Small Scale Action
At the time, I found it rather strange that Phase 2 of Marvel Studios’ growing cinematic universe ended with the film Ant-Man (2015) instead of Avengers: Age of Ultron, released earlier that same year. After all, three years before, Phase 1 was wrapped up with The Avengers, and it appeared that a precedent had been set: separate superhero stories would combine and crash into one another until culminating into a good old-fashioned superpowered team-up. But with Phase 2, that wasn’t the case. Instead, Ant-Man, an enjoyable yet perfectly average Marvel film that had been through some very public development issues, served as a sort of tag for the second chapter of the MCU. It wasn’t until the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp that I realized that a precedent perhaps had been set: Ant-Man was a safe return to formula following the events of Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is no different.
In fact, there’s something refreshing and almost relieving about the stakes and level of intensity in Ant-Man and the Wasp. It’s a palate-cleanser of sorts; the film strips away the heavy tone, intergalactic conflict and decade-long culmination of Infinity War and instead presents what’s now recognized as a “classic” Marvel tale that, in more ways than one, takes place on a much smaller scale. Every single aspect of the film plays into this too, from the comedy to the action to the villains. It’s all incredibly safe and easy, but the vast majority of the time it’s in a familiar rather than boring manner.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a film that grounds the MCU, if only for a moment, so maybe it’s appropriate that the film starts with Scott Lang literally grounded in his own home. At the opening of the film, Hank and Hope Pym are on the run from the FBI and Lang is under house arrest–all a result of Lang’s actions in Captain America: Civil War. When Lang has a mysterious dream that tips off the trio that Janet van Dyne, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, might still be alive after thirty years in the Quantum Realm, the three of them race to find and rescue her, making questionable deals with black market arms dealers in their hunt for the right gear. Meanwhile, Ghost, a mysterious attacker who can seemingly phase in and out of reality, comes after the Pyms and their tech for her own personal needs.
If it all sounds like a bit much for a movie that clocks in at just over two hours, that’s because it is. The film doesn’t necessarily get dragged down by any of it, but at times there’s simply too much going on. There are no ideas here that are strictly bad, just a few too many of them. For example, any and all sequences featuring Sonny Burch and his weapons-dealing cronies could have been cut from the film with little to no dip in its quality or story. The only purpose Sonny and his gang serve is to be fodder for Scott and Hope to tee off on in their battles, but multiple sequences featuring cookie-cutter gun-wielding, motorcycle-riding henchmen is not what audiences want from a film that shows off the beauty of subatomic life just a few minutes later. This is especially true considering Ghost who, while not in the upper tier of Marvel villains by any stretch, has an interesting and unique enough backstory to stand as an antagonist on her own.
With one exception, there nothing too visually spectacular about Ant-Man and the Wasp. The action scenes are standard affair, high-quality Marvel sequences, but any of their uniqueness beyond that comes in their concept and conceit, not in the way in which they’re shot. It is a testament to the film’s effects department however that the shrinking and enlarging powers of the titular heroes never once feel unrealistic or unreasonable. That’s certainly saying something too. One scene in particular finds Scott trapped in a between states of sorts, not quite shrunk but not quite normal size. The scene is played up almost entirely for comedic purposes, but the appearance of the toddler-sized Paul Rudd is never distracting enough to detract anything from the scene. And after pulling that off, any of the miniscule or giant-sized action should come easy.
All that being said, there is one visual aspect of Ant-Man and the Wasp that stands above the rest: The Quantum Realm. True, we’ve seen glimpses of it before, but this film jumps into the subatomic world head first, showing us a beautiful interpretation of what that world would look like were a human actually able to enter it. There are planes of colors and shapes, moving and shifting like a kaleidoscope (not unlike the imagery of Doctor Strange in fact). There are fields of tardigrades and bacteria followed by voids of darkness and silence. The portions of Ant-Man and the Wasp that take place in The Quantum Realm feel more like straight science-fiction than anything Marvel Studios has ever made previously, and the film is almost worth seeing for those sequences alone.
There are some other notable high points of course. The comedy of the film is fantastic. There are times where the film even feels like a straight comedy as opposed to an action movie. In Ant-Man and the Wasp though there are entire sequences that serve little to no other purpose except for comedic payoff, and they’re effective. When the scenes are actually centered around a comedic idea they’re able to thrive. And while there is still plenty of questionably-timed banter that undercuts more serious moments in Ant-Man and the Wasp, these sequences in particular give the film a different and more interesting comedic tone than some of the other Marvel films.
However, the real reason the film’s comedy thrives is the cast. Perhaps at this point it would be a surprise if Paul Rudd wasn’t charming in a role, but he really fills this one perfectly. Scott Lang is a street-level character in the MCU, and Rudd is the epitome of the every-man superstar. The supporting cast, most returning from the first film, gives a great performance too. Michael Peña returns as Luis and hits all the same hilarious beats that he did in the first film. David Dastmalchian and T.I. return as well as Kurt and Dave, the other members of Luis and Scott’s backyard syndicate turned security company. They’re each given some fun lines and moments that stick out as some of the funniest in the film. Abby Ryder Fortson returns too as Cassie Lang, giving perhaps the only performance more endearing than Rudd himself.
The only performance that feels a little bit off is Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Pym, and it’s almost certainly not her fault. She’s simply not given too much interesting to work with. If Hope isn’t following her father’s every beck and call in their hunt into the Quantum Realm she’s poking fun at or flirting with Scott. And that’s about it. The Wasp’s fight sequences are phenomenal–she’s a certified badass that’s a fantastic addition to a MCU roster still struggling with equality–but Hope Pym just…exists in this film.
Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a fantastic Marvel film, but it just might be the one we need right now. As much as the world is waiting with bated breath to see the fallout of Infinity War, Marvel seems to have made the right choice in placing a couple of films in between the two parts of that epic story. Ant-Man and the Wasp is entertaining and easy to watch, yet another reminder that Marvel Studios has this whole superhero thing down to a science.