'Ant-Man and the Wasp'
It’s inevitable that some 20 films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe things are starting to feel a bit rote. We know that between the big explosions of the ‘Avengers’ films, standalone works will move the pieces into place for what’s to come, hopefully injecting just enough humor, action and excitement to make the effort worthwhile. It seems only weeks ago we got a ‘Black Panther’ that did this sort of thing quite nicely, yet here we’re treated to another pre-packaged blockbuster in the form of ‘Ant-Man and Wasp’.
Take a look at any of the trailers and you’ll see that this is more Wasp’s film than Ant-Man’s, and that’s perfectly fine. Frankly, Evangeline Lilly’s character has more emotional and physical heroism to do than Rudd’s, and she’s given plenty to dive into.
We’re introduced early to a flashback where a childhood version of Lilly’s character Hope Van Dyne is playing hide and seek with her mom, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). When Janet and husband Hank (Michael Douglas) go off to do battle looking suave thanks in part to de-aging CGI, things go awry and Janet is separated.
Meanwhile, Scott Lang (Rudd) is under house arrest, spending his time co-parenting and trying to stay out of trouble while building up a security firm with his former criminal cohorts led by cellmate buddy Luis (Michael Peña). When a dream reconnects him to the family Pym, he’s off on another adventure, ostensibly to visit the netherworld or fordibben zone or some such thing.
Plenty of secondary characters are sprinkled throughout, from scene-chewing Walton Goggins and Randall Park to some warm hugs with Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale. Newcomers like Laurence Fishburne inject gravitas into the narrative, but not enough to really make it stick.
Hannah John-Kamen’s character of Ghost both literally and narratively never quite comes together. If any good hero is defined by an interesting villain, this storyline is made even more dull because Ghost’s powers are too similar visually to the whiz-bang antics of Wasp and her companion to be compelling. Further, her angry motivation seems more narcissistic than either diabolical or empathetic. Maybe a little bit more sociopathy and a little less selfishness would have made her arc play with more bite.
It remains unclear whether Ant-Man as a character can truly sustain his own franchise. Despite Rudd’s obvious charms, there’s only so many things one can latch onto. Still, the casting of the lead remains strong, with Rudd doing his damndest to be both a great dad and a hapless hero. Lilly gets more emotional heavy lifting, but even her character feels at times secondary to the grind of the storyline, desperate to get from A to B without messing up things too badly. Peña is always a delight, but he can’t make every joke land this time. Pfeifer is luminous if underused (and a terrible typist, it seems), and the fireworks expected between Douglas and Fishburne never really ignite.
We’re left with a film that’s perfect adequate to sate the audience between the major tentpoles, kicking the can down the lane a little until we get new origin stories to interest us (‘Captain Marvel’ is on the way) and the big culmination of ‘Avengers 4’. In fact, most of the main narrative interest points come in the post-credit moments, leaving things a bit complicated in ways that surely will lead to grand feats of excitement.
Rightly or wrongly, the character of Ant-Man is peripheral to the main goings-on in the MCU, a fun and quirky little aside that had the potential under Edgar Wright to be something really special. Peyton Reed inherited some of that zip, but as he fully helms the second go-round, we take even more steps backwards from originality and cleverness, and are left with a film that may entertain but hardly enriches. By now, Marvel knows how to make this series work pretty well, but like any mid-season episode, this one feels like more of the same, treading water until the next big thing lands.