Good things come to those who wait, and viewers in the UK have been standing by for the arrival of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man And The Wasp for almost a month. The twentieth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe landed in the US on 6th July, but the UK release was postponed until 2nd August, reportedly because some people were playing football or somesuch.
But cometh the hour, cometh the ant, and Peyton Reed’s anticipated sequel is finally here. The story picks up around two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, but before those of the recent Avengers movie. Having struck a plea-deal with the FBI for Ant-Man’s part in breaking the Sokovia Accords, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is nearing the end of a 24-month house-arrest, while Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) have spent the time on the run, legally complicit in Lang’s crime by virtue of owning the equipment he used to shrink and enlarge himself.
The Pyms haven’t been idle in their time though, and are nearing completion on a machine to explore the Quantum Realm, certain now that they can rescue Hank’s wife (and Hope’s mother), Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s been lost in there for 30 years. For this, they need to bring Lang out of his enforced retirement. But the product of their secretive work is in high demand, and black market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) has gotten wind of what they’re building, as has a mysterious entity known only as the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who is equally keen to acquire the finish product. The race for the Quantum Tunnel is on, but do any of its participants realise exactly what they’re hoping to unleash..?
The good news – Marvel have succeeded once again, demonstrating why they’re the market leaders in superhero movies which are entertaining, heartfelt and funny. Director Reed keeps the plates spinning with a focused skill, smoothing out the often-competing plot strands. As hectic as the five-author screenplay becomes, everything pulls in the same direction, blending action and humour in the way we’ve come to expect, all set against the backdrop of the larger continuity.
Paul Rudd is on solid form as our flippantly laid-back hero, still trying to balance a slightly dysfunctional family life with his membership of the Avengers. Evangeline Lilly gets to shine more properly this time around, stepping into the Wasp costume revealed at the end of the first instalment. Bringing both brains and brawn to the partnership, Hope van Dyne threatens to overshadow her counterpart on several occasions with a performance which is bigger than the script Lilly is working from.
Elsewhere, Michael Douglas holds the fort once more as the irascible Dr. Hank Pym, matched only by an unusually brittle turn from Laurence Fishburne as his ex research colleague, Bill Foster. Light slapstick and bickering duties are carried again by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian, while Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and Abby Ryder Fortson return to flesh out Lang’s home-life.
But the show is very nearly stolen by Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost. A fantastic emotive and physical performance coupled with a character who’s in a satisfyingly grey area make this antagonist arguably the most interesting aspect of the entire film.
Because while Ant-Man And The Wasp is a great ride and undoubtedly Marvel™, there’s something missing.
A huge part of that is the wow-factor. Whereas the 2015’s Ant-Man had the element of pleasant surprise on its side, this sequel is weighed down with expectation, much like Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2. But rather than build upon the universe of the first entry, Reed’s film feels more like an extension. Rudd’s trademark deadpan exasperation has been more or less usurped by Chris Pratt’s Star Lord at this stage, leaving the former’s quips feeling a little flat. And although the gags are fast and frequent here, the script pales next to the gleeful boisterousness of Thor: Ragnarok. It’s almost as if the rest of the MCU has overtaken this casual outsider.
The next issue is one of Ant-Man And The Wasp‘s scale (no pun intended). While the whole MCU project has been on a generally upward trajectory since its birth in 2008, how do you top the dramatic weight of Avengers: Infinity War? Well in this case, you don’t. Edgar Wright’s original foundations for Ant-Man were separate from Thanos’ quest to get his hands on the magical mitt, so even after Wright’s departure, the 2015 feature had a ‘detached’ quality. Of course the in-universe link is stronger this time around, with half of the setup coming from Civil War, but the West-coast location and lack of cross-over characters from other entries give the story the feeling of a spin-off, rather than a numbered chapter within the main narrative. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course. After all, Disney’s other studio, Lucasfilm, played a similar card by succeeding (also chronologically preceding) the divisive heft of The Last Jedi with the breezy swagger of Solo, a sort of palate cleanser for the continuity.
But truth be told, the stakes never feel particularly high in Ant-Man And The Wasp. Walton Goggins’ bad guy is certainly painted as an unpleasant character, but carries little sense of actual danger (indeed, his presence seems to be a setup for a long-running joke about truth serum). Considering the title specifically names two characters, Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp is still effectively a sidekick here, and the story revolves more firmly around what Ant-Man is up to. Equally, with Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel on the horizon, you might think that a female character like Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost would play a more central role in the proceedings, especially given her close ties to the protagonists. Instead, she’s criminally underused, a cog which could exist solely to make the machine appear more complex.
And all of this might be more forgivable if it wasn’t for the frequent bursts of exposition wrapped in shoddily explained pseudo-science; Marvel is usually above this methodology. Obviously the viewer needs to accept the convoluted concept of items being able to shrink and enlarge at the touch of a button if they’re to go with the flow. But they’ll also need to believe that a vehicle can be reduced from full-size to that of a child’s toy, yet still somehow maintain the same speed on the road after the transformation. As if the physics of wheel-RPM doesn’t count in the MCU. And when pedantic things like that are sticking in your humble correspondent’s mind during the movie, it’s probably not doing all it could be to engage an audience on other levels.
The last four paragraphs aside, the incredible shrinking adventure of Ant-Man And The Wasp is an enormous amount of fun. Perhaps not the Fantastic Voyage it could have been, but it’s nice to see that Marvel aren’t Downsizing just yet.
Good things come to those who wait. Although great ones seem more arbitrary…
Have you seen Ant-Man And The Wasp yet? How do you think it fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @SetTheTape!