Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven time and time again that it is more than capable of producing some of the best superhero movies out there. They’ve mastered a formula which delicately balances the needed humor for a comic book setting with the hefty weight of the-world-is-ending stakes, bringing in both capable stars and unique filmmakers with a penchant for putting their stamp on the formula too. With Ant-Man, Marvel also showed that they’re capable of making comic book movies at a slightly smaller scale, and capable of making genre movies, like the heist movie. Some might view that as a slight, “smaller scale”, when in fact I embraced the small-ness (pun intended) of the first Ant-Man precisely because it shows the range of the franchise, the confidence to pull it off. Plus is was just refreshing to have that kind of change of pace in the midst of a series of -end-of-the-world standoffs.
In the follow up, released just months after the mega-movie Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp once again goes smaller and nets similar results. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is on house arrest, finding creative ways to spend his time and entertain his daughter. In the meantime, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) have been painstakingly working towards finding a way to retrieve their beloved wife/mother Janet (Michelle Pfieffer) from the quantum realm. Upon completing an essential piece of tech for the mission, Scott experiences a vision which just might unlock the secret needed to find her. However, another powerful force, named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is looking for a way to solve her unfortunate problem by stealing the tech and using it for herself.
Much of the same formula is on display in this sequel as was found in the first film. Paul Rudd is funny. He has a good rapport with both Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas, with Michael Pena once again stealing the show as Scott’s ex-con buddy Luis (they even borrow the bit where Luis narrates while the other characters mouth the dialogue being delivered). The comedy is spot on, and will likely never be the problem with this, or any other Marvel property. They have shown time and again to have a very solid handle on making people laugh and entertaining them in that regard. What this film suffers from instead is story. And to be more precise, it suffers from the lack of a credible, threatening villain.
Ghost is a very cool, very mysterious figure, and had me going for a while. But once her identity and intentions were revealed, the stakes fell completely flat to me. Her turmoil is real, I get it, but her motivations and her tactics are questions, which then also directly clash with those of Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who enters as a sort of stand-in villain. Neither baddie is near bad enough, nor well-rounded enough for me to get a sense of excitement, or for me to ever truly doubt the outcome of the film. Look, Marvel movies are crowd pleasers, I get that the heroes are likely always going to win, but what this movie fails to do is create a scenario where the heroes even have to fight very hard to save the day and stop the bad guys. It becomes very standard, as if merely going through the motions narratively speaking simply to get to the jokes, which it is admittedly very good at.
On top of all that, I don’t see Peyton Reed as the type of unique filmmaker which brings his own stamp to the series. I enjoyed the first Ant-Man, and Yes Man is one of my favorite comedies of the last decade, but the filmmaking adds very little if anything to the proceedings here. Whenever I actually notice things like pacing/editing and use of film score, that’s when I typically know there’s a problem. I noticed them here, especially early on. As the action crescendos, the pacing evens out and becomes a fun ride, but there is certainly more that could have been done to enhance this experience. Add to that the wooden performances from the veterans of the cast, Douglas and Pfieffer, and I’m sure I’m ready to see something different with this series. The concept is there, the charisma of the main leads (Rudd, Lilly, and Pena) is there. But with Ant-Man and the Wasp, there seems to be something missing.