Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.
Release Date: 2nd August 2018
MCU Phase: Three
Director: Peyton Reed
Writer: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer
May contain spoilers.
After Avengers: Infinity War it was always inevitable that the next MCU film would be somewhat underwhelming. It was a wise move then to release Ant-Man and the Wasp just a few months after that behemoth. This film makes no attempt to match Infinity War’s vision or even relate to it at all; it is, like Ant-Man, a small, personal, and self-contained story. That in itself is a good thing, providing a short, frivolous palette cleanser to help us regain a sense of enjoyment after Infinity War’s tragedy. It is a shame, then, that the film just isn’t that great. I mean it’s fine. I quite enjoyed watching it. It didn’t make me want to turn off or hurl my laptop out the window, but it never escapes the feeling that it is just a worse version of the original film.
For starters, the title is a bit of a con. What it promises is the MCU’s first female lead hero, or at least co-lead. After how important Black Panther was, it appears that the MCU are finally taking representation on screen seriously. That said, Hope Van Dyne is still playing second fiddle to Scott Lang in this story. He is the more complex character, and of course we have seen more of him before. There is an attempt to push the idea of them as partners, but I’m not really buying into that arc when this pair have evolved so little as characters from the last film. Hope had a fair bit of action that time anyway, and a pretty big role for a supporting character. Adding her to the title does make some sense, then, and it’s good to have a female hero on the poster. However, I think I’ll have to wait for Captain Marvel next time before I see the MCU whole-heartedly embrace a female lead.
The lack of evolution in Hope Van Dyne’s, and indeed Scott Lang’s, character is emblematic of the problems running through the whole film. From the very first shot this film is, thematically, a re-tread of its predecessor. We hear, almost verbatim, the same tale of Janet Van Dyne (Hope’s mother and Hank Pym’s wife) going ‘sub-atomic’ and being lost forever in some vague molecular depths. Mixed with ex-con Scott trying to be a good father, it made for a solid emotional backdrop to the first film’s caper. This time, they’re trying to bring the mum back! And Scott still struggles to be a good father after being placed under house arrest for the events of Civil War. So just the same stuff as last time then. There’s also the police, a mean man, and an angry lady trying to stop them getting the mum back. Angry lady has a generic grievance against Hank Pym and isn’t all that bad, she just wants to save her own life. Mean man is just that.
The plot, besides being utter nonsense, creates several problems for the film. Firstly, by going over the same ground as the first instalment, we learn little new about the characters. The film therefore avoids doing what a good sequel should do: advance the story. Ant-Man and the Wasp advances its plot, but not the people in it. The new characters are too numerous and get very little development beyond their one-note premises and fall into the lower echelons of MCU bad guys and supporting characters. The whole thing feels a bit of a mess, throwing too many things at the screen rather than making any of them that good.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still something to enjoy about Ant-Man and the Wasp. The multiple characters and lack of a clear villain does make things chaotic in a good way sometimes, with an air of fun ridiculousness to the climactic action. The plot mechanics also introduce some nice ticking-clock elements too, helping keep the attention. Beyond that, though, it’s all just the same stuff we enjoyed last time, with few new treats to go with it. It’s still pretty funny, even if the writing isn’t quite as sharp this time, and Michael Peña is still stealing scenes as the amusingly daft Luis. Peyton Reed builds on the fun action of last time with even more perspective-altering tricks, which I do really like. The chemistry between Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd is again impressive. Too often, though, the film’s charm feels like it’s being held together by its very likeable cast.
I thought this was coming, but I like that it did. With this film all taking part either before or during Infinity War, and well away form its action, it stands to reason that we would eventually see the effect of ‘the snap’ on these characters. With Scott Lang gone sub-atomic and about to get pulled back up, Hope, Hank and Janet all turn to dust, leaving Scott stuck down there. It’s an eerie note for such a light film to end on, but it tells us that Scott is still alive and will likely play a part in Endgame. That in itself is great because I was waiting for him to turn up in Infinity War and he never did. The second sting is, like usual, a funny one but plays with the snap idea too. It shows Scott’s empty house and the only life left in it: a giant ant on a drum machine. That’s more of a piece with this film’s tone than the first sting it must be said. Then there’s a lovely playful little touch as the usual ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp will return.’ statement changes its full-stop to a question mark. The MCU are touting the possibility of real deaths now, only upping the excitement for Endgame.
Where it Ranks
The film, as a whole, relies on charm. Paul Rudd is the perfect fit for Ant-Man and he embodies the film’s strengths. Smart, funny, and with a slight edge that is different to the rest of the MCU. It’s not enough to really be praiseworthy, though. This isn’t an MCU film I’d recommend skipping, but it’s certainly one of the weaker efforts.
- Captain America: Civil War
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Avengers
- Black Panther
- Iron Man 3
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Iron Man
- Doctor Strange
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Iron Man 2
- Thor: The Dark World
- The Incredible Hulk