The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp (PG-13)


 Scott Lang suits up once again in Ant-Man and the Wasp, a low-pressure second entry in one of Marvel’s pretty-good-iest sub-franchises.

Scott (Paul Rudd) is near the end of a two-year house-arrest sentence that resulted from his Sokovia Accords-breaking actions back in Captain America: Civil War. He has used the time wisely, starting a business, X-Con Security, with fellow ex-cons Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and renewing his relationship with his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). On her visits, Scott entertains her with close-up magic and elaborate box forts and other house-bound amusements, as he explains to FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), the agent who keeps tabs on him. Even Scott’s relationship with his ex, Cassie’s mom Maggie (Judy Greer), and her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), is going well —she defends Scott when the FBI shows up to search his home after he accidentally trips his ankle bracelet alarm.
The relationships that aren’t so solid are Scott’s friendship with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his friendship-plus-something-more? with Hank’s daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). They are on the run from the FBI and he has had no contact — Ant-Man-related or otherwise — with the Pym family but he does apparently have their number on his hidden burner phone. He makes a call to Hank after suddenly having a dream/vision or something wherein he seemed to briefly inhabit Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank’s wife, who has been lost since going sub-atomically small in her Wasp suit (which, like Ant-Man’s suit, allows her to grow supersized or shrink molecule-small) decades earlier. She is stuck in the Quantum Realm, where Scott himself also went briefly at the end of the previous movie.
Scott’s vision and phone call coincide with the moment that Hank and Hope turned on the Quantum Realm-reaching bridge. This marvelous McGuffin machine is Hank’s and Hope’s attempt to find Janet and bring her back. They believe that Scott’s vision might be a message from Janet and, using their mind-controlled insects, bring him to their hidden lab. Though Scott wants to help (and to renew his friendship-plus-whatever with Hope), he’s very nervous that his absence from his home will be discovered. If the FBI catches him, he’ll be bound for prison, potentially for life, and lose all he’s worked for with Cassie.
Of course, you can’t have a quasi-science doodad in a Marvel movie without other people wanting the doodad (see NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and Linda Holmes’ frequent discussion of action movies and their plot of “there’s a box, and everybody wants the box”). Here, the doodad hunters include Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), some kind of black market doodad dealer and also a restaurateur, and someone called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who also has a supersuit and, like Ant-Man and Wasp suit wearers (which now includes Hope), can mess with matter and her physical relationship to same.
As Marvel movies go, Ant-Man and the Wasp shoots right down the middle. It is not some lumbering mess (not to keep picking on it but Thor: The Dark World and that second Iron Man movie stand out to me in this category) and it’s not some new revelatory thing like Black Panther. It tucks into the pre-Avengers: Infinity War universe (spoiler alert: mostly; stick around for the post-credits scenes) but keeps the story small. It isn’t quite as solid as Spider-Man: Homecoming or as much fun as I remember the first Ant-Man being but it holds its own.
What works here?
• The scope. Marvel is getting good at finding stakes that aren’t “the fate of the whole world” and making them work.
• Scott’s relationship with his daughter. Actually, his relationship with all of his friends and family is nice. “Superhero with a messed up home life” is such a common trope that it’s nice to see a superhero who is a good father, has a good relationship with his ex and her new husband and is a solid part of his X-Con team.
• Michael Peña, of whom this movie could have had, like, 30 percent more.
• Scott’s entire group of buddies and their X-Con Security business. There could have been more of this group as well.
Less successful for me:
• Hope and Hank, and Scott’s relationship with them. I’m not getting crackling electric sparks between Scott and Hope — I’m not getting balloon-in-hair mild static cling between Scott and Hope. Hope and Hank’s relationship feels equally underdeveloped — there’s a little antagonism, there’s a little Team Pym, but the family stuff (to include their drive to find Janet) feels more sketched out than colored in. As for Hank and Scott’s relationship, I have no idea what it’s supposed to be — mentor and estranged mentee? Colleagues?
• The movie feels antagonist heavy. You have Ghost as kind of an immediate threat. There’s Scott versus the FBI, whose agents frequently check in on him as he nears the end of his house arrest. Then there’s Sonny, a discount Boyd Crowder, and his vague plan to sell the quantum stuff to bad people. Every time he showed up, I found that I had forgotten that Sonny and his crew were a part of this movie. Ghost being just one person and the FBI still basically being in the white hat column, I guess this movie needed someone with enough henchmen to get beaten up and participate in crash-heavy car chases without us feeling conflicted. But Sonny and company don’t feel integral to the plot.
The movie also lacks some of the energy overall that I remember from the first. I happened to catch a little of the 2015 Ant-Man recently and there is definitely a sense of playfulness and sparkle that is missing from this movie. Even the visual humor, the way the movie uses size for both dramatic and comic purposes, isn’t as sharp.
But none of these quibbles are fatal flaws. The movie is fun without being great, which I feel like has become the theme of this summer but it works here. Or, at least, the charm of Paul Rudd, the delightfulness of Michael Peña and the totally fine-ness of everything else works enough, enough to make it all a B.
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence, according to the MPAA. Directed by Peyton Reed and written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari, Ant-Man and the Wasp is an hour and 58 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney Studios. 

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