We return to the Cinemark on a hot summer day to see an entirely suitable summer movie: Ant-Man and the Wasp. This latest outing in the MCU is everything the ponderous and horrible Avengers Infinity War was not: small in scale, adequately lit, and equipped with both an manageable number of plots and a relatively small pool of well-developed characters. Also, it is quite funny. And it has a happy ending.
You can go to see this movie with a reasonable expectation of being entertained, of having a good time without feeling that either your intellect or your sensibilities have been insulted. Your heartstrings may be pulled a bit, but not unfairly.
Since I hope you might decide to see this movie without reading more, I am putting the rest under the usual cut.
As mentioned in the opener, Ant-Man and the Wasp is one of the smaller scale movies that are almost always the better offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They center on the lives of one hero, or in this case a group/family of heroes, and usually limit the major plot lines to a reasonable one or two, combined with one or two subplots, usual personal to the characters in their uncostumed private lives. The scope of even the major plots is usually limited to “less than the end of the world”, and the settings are more local than infinite. This tends to make these movies less pretentious and more fun, and more likely to resist the lure of the “epic” in favor of opportunities for actual audience involvement.
This movie tells you exactly where it is going in its first major scene. Scott Lang (sometimes Ant-Man, and played with not-uncharming everyman goofiness by Paul Rudd), who is suffering from an epic case of cabin fever at the end of two years of house arrest, has designed and built an elaborate superhero adventure that he can play through with his (precocious and lovable) ten year old daughter when she comes to visit. Their mutual joy in this homemade game of let’s pretend really says everything there is to say about superhero stories: they are made of cardboard and their plots are (literally in this case) pulled by strings, but there is a full color life that fills them, not because they are objectively aesthetically good, but because the child in us loves them so.
So be it. In San Francisco there is a scientist who knows how to build supersuits that allow people to shrink to the size of ants and grow to sizes bigger than animal analogies can reach, and he gives these suits to various people (since he is too old and tired to wear them himself) so they can be superheroes. OK. We can go with that. Of course, hijinks ensue.
Since we’re in San Francisco, that means there will be car chases. So there will be cars that shrink and grow, and the car chases will be enlivened thereby.
Ant-Man is going to have to break out of that house arrest from time to time, and he will be chased by humorous federal agents who are trying to catch him away from the house. And Scott Lang, as an ex con, will need to earn a living, so he will start a small security company with some humorous friends he met in prison.
A Business Villain will want to steal a secret. A “supervillain” who is dying will thwart the heroes in an effort to save their own life, with the help of a former hero who loves them. A family will struggle to rescue a member who is lost in a distant and inaccessible place. These are basic plotlines for adventure stories and are strong here simply because the are not the huge, unfocused multi-plots that can make the big Marvel movies so dull. They are defined. They have edges we can see. They sparkle.
Writing, plotting, character development, and especially humor, make them sparkle. There are sight gags and puns, slapstick and bad magic tricks, ant jokes and bird jokes, kid jokes and grownup jokes, and a running gag about truth serum that is genuinely laugh out loud funny. Special credit goes to Michael Pena as Lang’s best friend Luis– he stole the show in the first movie and does it even more effectively here. Luis is funny and sweet and clever and brave and loyal and you wish he was your best friend too. And the henchmen on both sides were all actual characters rather than blanks with guns, and a pretty funny bunch they are.
None of this means the action adventure end is neglected: there are good fights and the previously mentioned car chases, which are excellent. The trip to the Quantum Zone is risky and perilous, as well as colorful and beautiful to look at. The reappearance of Jan Van Dyne is genuinely thrilling. The supervillain Ghost wears a sand colored costume with tiny red “eyes” that is scary precisely because it is not conventionally shadowy.
But what most needs to be said about this movie is that it is funny and warmhearted. It is not grim. It is not gritty. It has its suspenseful moments, its moments of peril and violence, but it is not dark either in tone or in lighting. It’s a movie about family ties, particularly about the relationships between parents and daughters, and about people trying to make a living, secure a home, and generally find their way in the world. And if they happen to be superheroes sometimes, that cardboard game of let’s pretend is always running in the background.
- Clever sight gags involving miniature things are becoming the signature trope of the Ant-Man series. In this outing, my favorites include the Hot Wheels case, the movie screen in the drive in movie scene at the end of the film, and of course the multi-story laboratory building/secret headquarters that shrinks to the size of a small suitcase– and sprouts the appropriate handle and wheels so the super scientist can tow it along behind him like a businessman at the airport. This will never not be funny.
- Lawrence Fishburne is a national treasure.
- I hope that this series is going to turn into a “super family” series.
- The Hyundai product placement is amusing, particularly the purple “Hot Wheels” Veloster with the tape stripes.
- You can always protect a person who is phasing between dimensions and let them get some sleep by putting their bed in a little enclosure made of Fresnel lenses from a lighthouse.
- This setup definitely works better with the Wasp as the leader of the team.
- What were those things in the Quantum Zone? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade
- I was going to be the only reviewers who didn’t mention the post credits scene, but obligation requires me to note that this story does tie in with the Infinity War story complex, and may even offer a hint at its resolution.
- Giant ants doing “people things” are also never not going to be funny.