• Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

Scott Lang is an oddity among the Marvel heroes. He’s not a genius-level intellect, he’s not super-rich, and he doesn’t have any inherent superpowers. He doesn’t have any kind of military skills or experience. He doesn’t even have much in the way of charisma, intelligence, or a moral backbone, compared to Captain America, Spider-Man, or even Falcon. Lang is just a guy with a daughter and an ex-wife who fell into a thieving career because he couldn’t catch a break.

When you consider that Scott is easily the most mundane, blue-collar, down-to-earth leading character in the Marvel roster (yes, even more than Peter Parker the super-powered prodigy), it makes sense that he would be left out of Infinity War. And when you consider that Ant-Man is potentially the most powerful superhero in the MCU so far, it actually makes even more sense.

Let’s set aside his ability to shrink smaller than anyone could hope to see. Let’s set aside his ability to command millions of different ant species with various abilities of their own. Let’s set aside his ability to grow insanely tall and crush any obstacle. Even with all of those impressive feats set aside, Ant-Man is still (with the possible and debatable exception of Doctor Strange) potentially more powerful than anyone else in the MCU to date.

Why? Two words: Quantum Realm.

Before today’s movie, Ant-Man was the only character in the entire MCU to visit this totally different plane of existence and come back to talk about it. We don’t know what it is, which means that we don’t know what Ant-Man could drag somebody else into and we don’t know what he could take back with him. Factor in the mind-blowing potential applications of quantum physics, and the possibilities are literally endless.

The Quantum Realm is a whole new frontier for Marvel. A rich vein of untapped power at a time when the heroes of the MCU need all the power they can get, and Ant-Man is the only one who can access it. And shit, that isn’t even getting started on Hope van Dyne and everything she could possibly bring to the table when she gets up to speed.

With all of this in mind, it makes sense that we would get Ant-Man and the Wasp mere months after the apocalyptic events of Infinity War. If we want to know what comes next and how Thanos’ wrath could possibly be undone, there are a lot of powerful tools to be established in a story about exploring the Quantum Realm and getting Hope into the suit.

All of that aside, we can’t forget the basic question: Is Ant-Man and the Wasp a good movie? Well… it’s entertaining enough, at least. Let’s step back.

At the end of Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) had earned his honorary place in the Pym family. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) had entrusted Scott with his life’s work and the trust to use it responsibly, while Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) had taken tentative steps toward a possible romance with Scott. And then Civil War happened. In open defiance of the law, Scott went to Germany to fight on the side of a renegade Captain America.

While Scott was able to take a deal and get two years’ house arrest, he was still captured and charged with the use of illicit superpowering technology. Which means that Hank and Hope — as the inventors of said technology — are accomplices and on the run from every law enforcement agency on the planet. There’s also the matter of Scott’s old suit and what happened to it after he got arrested, which means that Hank’s magnum opus is either in government hands or destroyed.

So, yeah — Hank and Hope are really not happy with Scott right now.

But even though they’re on the run, Hank and Hope have been traveling with a rather sizable and well-equipped (not to mention portable) lab. They’ve been working to build the Wasp suit that Hope was promised at the end of the last movie, while also working to find Hope’s mother (Janet van Dyne, played by Michelle Pfeiffer) in the Quantum Realm. Turns out that Hank found new inspiration to find his wife after Scott went to the Quantum Realm and back.

Perhaps more importantly, Janet is eager to return. Which is why she was somehow able to do a brief mind-meld with Scott in the Quantum Realm, leaving clues as to how she might be found. Thusly, Hank and Hope grudgingly agree to take Scott back into the fold so they can steal the parts they need to keep the plot moving forward, giving him no end of shit every step of the way.

(Side note: You might be wondering how our heroes were able to get around Scott’s house arrest. Put it this way: We’re talking about geniuses who could build machinery that can shrink anything to the subatomic level, breaking every law of physics into a billion molecular pieces. If goddamn Billy from Power Rangers (2017) could figure out a tracking anklet, I’m pretty sure these guys could do it too.)

Right off the bat, it’s obvious that the filmmakers were far more interested in Scott Lang than in Ant-Man. The filmmakers are all too eager to show him as the loving father to his young daughter (Cassie, played once again by Abby Ryder Fortson), the ex-con trying to get his life on straight, the fuck-up trying to make amends with his loved ones, the dumbest guy in a room full of geniuses, and the butt of umpteen million jokes. All well and good. That’s the brand of humor and the heart that makes this character so distinct from his peers in the MCU, and Paul Rudd plays it beautifully.

But then he gets stuck with a new prototype suit that’s a “work in progress” and prone to frequent malfunction. This leads to a lot of cute sight gags and some ingenious uses of the growing/shrinking gimmick, I won’t deny that. The problem is that it’s an artificial and transparently bullshit setback.

To see him come so far as a character only to get held back by something so arbitrary and beyond anyone’s control is immensely frustrating. What makes it even worse is that most of the time, it means that Wasp has to do all the work or outright save him. The filmmakers held Ant-Man back to make the Wasp look better, and that was totally unnecessary. It’s a grave disservice to our headlining character, and the Wasp doesn’t need anyone’s help to look good.

It was enough that Hope gets an extended and thoroughly awesome fight sequence before Scott even gets his suit on. And in every single fight scene afterwards, Hope is using her gadgets, her fight skills, and her growing/shrinking prowess to dazzling and devastating effect. The filmmakers did a phenomenal job of paying off what promise the character showed in her debut, proving the Wasp as a superhero worthy to stand with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It’s just a damn shame that she’s doing all of this while Scott is fumbling around with technology he spent an entire film mastering, to the point where he could hold his own in battle against the freaking Avengers. We were promised a movie in which Ant-Man and the Wasp are equal partners, and aside from maybe thirty seconds total in the climax, we don’t get that.

Luckily, the Scott/Hope dynamic isn’t quite as weak. Yes, Scott spends most of the film mooning over Hope, trying to make amends with her as he puts up with so many jokes at his expense. But on quite a few occasions, the two of them complement each other surprisingly well. It’s a natural extension of their rapport in the first movie, and a good use of the chemistry between these actors.

As for Hank, it’s refreshing how the character never takes a backseat in the search for his wife. In fact — in many literal and metaphorical ways — he’s the guy in the driver’s seat. It’s surprisingly easy to remember that this guy was the original Ant-Man, and he’s still got that need for adventure inside him. Moreover, the insufferable arrogance of Pym’s younger self is a rather huge part of the story (as it was in the first movie), and he has to atone for that in some sweetly satisfying ways.

An especially prominent case in point is his old colleague Bill Foster, played here by Laurence Fishburne. I won’t go into too many details here, but suffice to say that Fishburne was sadly underutilized. The role needed someone who could match Michael Douglas pound-for-pound, and precious few actors could do that like Fishburne could. He doesn’t get much screen time, but he makes the most of every second.

Then we have our antagonists, and this is where the movie starts to fall apart.

The “supervillain” per se is Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen. (I assume that Sofia Boutella was unavailable.) To make a long story short and spoiler-free, this character was caught in a tragic lab accident and now she’s perpetually caught in a quantum state. The upside is that she can phase through objects and be in multiple places at once. The downside is that if she doesn’t tap into the Quantum Realm (which will kill Janet van Dyne, because reasons), her condition will tear her apart until she fades into nothingness.

It’s certainly not a bad motivation, and Ghost’s power set clashes with that of our heroes in some really cool and ingenious ways. She also tends to shift and shimmer in a way that looks fantastic. Unfortunately, the details of her need for “quantum energy” are pretty thin, and it’s disappointing to watch the character devolve into maniacal scenery-chewing. John-Kamen does a passable job of showing us the character’s tragic nature, but she wasn’t a strong enough actor to really nail it.

Then we have Walter Goggins, here playing a black market arms dealer. To be clear, I get why Sonny Burch was included — he wants the Pym shrinking technology so he can sell it to criminals around the world. It raises the stakes in a way that elegantly builds off the first movie. Moreover, I love to see Goggins work, and he does the best he can with what he’s got here. The problem is that the deeply personal stakes of bringing Janet home versus Ghost’s continued survival were enough to power the movie. We didn’t need this weak-ass, watered-down attempt at getting the stakes to a more global level.

(Side note: Also, weren’t Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther also about keeping dangerous tech out of the wrong hands? The angle might be a little played-out by now, is all I’m saying.)

That said, I can understand in terms of plot how a third party might be useful in intercepting a MacGuffin so it isn’t simply getting passed between two parties. It just doesn’t work here because this movie has so many MacGuffins and agendas in play, and none of them really mesh together.

It’s obvious that the filmmakers were trying to emulate the screwball comedies of yesteryear — that breathtaking climactic car chase through San Francisco owes a particular debt to the screwball masterpiece What’s Up, Doc?. In theory, that’s a fantastic idea that builds perfectly off the “heist comedy” flavor that made the last movie such unique fun. In practice, screwball comedy only works if the movie is tight and lean, and this movie is neither.

This movie only has two speeds: If it’s not going at a hundred miles an hour, it’s standing dead still. I can’t tell you how many frustrating times the movie built up a great head of steam only to crash right into a massive exposition dump or a prolonged joke sequence that would hold the movie still for several agonizing minutes at a time. It kills the pacing, it ruins the tone, and it shows just how disjointed the whole movie is.

The origin story for Ghost is an excellent case in point. Ditto for Randall Park, here playing a bumbling FBI official out to make sure that Scott stays under house arrest. I know this character needed some kind of a personality aside from being a stock lawman with no motivation or purpose aside from being a pain in Scott’s ass, but Randall Park is so much better than this material and there was nothing here to make the character any less annoying or unfunny. Also, between Park here and Martin Freeman in Black Panther, it’s pitifully obvious how Marvel is trying to find a new Agent Coulson and they keep consistently missing why that character worked so well.

But then we have Luis, played once again by Michael Pena. It was very sweet of the filmmakers to give Scott’s old thieving crew (T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian also return) a subplot, a few jokes, and even a couple of beats in the climax. And of course Luis gets one of his trademark storytelling sequences. It’s admittedly very funny, but it totally doesn’t work.

When Luis did it in the first film, it was an entertaining and amusing means of conveying necessary exposition. When he does it in this film, it only rehashes what we already know and serves basically no purpose. I know this is Luis’ trademark and everyone would’ve been upset if we didn’t get a storytelling sequence, but if the filmmakers had worked any harder to shoehorn it in, they would’ve broken the plot entirely.

Elsewhere in the supporting cast, Judy Greer and Bobby Canavale get maybe two minutes total of screen time. That’s as much as the characters deserved, and they’re wonderfully funny through every second they get, but it still pains me to see Greer wasted on tertiary supporting roles. She deserves way better for all the talent she has, seriously. There’s also Abby Ryder Fortson, who steals the show with every second onscreen. The opening sequence between Scott and Cassie was worth the price of admission by itself.

As for Michelle Pfeiffer… well, the whole movie is really about the search for Janet van Dyne, so it should come as no surprise that she doesn’t really come in until the very end. I think she might actually have more screen time playing her younger self in this one. Even so, the character is a powerful offscreen presence and Pfeiffer steps up in a big way when she finally comes in. Oh, and Janet van Dyne gets a tearjerking, gut-busting sequence halfway through that has nothing to do with Pfeiffer and everything to do with Rudd. No way am I spoiling any more than that.

Speaking of which, the “youth-ening” CGI effects look impossibly good. It’s eerie and uncanny to think that this technology may have finally been perfected after so many years of trial and error. (Looking at you, Tron: Legacy.) The Quantum Realm is fantastic, and kudos to the filmmakers for giving tardigrades their due respect. The action scenes are all great fun, and I absolutely love how the filmmakers continue to put so much effort into finding new, funny, awesome, endlessly creative ways of utilizing the growing/shrinking gimmick. That said, I don’t think the 3D really added much. Christophe Beck returns to score the film, and he brought back that utterly fantastic original Ant-Man theme, but the rest of the score didn’t impress me nearly as much.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where this movie falls in the greater MCU timeline… well, the mid-credits stinger makes that perfectly clear. For now, let’s just say that if the Avengers had been paying attention, none of them would’ve had to ask where Scott was at the time of Infinity War. The after-credits stinger is totally useless, by the way.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is very much a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts. Each individual component — the recurring family theme, the heist comedy trappings, the comedy, the action, Ghost, the Hope/Scott relationship, the Quantum Realm, the set pieces and sight gags with the growing and shrinking — all of these are fine on their own individual merits. It’s very entertaining to take the movie one scene at a time, but it doesn’t distract from how the movie as a whole is a confused mess with atrocious pacing.

Still, it’s an entertaining movie that more or less delivers on its promises (that goddamn malfunctioning Ant-Man suit notwithstanding), and there’s a lot of stuff here that could potentially pay off in some fascinating ways when the next Avengers movie comes around. Definitely go see it, but don’t bother with the premiums and keep your expectations in check.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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