Movie Review: ‘ANT-MAN AND THE WASP’ ups the Ant-y

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul RuddEvangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Hannah John-KamenMichael Peña, Walton Goggins, T.I., David Dastmalchian, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer

The tiny titular protagonist of ANT-MAN has already shouldered his share of humungous problems within the short time span of his cinematic existence. In the past three years, he’s weathered the storm of shifting creative voices, a terrible villain, and an introductory feature so plagued with “daddy issues” that some of us refer to it as MARVEL’S DADDY ISSUES. But it’s getting better.

CIVIL WAR gave us the perfect amount of the beloved character, and also gave him a better creative compass. And now director Peyton Reed’s sequel, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, surpasses the original by miles. Gone are the nagging “daddy issues” that acted as a choke-hold. Equality is brought to the forefront of the narrative. And cogent storytelling doesn’t take a backseat to a multitude of creative voices jockeying for the driver’s seat.­­­­ Though it’s not perfect, and suffers once again from a villain problem, its ability to entertain and make us laugh is fully satisfying.

Scott (Paul Rudd) is in a bit of a pickle when we first find him. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are angry with him for stealing the Ant-Man suit to fight in the CIVIL WAR airport sequence – which also landed him on house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords. Things change for our peppy hero when he intercepts a memory of Hope’s long-lost scientist mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Lucky for all of them, Hank and Hope have been hard at work building a machine that could bring Janet back from the treacherous sub-atomic Quantum Realm. However, two other people have their sights on the machine – a gal who seems like she’s not all there, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), and shady technology dealer Sonny Birch (Walton Goggins).

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

Reed’s sequel functions best when it embraces its sheer absurdity and loopy lunacy. Highly comedic moments are integrated fluidly, whether it be an argument over an office desk, a throwaway callback line about a dirty undercarriage, or an actor channeling another actor of the opposite sex (a la ALL OF ME). The quick seconds devoted to showing Rudd doing karaoke to fill up his spare time is a smashing delight. Reed, along with screenwriters Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari and Rudd, make sure to give the material plenty of breathing room for laughter as well as the spectacle of the action sequences. They even manage to make the insufferable, obtuse and expected Stan Lee cameo genuinely hilarious.

The effects team’s minimizing/ maximizing effects are endlessly innovative. There are a few radically clever usages, particularly whenever a car chase ensues on the streets of San Francisco (which I theorize is Reed’s homage to Douglas’ 70’s TV show). Even the scene in the kitchen where the Wasp battles a goon squad is made all the more riveting by special effects. It’s a real marriage between the character-driven fights, the outstanding effects work and the editing . Plus, the “play factor” involved with this sequel is through the roof as it’ll serve to inspire kids (young and old) to pick up a “Hot Wheels” habit. Cha-ching.

Unlike the former film, “daddy issues” are blessedly far less oppressive and stifling. They’re kept at the bare minimum as the screenwriters incorporate the father-daughter relationships more organically into the narrative this time around. Feminism is also represented much better. The filmmakers wisely abandon the patronizing male attitudes that eclipsed Hope’s capabilities in the first film, and finally let her shine as a brilliant badass. Best of all, not only do Hope and Scott rescue each other an equal amount of times, they’re able to win their own individual fights.

Hannah John-Kamen in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

There’s just one glaring problem they still haven’t been able to fix: the villain. Similar to Yellowjacket’s, Ghost’s quest is on the flimsy side. Her motives are certainly much more understandable, but her end game remains just as unintelligible. Maybe she didn’t even think it all the way through and that’s the point. At least she demonstrates she’s a formidable fighter, battling for what she wants. The secondary adversary is also a bit of a nothing-burger, created to keep Scott’s fun lovin’ ex-con pals (played by Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian and T.I.) busy doing something. That said, the besties are given better lines and gags (Luis’ Drunk-History-style story steals the entire movie – as does Kurt’s terrified reaction to “Baba Yaga”) so it all sort of equals out.

Another weak link in the chain is the manufactured rift between Hope, Hank and Scott. The filmmakers bend over backwards trying to sell an estrangement over the stolen Ant-Man suit, but it’s completely contrived and easily mended. We get why it’s the connective tissue between the original and the interstitial appearance in Cap’s movie, but it’s a bit too thin.

Nevertheless, the zany effervescence and light-hearted frivolity of the remaining picture Reed and company have painted far outweighs any blights.

Grade: B-

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP opens on July 6.

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