Movie review: Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018)

Hi gang: I’m going to mention some specific plot spoilers in this review, but I’ll keep it at the end and let you know. The movie plot(s) I’m referring to belong to Ant-Man & The Wasp, the sequel to Captain America 3 Civil War (Avengers 3) and prequel to Avengers 3 (Avengers 4). Well, it takes place between Civil war and somewhat concurrently with Avengers 3. Because most of Infinity War takes place in outer space or Wakanda, the characters in Ant-Man & The Wasp probably aren’t watching the news to see what sort of bizarre things are going outside of beautiful San Francisco.

If you don’t remember, Ant-Man was a fun and slightly different take of the Marvel superhero genre, but only as far as the Marvel production team would allow it. It passed through several hands (starting with Hot Fuzz’s Edgar Wright, and actually had some script written by the film’s star, Paul Rudd) and felt like it had the thumbprint of everyone involved. It had a great set up, a boring middle, and winked at the camera while ramping up the drama during the climactic battle between good and evil. I remember the laughs from the supporting cast than the plot, the villain, and the montage sequences that makes up our hero’s training to redeem himself or whatever.

In this somewhat direct sequel, Paul Rudd is in house arrest, on good terms with his ex wife and her husband as they share duties watching their kid, and working with Michael Pena and their shady friends from the first film on their security business. Michael Douglas and daughter Evangeline Lilly are mad at Rudd for using the suit during Civil  War, and are on the run for some reason or another. It’s that plot device where you have to undo all the good vibes at the end of the last film and put everyone in a bad spot so that they have something to reach for again by the third act, but Rudd is too charming to the point where Douglas and Lilly would be “aw I can’t stay mad at you” by the end of the 1st reel.

Anyway, Rudd somehow had a connection to the sub atomic particle world he managed to escape at the end of Ant-Man, specifically to Douglas’ lost and presumed dead wife, Michelle Pfeiffer. That’s the A story, with a B story that includes “Ghost,” a freaky assassin caught between molecules and able to shift through objects and space, like a jumpy spastic Kitty Pryde. The character is a little spastic both in and out of costume, and tries to sabotage the efforts of Douglas, Lilly, and Rudd. Ghost represents what all of them could be, characters in our present and physical world, or like Pfeiffer, who is stuck in a universe within atoms.

And then there’s a basic villain and henchmen, and they’re a C story that tries to also get the things that Douglas and Lilly need to save Pfeiffer, because eh…

I mean, I get it, you’re bad guys and you tried to screw over the good guys in a shady deal even to the point where you risk uncovering your black market tech biz by calling the feds on Douglas and Lilly,  but after that…why are you still chasing them when they are in a vicious battle to the death with that Ghost character? The one who keeps phasing in and out of existence and kicking their asses? Cut your losses and get out of there.

It reminds me of the comic book Radioactive Man, and yes there was an actual comic book series about The Simpsons’ famous superhero. The first six issues of Radioactive Man were a pretty amazing parody and tribute to specific periods of comics, in style and the events of those times, and you should totally check it out. One issue in particular is a parody of how superheroes die and come back. Radioactive Man is killed, and no one attends his funeral… Gloria Grand recounts the LAST time Radioactive Man “died,” how the President showed up, there was a huge funeral, the whole world mourned…and the whole thing was a ruse, so that Radioactive Man could expose a ring of hubcap thieves.

That’s what these guys feel like, some petty goofballs who don’t pose a real threat beyond having our heroes race the clock to rescue Pfeiffer. They do balance out and engage in the wackiness of Pena & company, so I’m conflicted about the small potatoes adventure in the face of the cosmic and existential battle that Ant-Man, Wasp, and Ghost are trying to survive.

And…I’d rather watch these villains and Pena and Rudd, frankly. There’s not much to the plot: serious and well known actors show up and spew scientific phrases (they might as well say “reverse the polarity” every other line, it would be just as meaningful) seriously and gravely. And they just SAY things. “We need to grab…the component!” “You’re going to die…in a few weeks. Because (science).” And Paul Rudd is there to half-smile in the face of all of it.

I saw this with RwC Eric and he was grateful for keeping the sci-fi in the comic book movies. That was a selling point back in the day, that superheroes had powers as the result of things they were trying to understand. But I disagree in that there should be a consistent tone of these movies. No one asked me, but why can’t Douglas or Lilly or Laurence Fishburne be given the opportunity to have the kind of fun that Michael Pena gets (I assume Pena is having the time of his life delivering these lines, the audience eats it up). Instead Fishburne shows up and just says “reverse the polarity” (he does not say that) and also some exposition about Ghost and…that’s pretty much it. He’s a great actor. Let the guy eat some scenery. Why does half the cast have to be so serious?

These moments end up being the by the numbers plot points of these movies where the villain (Ghost) might be misunderstood (she had to become an assassin…where’s THAT movie?). Other than some cat & mouse between the FBI trying to prove that Rudd is violating his house arrest and brief moments with Pena vs. the tech smugglers, the story and adventure is a little boring. It’s a little more direct/linear than the setup/montage training of the first movie (those parts coming off as if they were separate movies in tone), and it does make pretty good use of the established “powers” of the Ant/Wasp suits set up to be used for a fun car chase (we all agreed, however, that there has to be a lot of innocent people killed during this chase).

If you’re a fan of these movies, it’s a more straightforward adventure but the tone is still uneven. I’d personally like what could be an ensemble for the Ant-Man/Wasp world to be that comedic counterweight to some of the stuffier Marvel movies, but at least it doesn’t just build up to the group fighting a giant beam of light in the sky or whatever and everyone resorting back to their normal selves until the next film.

Before I get to the spoilers, high praise for actors Randall Park (the FBI agent) and Walton Goggins (the villainous tech smuggler guy). I love Park as an ambitious Senator in VEEP, and hopefully we see more of him in the next (?) Ant-Man/Wasp movie beyond a pestering foil for Rudd.

MAJOR SPOILER: Can Douglas and Lilly save Pfeiffer? Well, uh, Pfeiffer isn’t in the movie until almost the very end, and suddenly has magical powers because she can use to heal some of the damage done to certain characters, so…yes? Here’s what I don’t get: she was in this bizarre universe within atoms for THIRTY YEARS. Much like what happened with  Ghost’s career as an assassin, there should be a whole movie where Pfeiffer just recounts to her husband and daughter what life was like in this uncharted world that changed her into a person who now has E.T. psychological healing powers. RwC Eric had a few comic book theories, such as where she got the weird spear/sword thing from…but seriously, she’s just part of the ending montage as she and Douglas resume their lives as if those 30 years hadn’t happened. And maybe that’s true love, but HEY, Douglas is a scientist. “TELL ME EVERYTHING! OBVIOUSLY THE WORLD HERE IS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME, SO TELL ME ABOUT THIS BIZZARO LAND YOU’VE BEEN SURVIVING AS AN ALIEN WARRIOR WITHIN!”

Like, c’mon. “Oh, did you rescue our house from being destroyed? That’s great, let’s make sure everyone sees us reconnecting with the home I haven’t seen. You known what I’ve seen? For 30 years? Things you’ll never comprehend even. But let me tell you about it…”

 

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