You’ve changed, man! It used to be about the ants!
by Thom Yee
I was actually pretty fired up for the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp last weekend. Which was strange because the original Ant-Man was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that let me down [and that’s not even mentioning how unlikely it is for me to be excited about anything in the first place]. I think part of my excitement stemmed from how much more I’d gotten into the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the release of Avengers: Infinity War a scant two months (and change) ago, but if we’re being honest with each other, you and I, here at the end of all things (as it always feels like lately), I think the main reason for my expanded excitement for Ant-Man and the Wasp (See what I did there? Expanded? Because he grows?) was because, as much as Ant-Man let me down and as hard as I was on it in my original review, I like that first Ant-Man movie quite a bit now. Certainly more than my three (of five) star review might suggest. In retrospect, Ant-Man is a real good, solid movie. It’s got solid characters, innovative action scenes, and some pretty decent laughs.
You’ll never convince me Ant-Man is great movie though.
I think the most remarkable things about Ant-Man [the movie] is that it was the first MCU movie that wasn’t a big deal. Up until Ant-Man’s release in 2015, nearly every Marvel movie, whether it was divisive (Iron Man 3), forgettable (The Incredible Hulk), or just not great (Thor: The Dark World) was at least reasonably successful in telling a big, relatively important story, but Ant-Man was the first installment of the ongoing, interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe saga that was intentionally small. That was, perhaps, a natural consequence of the type of hero Ant-Man is as a character, but it seemed, also, necessary given the character’s power set: Shrinking. Characters like Captain America, who was developed by science to be the ultimate physical specimen; Iron Man, who built his own powered suit of tech armour; or Thor, a living God of Thunder, are examples of power as wish fulfillment and the escalation of arms, but a character who gets smaller has abilities more akin to the loss of power and stature, an ability that allows them more easily to hide or run away rather than confront or triumph. Some of that may have recently changed now that giant-sized growth has been added to Ant-Man’s repertoire, but that new and, at the time, shocking and fantastic ability didn’t take away from the fact that Ant-Man is just a big goof at heart.
And that’s the other side of watching an Ant-Man movie: They’re never going to be serious. The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have always relied on laughs as a big part of their appeal, but ever since Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, many of the MCU movies have been straight-up comedies. That’s a strategy with some pretty broad appeals, but it’s also one of the things that’s made many of the post-Guardians movies feel kind of same-y. Alongside the original Ant-Man, I would personally count Guardians volumes one and two and Thor: Ragnarok as comedies first and foremost. For the most part that’s an approach that’s made the Guardians, Thor, and Ant-Man series easy fan favourites, but sometimes their comedic traits cause them to blend in to each other. And very often that comedy undercuts anything else those movies might stand for. So does Ant-Man and the Wasp continue this trend? Find out in this episode of… our Ant-Man and the Wasp review…!
What’s it about?
Following the cataclysmic, senses-shattering events of the superhero civil war that saw Scott Lang, the Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), teamed up with Captain America against Iron Man and, in the process, once again becoming a criminal for doing what he believed in (to paraphrase the words of another hero: “Dude, Captain America needs my help, there’s no better reason to get into one of the greatest widescreen cinematic superhero fights of all time”), Scott has been placed under house arrest. Scott’s decision to support Cap (that’s what he calls him now, they’re buds) has also put a strain on his relationship with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of the Ant-Man suit, and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who’s now taken on her own shrinking suit and become the Wasp, but when evidence suggests that the long-lost Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, may still be alive in the quantum realm and linked to Scott from his brief time there, the three team up to find her. And some bad guys show up. Ostensibly to stop them, but mostly to create dramatic tension. And Scott’s friends show up. Ostensibly to help them, but mostly to provide comedy relief.
In the annals of blockbuster franchise movie properties, the Ant-Man movies have become a bit of a go-to for me to describe the lesser pieces of their universal wholes (See what I did there? ‘Annals’ and ‘wholes’ in one sentence?). For instance, Ant-Man is what I compared Solo: A Star Wars Story to in explaining why that movie didn’t make nearly as much money as any of the other recent Star Wars releases. That’s not meant as a knock on the Ant-Man movies, it’s just what these movies are in comparison to their cinematic universe compatriots: Small. Ant-Man himself wouldn’t be your go-to hero if taking down an army of baddies or saving the universe is on the agenda, that’s not what he brings to the table and that’s not the types of stories these movies are trying to tell. The struggles the character faces are a lot more personal and self-contained, and the box office performance of the first Ant-Man movie, the third lowest earning of the MCU movies, reflects this. That’s not a failure, though, far from it, it’s just important that we set expectations correctly. In a crowded group of ultra-powered superheroes, a guy who shrinks lends himself more naturally to stories that are closer to the ground (Again, see what I did there? ‘Cause he’s smaller than them!). A hero like Thor’s adventures can take him across the universe. Ant-Man struggles just to find a way to fly across the San Francisco Bay.
That said, And-Man and the Wasp did open higher than Ant-Man to the tune of nearly $20 million more in its opening weekend, and, on the scale of these types of MCU movies, that’s enough to be a big deal. Or at least big-ish. An uptick is always a good sign for a sequel, $75 as opposed to $57 million is pretty good, even if it did fall a little bit below estimates and even if the movie may already be falling to second or third place in only its second weekend of release. One of the biggest things the media’s taken note of with Ant-Man and the Wasp is that it’s the first MCU movie to open with a female as a title character, which is a big deal of sorts, but doesn’t mean a lot to me if only because female representation in these sorts of instances is an issue that may have more to do with inherent conditions than institutional ill will. I guess if I really look at my comicbook reading habits, I do tend towards the male-driven comicbook titles moreso than the female, but that’s far more so because the male-led comicbooks are the institutions, the titles that have been around longest, built up the biggest audiences, and, because of that, usually have the best creative talents behind them. It’s sort of a catch 22 then, in the comics and at the comicbook movies, that the men keep getting the majority of the attention, and something that may never be evened out, in front of or behind the lens or in the title cards, so long as we keep looking to stories from our past to inspire and inform future works. For my part at least, I’ll at least claim to be a feminist because I kept buying the Thor comic even when they made Thor into a lady. Even if that was mostly just because it was a really good book.
Is it any Good?
I guess the easiest way to start off describing how good Ant-Man and the Wasp is is that, if you’ve seen Ant-Man, then it’s pretty much exactly what you think it will be. It’s tonally consistent and goes more or less exactly where you think it will based on what happened in the first. Scott’s in trouble again, Hope becomes the Wasp, and they go after Janet, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother. In that way you might correctly call Ant-Man and the Wasp predictable, but I’ve got a few other words I would use to describe it.
First off, I found the pace of the movie a little weird, not because it feels wrong but it’s just kind of a bunch of stuff happening. Something happens, causing something else to happen, then another thing, then some more things, and then it ends. Sure, that’s an apt description for just about any movie, but it really never really feels like any of the characters in Ant-Man and the Wasp are able to exert their will over what actually happens in the movie. Good guy or bad, they all feel somewhat like victims of circumstance, and as a result, the movie feels… I don’t know, like the opposite of The Godfather? Like… the opposite of insistent? It’s hard to say whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s probably the right call following Avengers: Infinity War from a few months ago and the characters plans in that leading to a universal half-genocide. It’s what I would call correct.
Having mentioned Avengers: Infinity War, the movie elephant in the room whose plot affects every MCU movie, I think it’s important you know that Ant-Man and the Wasp, like Ant-Man before it, is one of the movies least affected by the overarching MCU continuity. It’s plot definitely builds on top of previous events, especially Captain America: Civil War, and at least one scene ties directly in to Infinity War, but if you’re sick of the “chore” of keeping track of the MCU movies’ continuity, Ant-Man and the Wasp provides a pretty good respite from those “labours”. One of the things I more fully realized while watching Ant-Man and the Wasp and considering the rest of the MCU is that, in spite of the character’s shrunken stature, the action in the Ant-Man movies is consistently some of the neatest, most imaginative and most innovative stuff. The sight of Iron Man, Thor, and Vision blasting Ultron remains one of my favourite single moments at the movies because it’s such a classic comicbook-style moment, but the Ant-Man toy train sequence is a close second because it’s just so great. And though most of the comedy in the Ant-Man movies actually falls flat for me (it’s just not my taste), I at least find the spirit of comedy that infuses Ant-man and the Wasp to be something that makes these movies a real easy watch. Delightful even.
In many ways, Scott Lang takes a back seat in this movie, rarely driving the plot and never the most competent hero. Instead, Hope, as the Wasp, takes the lead as the one getting things done, on top of the situation, and getting all of the greatest moments in the movie’s action scenes, so it’s pretty great that her character still comes across as at least approachable if not vulnerable when the moment calls for it. I liked that there was more time for Hank Pym in this one too, and Janet van Dyne, as played by Michelle Pfeiffer, has an ethereality to her that makes her scenes incredibly calming, even in one strange body-swapped scene that works surprisingly well. As for Scott himself, I’m glad that they gave a good explanation for why his Giant-Man form can’t be a full time thing (at least in that quasi-scientific, comicbook way that explains things like how Superman can lift an entire cruise ship without it breaking in two or how people with superspeed need to carbo load even though there’s no way the human body could hold enough potential energy to sustain near-light-speed, cross-city/country/continental travel), I like that he’s a character comfortable with taking a back seat almost all of the time, and… I like Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. It’s a character like Ant-Man’s lot in life to not be a top-tier hero, and it’s also an actor like Paul Rudd’s lot to not quite be an a-list actor, not because lacks talent or screen presence, but because he’s just too nice looking. He is almost the definition of affable in human form.
I do have issues with Ant-Man and the Wasp though. First, Ghost, our main villain really gets very little to do, and though I liked her in the scenes she was in, she’s far away from taking any kind of centre stage in the movie. The same goes for Walton Goggins’… y’know, I don’t even know what his character ‘s name was, I just know that he did little more than serve some basic and somewhat unnecessary plot points that seemed like a real waste of his talents. Second, the major plot points don’t come together or coalesce very well in Ant-Man and the Wasp, certainly not nearly as well as in the original Ant-Man. In the first Ant-Man the goals everyone worked towards not only served their purposes but completed their arcs. Scott’s troubles with his daughter and family mirrored Hank’s strained relationship with Hope and even Hank’s relationship with Darren Cross (Remember him? He was the bad guy? Yellowjacket?), and the resolutions of all of those issues were part and parcel with the success or failure of the heist Scott, Hank, and Hope were trying to pull off. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, saving Janet, Scott redeeming himself, and Ghost doing her thing are points that almost work against each other, each competing for screen time more than working together. I’m not saying that can’t work, I’m just saying it doesn’t work very well here. Still, these issues don’t ruin the movie, and I would call them more irksome than loathsome.
One thing that wasn’t directly bad but felt a little bit like a wasted opportunity in Ant-Man and the Wasp was the role of ants themselves. This might sound a bit weird, but I missed the ants in Ant-Man and the Wasp. There was a strange “Fuck yeah!”-ness to seeing Paul Rudd at first struggle to master his powers before putting things together and then triumphantly running alongside a herd of ants that was endearing and heartfelt. I know they’re just ants, we step on them all of the time on the street for fun, but there’s never a cute little moment like when Scott fed “Antony” that droplet of water, and it makes the movie a little mascot-less. And another small thing I realized with Ant-Man and the Wasp is that as great as these Ant-Man movies can be, I am utterly fascinated by the small snippets of the past with Hank and Janet, and there’s a big part of me that would rather see a movie about that — Hank and Janet as younger superheroes at a time when supeheroes were rare, forming part of S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside Howard Stark and Peggy Carter — than another Ant-Man movie.
So should I see it?
“Correct.” “Delightful”. “Affable”. “More Irksome than loathsome”.
You should see Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Thom’s Ant-Man and the Wasp final score
On the Edge
- Yeah Scott, “phasing”! Ghost phases through matter. Like what the Vision does? It’s not the first time you’ve seen that power!
- Hyundai? Are people modding Hyundai Velosters now? Gross.
- Man, I’m less sure than ever now that we’re ever going to see Ant-Man or the Wasp in the next Avengers.
- It’s a good gag having Pym’s entire lab building shrinking down to carry-sized luggage, but it really doesn’t stand to reason that everything inside wouldn’t be shook around, knocked over, or broken after being tossed around like luggage
- And where do they get their power from? There’s a lot of industrial work involved in connecting an entire building to the power grid.
- Speaking of, what’s with the limits on shrinking stuff? Why couldn’t the lab building be shrunk down even further? Maybe to pocket size? What’s with cars being Hot Wheels size here when in the last one Pym carried an entire tank on his keychain?
- Tim Heidecker!
- I don’t think the laptop-as-giant-screen gag worked nearly as well as the first time I saw it in the comics:
You might also like…