by Benjamín Harguindey
It’s hard to chase a movie like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) with something like Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), if nothing else because the massive superhero crossover took a franchise ten years in the making and did something relatively bold and novel with it. Of course novelty is short-lived in the realm of comic book status quo, and the boldness feels like a bluff designed to hype up the next movie. Either way there’s not a lot to care for in this Ant-Man (2015) sequel.
The strength of movies like Ant-Man, Doctore Strange (2016) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017) lies of course in their conceptual freedom: they can take a silly premise and give free rein to it so long as they don’t take themselves too seriously and stay in their little corner of the MCU playground. At its best, these movies work as goofy romps with clever variations on the same handful of action set-pieces (the battle, the chase, the duel) and hopefully a modicum of personality. In that sense the sequel doesn’t fall far from the origin story: it provides the same amusing if slightly bland entertainment.
The plot feels like scraping the leftovers off the first movie’s plate. It replays the tragic flashback wherein the original Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer) shrinks herself to subatomic size, never to return; years later husband, scientist and original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) excitedly tells daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) that there might be a way to bring mom back. To this end they enlist the help of newest Ant-Man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s developed a helpful psychic link to Hope’s mom following his own subatomic trip in the last movie.
The whole movie takes on the form of a rescue mission. It’s not particularly investing for a number of reasons: we don’t know Janet van Dyne, we’ve only seen her in a handful of flashbacks, she’s of no special use to the plot and thirty years later there isn’t anything to give her rescue any urgency. So there’s no tension surrounding her rescue, which feels like an afterthought, nor any kind of expectation built up around her. She’s a plot point, not a character, which robs the potential of a family reunion of any emotional impact. And it’s a shame that an actress of Pfeiffer’s caliber should go underused in a movie scripted entirely around her fate.
On the subject of character it doesn’t get any blander than Scott and his partner Hope, now costumed as the titular Wasp and embedded with the same shrinking and enlarging powers. If Scott’s a little too much like every other joky wannabe in the vast MCU pantheon of alpha dudes, Hope is equally unimpressive as his staple no-nonsense female cohort. Not the kind of memorable duo that would make you title your movie in the vein of a buddy flick. Their relationship is vague and nebulous and quite unimportant to the story. Like every other MCU couple they seem to fight and reconcile in between flicks, while in movies proper they behave as in character stasis. Are they friends, partners, colleagues, dating? There’s no knowing or caring.
As if knowing full well that there’s no heart to its heroes or their mission, which in the grand scheme of things amounts to a meaningless sidequest, the movie throws in about five subplots designed to either inconvenience the heroes or pump them with a semblance of human worth. Walton Goggins as a mafioso provides the movie with a steady supply of token henchmen while Hannah John-Kamen shows up as a novelty supervillain; both are quite unaware and unconcerned with Janet’s plight and just want to get their hands on Pym’s tech for harmless if self-serving ends. Again, the movie does very little to raise stakes that are all too low.
Is Ant-Man and the Wasp at the very least a funny comedy? Scott’s dumbounded act, constantly interrupting and wisecracking at the men and women of science around him, wears thin despite Rudd’s likability. Randall Park as the frustrated FBI agent in charge of catching Scott in violation of his parole is probably the standout routine, funnier than Michael Peña’s trio of bumbling security contractors or Scott’s estranged yet worried family who show up apropos of nothing. Not that you don’t get some yucks overall but the movie is saturated so with comedy relief that by the end everybody has worn out their welcome. Well, Park makes it out okay. As does Douglas for constantly chastising and downright mocking Scott.
There isn’t much going for Ant-Man and the Wasp in terms of story or characters. Action is serviceable and at its best moderately creative, utilizing the specific powers of shrinking/enlarging objects to the effect of some clever or amusing visual gags. And the characters may not be endearing but they’re likable enough in their own cartoonish ways of routinely foiling or being foiled by our heroes. They’re quite good – on a friendly, Saturday morning cartoon level.
You shouldn’t judge a movie based on what it’s not but I’m still a little hung up over the chance that Edgar Wright could’ve directed one of these. Director Peyton Reed pulls off a decent juggle act but his five screenwriters (Rudd included) overstuff the sequel to such a degree that it can’t help feel a little scattershot and disconnected, as if they compromised on just about everything that made it into the movie but couldn’t decide on a focal point. In the end Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t about anything in particular other than clearing the sidequest log.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).