Film

Marvel Wisely Goes Small with 'Ant-Man and Wasp'

Peyton Reed's campy follow-up to the epic Avengers: Infinity War serves as a welcome breather from saving the world.

Ant-Man and the Wasp
Peyton Reed

Walt Disney

6 July 2018 (US) / 3 Aug 2018 (UK)

Other


It's a credit to mastermind Kevin Feige that each of the superhero cliques within Marvel's sprawling Cinematic Universe (MCU) has a distinct personality. The Guardians of the Galaxy are irreverent and morally… questionable. The Avengers are larger than life and eager to save the world. Now two films into the Ant-Man story, it appears that director Peyton Reed's breezy creation intends to stay rooted in comic book goofiness.

And why not? This is the story, after all, of a man who can shrink to the size of a Matchbox car or tower over tall buildings with the push of a button. It's silly to expect anything approximating drama from a man who rides flying insects and uses giant Pez dispensers to thwart his foes. What you can expect is plenty of ingenious sight gags involving shrunken objects, and more importantly, further expansion upon the Quantum Realm that promises to play a huge role moving forward in the MCU.

Things have grown decidedly chilly between Scott "Ant-Man" Lang (Paul Rudd) and his sexy sidekick, Hope "The Wasp" Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) since 2015's Ant-Man. Wedged firmly between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp (a franchise that has, thus far, remained free of colons) finds Scott under house arrest for rendering assistance to Team Captain America. Hope and her inventor father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are also on the FBI's most wanted list, as their miniaturization technology enabled Scott's shenanigans. Let's just say that Hope and Scott won't be sharing ant rides anytime soon.

What's immediately refreshing about Peyton's film is the simplicity of the storyline. Hank Pym, haunted for years by a mission gone wrong, wants to rescue his doomed wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. While there is plenty of nonsense swirling around the periphery, including a phase-shifting baddie called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants to steal Pym's tech, this is a modest rescue story that has no intention of saving the world.

Action set pieces utilize the miniaturization conceit to its maximum potential. Characters dance across knife blades and use flatbed trucks as glorified skateboards in CGI showcases that still emphasize ingenuity over videogame laziness. We can agree that car chases are boring -- accept when the hero's car can shrink beneath the villain's car and then expand skyward like a rocket launcher! Peyton uses objects and critters of all shapes and sizes to keep things fun.

© null (IMDB)

Where Ant-Man and the Wasp stumbles a bit, like its 2015 predecessor, is with the casting. Everyone loves Paul Rudd, which makes this admission feel all the more sacrilegious: he's just not a good 'fit' for this role. Perhaps Peyton's lively pace is clashing with Rudd's laidback charm? Maybe Rudd is just too cerebral and quick-witted to carry such a ridiculous premise? Unlike other MCU entries, maybe the characters in the Ant-Man universe aren't engaging or well-drawn enough to cultivate all of the comic possibilities? Whatever the reason, Rudd continues to feel like the awkward kid on stage who doesn't know what to do with his hands. He's not bad; he just doesn't elevate the material, which is so not Paul Rudd.

It's also shocking that a talented writing crew (which includes Rudd) could whiff on so many one-liners. For every joke that connects, there are probably three jokes that fall flat. Compare this to 2017's Thor Ragnarok, which lands an absurdly high percentage of quips and zingers, and the writing here feels flabby. Several obvious attempts at improvisation are particularly painful. When Scott and his new business partner Luis (Michael Peña) debate the proper usage of the saying, "Land this fish," it feels so forced that you wonder how this scene survived to final cut.

© null (IMDB)

Luckily, the supporting cast, especially Peña, feel nice and comfy in their roles. Walton Goggins (as the unscrupulous tech trader "Sonny Burch") and his cadre of incompetent henchmen try their hardest to be menacing, with hilarious results. Laurence Fishburne is also solid, though underutilized, as Pym's old partner, Bill Foster. But Peña continues to be the comedic gift that keeps on giving. His frenetic style fits the material perfectly, as he cracks off one-liners and non sequiturs with alarming precision.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a comparatively modest film that puts a premium on fun. After the bombast and revelations of Avengers: Infinity War, it serves as a gentle re-introduction into this world… until the crackerjack post-credit stinger (don't leave early!). Ultimately, this film should settle somewhere in the middle of the ever-expanding MCU canon. With such a strong track record for quality, that's certainly no disgrace.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.