For the third and final time this year, we dive back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and including Deadpool 2, Venom, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the fourth of six Marvel titles released this year. Their output this year has been strong thus far and without spoiling (though honestly, how many of you are interested in this and didn’t see Avengers: Infinity War?), we last left the MCU with one of its darkest entries to date. So what better way to return to change the mood around from that and even Deadpool 2 which spent a decent amount of time moping about, with a sequel to the lightest film in the franchise to date, Ant-Man. The first film had a difficult road to the screen with the consistently fantastic Edgar Wright working on the film for over the decade before he left the film when Marvel didn’t approve of his vision for it. In his place we got, journeyman director Peyton Reed who is known for such films as Bring it On and Yes Man. It was a downgrade to say the least and after Will Ferrell collaborator (and soon to be The Big Short-helmer) Adam McKay rewrote the film alongside star Paul Rudd, we were left with a film which while it had its charms and was fairly entertaining as well as certainly not in that bottom tier with Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, it belonged in that next tier above it.
Much of the extent that it succeeded can be attributed to Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man who, with few exceptions, always such a charming and charismatic performer. Here though, for the first time in the MCU, he is joined in the title by an explicitly named female character, Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (played by Evangeline Lilly in both films). The cynical man would say the MCU was willing to give some representation here because Ant-Man was the fourth lowest grossing film in the franchise and the lowest by a considerable margin since Phase 1 when the Marvel name was not yet a license to print money. Overall, it feels like a conscious effort to rebrand and nominally reboot the series, an effect that continues into the tone.
The first film continued the Marvel tradition of tackling a new genre with each new film or at least series by taking on the heist film. Lang steal the Ant-Man suit from Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) who then recruits him to steal the Yellowjacket suit from his former company which his daughter Hope still works for. After the events of Captain America: Civil War in which Lang traveled to Germany to help Captain America and was apprehended by police, he is under house arrest while Hope and Hank are on the run and trying to develop the technology to retrieve Hank’s wife Janet (the original Wasp) from the quantum realm where she has been trapped for decades. The sequel takes the form of a buddy action comedy with the three racing against the clock(s) to save her. They face opposition from Hannah John-Kamen (happily getting more big roles outside of Killjoys beyond the lackluster Ready Player One) as the phasing Ghost, a Randall Park(!) led FBI, and a Walton Goggins(!!) led group of criminals.
The trademark size changing effects are even more at the fore this time around with the origins stories out of the way and they tend to be well implemented. Like TAG which I got to earlier this week, it is overly reliant on slow-mo to emphasize these moments (if not nearly to the extent of that film), but there is a real inventiveness to the way they are used with much of the best humor sprouting from them. Speaking of that humor, it is a real curious decision to make this not as light of an entry. It’s still comedic sure, but I think darkening it up a bit here was entirely to the film’s detriment. And the comedic lines themselves are real hit or miss, that Pez line a particular lowlight for the series and emblematic of the decision of the writers to go with most obvious quip for any situation. It’s not the actors to blame here as the cast is great, it’s the writing which has been taken over by five credited writers.
As far as the cast goes, Rudd is still just as wonderful as ever and has grown even more comfortable into the role while Lilly is bland and uninteresting, the increased billing not equaling increased depth of character nor do they have any real idea of what they are doing with her personality. Their chemistry together is fine, but more informed than natural with the interactions with Scott’s daughter (played by Abby Ryder Fortson) far more compelling. Douglas and Laurence Fishburne are reliably talented performers and I’m shocked it’s taken this long for the latter to join the MCU because he fits in perfectly. John-Kamen is great and all, but there’s something about the effects that made her character seem like it belonged in DCEU or Dark Universe film. The rest of the cast is entertaining including the normally perpetually underused Michael Peña who acts as the primary comic relief for the film but it is overloaded at times and they crowd out each other.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is about on par or perhaps a slight upgrade on the original film, but I was honestly hoping for more. The increased focus on the shrinking and added ability to grow (thanks to Civil War) as well as the addition of another person with powers opened up so many more opportunities that the movie took advantage of and yet like that ankle monitor on Scott Lang’s leg, there was still something holding them back. The best way I can sum it up is that while I enjoyed a bunch of moments in it, like the first, but unlike most of the other MCU films, that feeling just instantly faded away to one of ambivalence once it ended.