feature did or didn’t work, then I feel it’s only fair to evaluate it based solely upon the sum of its parts.
A fair philosophy I do believe. Nevertheless, there are times when I break my own rule in this respect. On one level, Marvel Studios is sort of to blame for this. Their decision to connect their films via an aesthetic thread, utilise episodic storytelling and incorporate somewhat uniformed structures throughout means it’s all too easy to compare them to one another. Except there’s another reason why it’s difficult to separate Ant-Man and the Wasp from the larger context of the MCU.
When it comes to this particular film, the time and order in which it hit theatres does have a considerable impact of its quality in both positive and negative ways. I’m guessing it’s safe to say most people saw this coming from a mile off. If you release a story in this particular universe right after the revolutionary Black Panther and monolith that is Infinity War, it’s safe to say Ant-Man’s sequel finds itself performing in the wake of two towering shadows.
And the film just doesn’t add up in comparison to either of these films. I can see the logic in placing this right at the end of the 2018 run. It’s to try and give us a lighter movie to bring us down while we wait for Captain Marvel (2019) and Infinity War part II. Only it’s not exactly something that’s easy to digest when the last time we spent time we engaged with this fictitious universe, we endured one hell of an earth-shattering cliffhanger. To kill a majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s characters off, only to then go and have a romp with Scott Lang is ludicrous. If this was a television series, this would be like placing a random bottle episode in the middle of a two-part season final. This may not be a problem when watching the film in several years time, but when you’re slap bang in the middle of 2018, it doesn’t quite work.
Captain Marvel might get away with it for being both a prequel, and for being a story that establishes a character who I presume is vital for Infinity War Part 2. Scott Lang doesn’t quite have the same logic behind his inclusion here. He’ll no doubt play a large part in the upcoming Infinity War film, but seeing him skip around on a stand alone adventure right after we’ve just seen Thanos wipe out half of existence is tonally jarring. Ideally, this should have come out at the start of the year. Have the frothy caper come first, then end with Lang getting trapped in the quantum realm. You could even cut back to the moment right after Hope and her father are erased, only restrict enough information for audiences to fully understand what’s happened. That would serve as one hell of a tease for Thanos.
To add to this problem, setting the film directly before the events of Infinity War doesn’t help either. If you are going to do this as the mid-romp between parts one and two, then maybe they could have done something a little more risky with it. Why not actually set this directly after the end credits to Infinity War? Lang was still suppose to be under house arrest during the events of that movie. The end of the world would have been a great excuse to have him be liberated from such a court order. The erasure of half the population would have resulted in earth descending into chaos. Surely there’s a story they could have told with Lang and Dyne in such a setting. Why not fuse the chaos of Ant-Man and the Wasp with the chaos of a world no longer governed by rules?
Ok, so admittedly there’s a few reasons why this idea might fall on its arse before it even had time to walk out the door. Audiences would still be immensely distracted by the fact that Thanos has just killed pretty much everyone outside of the original Avengers team, plus it looks as if Infinity War Part Two is going to be set immediately after Part One, so there’s that to consider. Still, destroying everything, then rewinding to a point several days/weeks/months before isn’t exactly wise either. Setting this right before Thanos’s victory resulted in me spending most the time wondering whether we’d actually see Infinity War’s conclusion play out from Lang’s perspective before it ends (spoiler: we do).
Ant-Man and the Wasp fully embraces the zaniness of the MCU in all its glory. There’s plenty of fun peppered throughout. Sadly, the film lets itself down by having far too many antagonists who aren’t interesting in the slightest. The movie also suffers by cramming most of its story at the front and end of the film; resulting in a lot of awkward filler padding out the middle.
What’s more is releasing this at the end of the 2018 MCU line-up does the film no favours. Having this rear its head immediately after Infinity War is the equivalent of the ten o’clock news airing right in the middle of a tense movie. We know its not entirely its fault, but we really don’t want to see this right now!
A fun movie, just one that came out at the wrong time. A film that will no doubt be more enjoyable outside of the period in which it was released.