Directed by: Peyton Reed
Premise: A follow up to the 2015 film. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest and forbidden to partake in superheroics. Dr. Hank Pym and his daughter Hope (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) need his help to rescue Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm.
What Works: The original Ant-Man was a compromised project. The film was a product of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a chaotic time behind the scenes at Marvel Studios, and the 2015 film remained within the established origin story formula. It was a success but it was also mediocre. Ant-Man and the Wasp comes as part of Phase Three which has been the most creative and most exciting period of the MCU so far and this movie is a step up from its predecessor. Both Ant-Man films are funny but Ant-Man and the Wasp delivers laugh after laugh while also balancing multiple subplots, superhero action, character development, and themes of family and responsibility. The Ant-Man series has a strange conceit and the filmmakers embrace the weirdness. The movie makes creative use of the premise and the set pieces have a lot of energy and creativity while also injecting physical comedy into the action. The filmmakers clearly take joy in the absurd fun of it all and that makes Ant-Man and the Wasp a relief from the somber tone of some other superhero films. Ant-Man and the Wasp is also distinct in its conflict. Most of the Marvel films take a villain-of-the-week approach; each movie introduces a new heavy who must be defeated. This was the weakest element of many early MCU films but it has improved significantly in recent movies like Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Ant-Man and the Wasp takes an entirely different approach. It doesn’t really have a supervillain. Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is in conflict with the heroes but she’s not really a villain; she just wants to get out of her perpetual state of pain by using the Ant-Man technology. Not having a straightforward villain is a bold move and it allows the filmmakers to keep the tone light and have more complex characters.
What Doesn’t: The drawback of the film’s lack of a villain is its flimsy conflict. Stories are built on conflict and those conflicts are strongest when the desires of the antagonist and the protagonist are mutually exclusive. Ant-Man and his friends have technology that can potentially rescue Janet Van Dyne from the Quantum Realm and might also heal Ghost’s condition. That technology is fought over like a football but there’s no reason why both parties cannot be accommodated if they would only cooperate. The conflict of this film really comes down to people unwilling to share. That’s not very interesting and the filmmakers don’t do themselves any favors with an ending that resolves everything too simply and gives everyone everything they want. While there is bravery there is no sacrifice and very little is actually affirmed or won or lost. That’s in keeping with the likable nature of this film but it makes for a story with almost no dramatic impact.
Bottom Line: Ant-Man and the Wasp successfully combines adventure, humor, and a light touch. It lacks dramatic stakes, especially in the ending, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is just intended to be a good time at the movies and as that it succeeds.
Episode: #707 (July 15, 2018)