I saw the MCU’s latest offering tonight, Ant-Man and the Wasp, the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man. I was in an almost-full Dolby theater, no 3D, no IMAX. (I like Dolby for the recliners and the fact that you get reserved seating, which for me is worth the extra money). Summary: After Avengers Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp was a delightfully small-scale affair, and that’s what makes it work so well. Yeah, I know. But there’s no way to write this without using words like “big” and “small”, so consider the puns unintended unless otherwise stated.
This movie picks up after Captain America Civil War, with Scott Lang almost done with his house arrest after helping tear up an airport in Germany with Captain America et al. So that’s one point of the small-stakes; the whole film takes place over the last weekend Scott has before the FBI takes off his ankle monitor. If he can stay out of trouble for that long, he’s home free.
Of course that doesn’t happen, and Scott is soon caught up in the film’s main plotline; rescuing the original Wasp from the Quantum Realm (where Scott ventured and returned from in the first film). There are all sorts of sidebars and difficulties along the way, and the film ends with a very satisfying and suspenseful third act with lots of chases, size-shifting fun, and general mayhem befitting a superhero movie.
I said the stakes were small, and it’s that plot that makes it so. Ant-Man and the rest aren’t out to save the world or even the city. They’re just trying to save one person, and overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from doing that. Family is a big theme in the film, from Scott’s sincere desire to make good and be a good dad to his daughter Cassie (who is played by the absolutely adorable Abby Ryder Fortson – I’m displeased by the reports that she is being recast with an older actress for the next film) to Hank’s relationship with his daughter and lost wife, as well as one character and her surrogate father-figure. It all works really well.
We are definitely living in a Belle Époque when it comes to movie special effects. That the sizing effects for the title characters is flawless should go without saying at this point. The film makers know how to make it work and not have it be stale (if you’ve seen the bits of the car chase scene in the trailer, you know what I mean). But it works so well in other ways, too. There are a bunch of flashback scenes where some of the actors are digitally de-aged and remain on the screen for significant amounts of time. Even a few years ago, that wouldn’t have worked. But the technology has passed through the uncanny valley and come out the other side triumphant. You’d think they used stock footage from Wall Street, Michael Douglas looks so good.
The comedy is terrific, as is befitting the Ant-Man franchise in general. Michael Peña is great as always, but I would have liked to see even more of him. There’s a running gag about Baba Yaga that cracked me up every time it was mentioned, and Randall Park is surprisingly good as the hapless but earnest FBI Agent Woo. Paul Rudd has effortless delivery of his lines as always, and gets maximum laughs, also as always.
The only glaring downside to me was the way one of the film’s villains, Ghost, was handled. Not from a narrative point of view – that was fine. But from a technical point of view, Ghost’s intangibility suffers from a flaw that afflicts many others with the same sort of power. Namely, walls, tables, etc. are passed through easily, but floors seem to function exactly as they do for everyone else. This is known as intangibility. Even if you grant that she has had time to semi-control the effect, there’s a flashback to when she first gets her powers, and she certainly wouldn’t have had any control then. Ah, well. In the grand scheme of things, I can overlook impossible-film-convention in such a great movie.
To me, this is a step up for the franchise. The action was better, I really liked the asymmetrical threats (as opposed to Yellowjacket in the first film, who basically had the same powers as Ant-Man), and the smaller and more personal stakes really made everything click. Highly recommended – 4 out of 5 stars! It’s currently in my top ten MCU titles. There are two helpings of schawarma; do yourself a favor and avoid spoilers on them. You’ll be glad you did.