Payton Reed’s Ant-Man wasn’t a massive, earth shattering hit for Marvel, but it was a charming, fun, family comedy that had pieces of a heist movie thrown in and intimate stakes that fans didn’t realise they wanted. The sequel gives us more of the same, a film about consequences and family and foiling the plots and machinations of gangsters.
The film opens nearly two years after Civil War with Scott Lang confined to his home as penance for his part in the battle of Berlin on what was ultimately the losing side. This neatly places the film before the events of Infinity War. Hope and Hank are on the run, with Scott’s actions putting them and their technology on the government’s radar. The government neatly invokes the Sakovia Accords, succinctly, if confusingly, but humorously summed up by Agent Woo to Scott’s daughter Cassie to hunt for the Pyms. They in turn don’t want to register or hand over their tech as Hank now believes that Scott is the key to finding his long-lost wife Janet in the Quantum Realm, who also shrunk to sub-atomic size to stop a nuclear attack decades previously. The stakes are set when Scott has a vision of Janet playing with Hope setting them off on a whirlwind chase around San Francisco.
The film focuses on Scott’s relationship or rather non-relationship with Hope and Hank as they are angry with him for not telling them about Berlin but also because his actions put them in danger. The consequences weigh on Scott, having resulted in his nascent romantic relationship with Hope falling apart, but the film doesn’t make those consequences weigh enough, foregoing his penance and contrition for jokes and action. The fact that he is willing to risk his freedom to make up for this tends to be glossed over except when Scott remembers he should be confined to his house and happens to whine about it and the possible consequence if he is not home in three days when the FBI is due to remove his tracking device.
The romance sub-plot sits there, underdeveloped as the team flits from location to location chasing the MacGuffin for this film, the building that shrinks down to an overhead compartment trolley bag size. You see that Hope obviously still cares for Scott, but there is no time given the three-day time limit for the writers to stuff in any development of this plot.
The film revolves around Hank’s new lab in the aforementioned building, he needs it to complete his Quantum Tunnel so that they can rescue Janet; new villain Ghost needs it to extract the Quantum Energy that Janet has absorbed over thirty years to stabilise her atomic structure as due to a failed experiment and accident as a child in her father’s lab she exists in a state of quantum flux and can phase through solid matter, but is about to phase from existence permanently. Finally, Walton Goggins is absolutely wasted as the gangster seeking to secure the lab and it’s tech for a dangerous client. This is partly where the film fails as Ghost is sympathetic so cannot be the out and out villain, so Goggins’ gangster is used as the villain with his henchmen the cannon fodder. The character is paper thin and his henchmen suitably ill dressed in gold chains and flashy suits with little to no distinguishing features, except that the one is Pakistani and formerly an interrogator in that country’s intelligence service, the ISI.
Ghost is capably played by Hannah John Kamen. If you haven’t been watching SYFY’s excellent Killjoy’s you really ought to as she is brilliant in that both in the action sequences as well as the character bits. In this film she brings the fighting skills to bear and has a couple of nice scenes where she takes on Wasp and later both Wasp and Ant-Man. The character work though is again left to the side as she isn’t given the room to fully develop the character and create a connection with the audience. You know you should sympathise as her story is suitably horrible, but when she proposes a course of action to get our heroes to come to her confederate that horrifies him and has him take a stand, you don’t feel any sympathy for her and her desperate situation. In this way she should be as similarly complex and nuanced as Killmonger was and Thanos is, but they have failed to make that case. Marvel have fallen back on the weak villain problem which is a shame.
Other side characters are cameos more than anything. Scott’s ex-wife, new husband and daughter get very little screen time, with Cassie getting more time than the other two. Even Michael Pena’s Luis and his bumbling, but loveable side-kicks are hardly seen. Luis gets more to do in the third act and shares a funny scene when been interrogated by Goggin’s and his truth serum wielding ex-spy henchman. We get an abbreviated Luis story telling scene that is cut short by Ghost. It’s a nice throwback to the funniest post-credit scene from the first film, but that is the only scene in which Pena is given the opportunity to shine.
While the main characters don’t get to develop their characters and their sub-plots, the ease with which they play off each other is engaging. Rudd and Evangeline Lilly clearly get along and can sell that they have some sort of history. Michael Douglas is excellent as the acerbic, concerned yet forgiven father. His interactions with Scott are suitably exasperated yet caring and ultimately forgiving. This trio are the heart of the film and if there is a third, how Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet will fit in is a mystery. The actress doesn’t get to do much since she only has about ten minutes of screen time so how she could affect the balance between the three is an unknown.
The third act is suitably frantic as the already artificial three-day deadline is given a second two-hour deadline artificially raising the stakes and tension as the action takes place in the Quantum Realm and the real world as three parties vie for possession of the lab. We get to see a fun Giant Man sequence as Scott literally gives Goggins the finger. Any comic book creator will know about this from Peter David’s Hulk run in the ‘90s and some fans may even remember a mini-feud between PAD and Erik Larsen over who should get credit as the latter also used that joke in an issue of Savage Dragon around the same time.
The stakes are low, the heroes want to save Janet, Ghost wants to cure her affliction and Goggins wants to sell his tech. There is no end of the world plot, no danger to anyone except the dozens of bystanders who film Giant Man emerging from the bay. These low stakes are just what is needed after the insanity of Infinity War, they show that the MCU is made up of more problems and solutions than the usual end of the world type ones.
Of course, I cannot not mention the mid- and post-credit scenes. The first firmly establishes where the team were when Thanos snapped his fingers. In fact a throwaway line from one character will, I am 99% sure, prove to tie into Doctor Strange’s millions of visions and only one where the heroes are triumphant. The other scene was spoiled slightly by the trailers, but critics of this failed to see beyond the comedy. Pay attention to what is happening around the central character, it is darker than is immediately apparent.
In the end Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun interlude in between the more serious themes and plots of Black Panther and Infinity War, while not out and out as comedic as Thor Ragnarok it is similar in that it shows a lighter side to the MCU. However, unlike that film, the comedy doesn’t undercut the serious nature of the film’s themes and plot. Overall this is another winner for Marvel who at the moment can do very little wrong.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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6 July 2018
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