It seems like the hype train Marvel coaled up for Black Panther and Infinity War lost all its steam after the latter’s downer ending. Kudos to them – they didn’t instantly change all their plans in a panic, like their Distinguished Competition would’ve done. Instead, they released a Marvel movie everyone forgot about, six months out. We might as well get all caught up for the year.
The first Ant-Man movie languished in Development Hell for at least seven years, and the final results certainly felt like it. This sequel got announced two months after its predecessor’s release, hit theaters a cool three years later, and boasts the return of director Peyton Reed and three of the writers who hammered the first movie’s multiple drafts into shape (including the one who’s also the title character). Would a smoother production process generate a more coherent picture? I wondered, to nobody in particular, because everyone was busy arguing about whether Thanos did anything wrong.
Thankfully, the answer is “Yes.” About Ant-Man and the Wasp. Not Thanos, obviously. Fuck him and all the other Bad Dads we’ve spent the last three years watching fuck up our superheroes. It was about time Marvel Studios make a movie about healthy parent-child relationships. And as a special treat, it stars Hank Pym, who for a second looked like he was on his way to joining the Top Ten Worst Dads in Superhero Comics. Especially after the last film devolved into a battle between his surrogate sons.
The Good Son, Scott Lang, joined Captain America’s side of the pissing contest back in Civil War and apparently declined to join Cap’s jail break from Super Guantanamo. Awkward exposition from FBI Agent Jimmy Woo tells us Scott’s been under house arrest for two years, making him the only hero in this universe to suffer any real consequences from the Sakovia Accords. Hank and his daughter Hope have been on the run this whole time, but thanks to super science they haven’t felt the need to run that far. So when they discover they need Scott’s help to rescue Hank’s wife/Hope’s mom, Janet Van Dyne, from the sub-atomic realm she’s been trapped in since the late-80s, Scott’s a conveniently short drive away.
Bless my soul, after three years of waiting, we finally get to see Evangeline Lilly in her own super suit, doing those mixed-martial arts kicks everyone likes so much. And now that Marvel spent a whole movie introducing Pym-tech shrinking powers, we can cut right to Our Heroes using them in interesting and creative ways. Not just against the feckless thugs of black market arms dealers (though there’s plenty of that, too) – but against another person with superpowers that aren’t identical to their own. Forcing Our Heroes to use creativity and (gasp, shock) teamwork to overcome their adversary. What a great fucking idea. Someone should’ve come up with that forty, or fifty, or sixty years ago. Next you’re going to tell me our Antagonist has a sympathetic back story and motivation for all her antagonism that isn’t just a fascist talking point in fashionable purple.
I joke because I love and because I’ve had to sit through ten years of mediocrity to get a Marvel Universe that vaguely resembles the one I found as a child. A world where superheroes are monitored and persecuted by a carceral state that’s so easily corrupted, even a total nobody like Sonny Burch(es of Oats) has a friend in the local FBI office. (Too bad Vulture didn’t use some of that gravity gun money to bribe his local feds. Kingpin made it look pretty damn easy in the latest season of Daredevil…but, then again, he makes everything look easy, and a house like Vulture had, in Queens no less, must’ve cost a mint.) A world where super-science seems to be the only economic growth sector around because it can so easily make all kinds of deadly weapons. Where even the victims of super-science are coerced into becoming deadly weapons by arms of the very same state that now seeks to incarcerate them. Best case scenario, the state forgets you exist and you live a life of pain and suffering until your molecules slowly phase out of existence.
So shout-out to Ghost for being my new favorite villain, for all the reasons just mentioned, plus those sweet phase-shifting powers and the fact Laurence Fishburne is her adopted dad. He’s also Bill Foster, the former Goliath – another one of Hank Pym’s pissed-off former colleagues, but the first to make me wish we could rewind the universe and check out what it was like in the ’70s. Surprisingly, Foster’s not driven insanely murderous by his proximity to superpowers, but by genuine sympathy and concern for his adopted daughter. What is this? Illusion? No, this is real: real sympathetic villainy hours, no genocide required. Kindly Dr. Foster doesn’t even want to kill anyone, and Ghost only wants to kill one person, since she thinks that will stabilize her condition.
Unfortunately, that person’s Janet Van Dyne, and so conflict arises. It takes fairly typical action movie forms, for the most part, but we can’t get everything we want all the time. The first Ant-Man was a comedy/heist movie, so thanks to the iron law of sequels, this one must be too. It jumps through some serious hoops to get there, but once we’re there, it moves much more smoothly than its predecessor. To a car chase, and why not? San Francisco has been Car Chase City since Bullitt came out. This car chase has nothing on that one, but then again, that car chase didn’t have size-changing superheros.
I probably just made a few classic Action fans heads explode by even bringing up the comparison. Well, the time for knee-jerk, reactionary hatred of CGI is over. Either we start expressing solidarity with the hard working artists of ILM (and their subsidiaries around the world – though mostly in Korea) and start recruiting them to our cause, or they’re gonna get recruited by a Eugenicist Death Cult. Sorry, but them’s the breaks.
Besides, without them, we’d never have the sight of GiAnt Man wading through San Francisco Bay like Godzilla, but with out the obscuring fog and rain certain people lean on because they’re overcompensating. Nor would we see Hank Pym dive into the Microverse to rescue his wife, probably creating and destroying all kinds of parallel dimensions with every step, and making it look good all the while. In fact, this Microverse looks a lot like the Macroverse Dr. Strange stumbled through when the Ancient One expanded his mind. The Quantum Realm in particular looks a lot like a brighter version of Dormammu’s dimension, and I hope that’s intentional. The Marco- and Microverse should ultimately be the same thing. As above, so below, ya know?
But I’m reaching to avoid actual criticisms that might sound harsh to the handful of Ant-Man fans out there. Like: what kind of movie casts Michelle Pfeiffer and only gives her five minutes of screen time? A multi-hundred-million dollar superhero sequel, mandated from on-high to be two hours long, and no more, apparently. Am I really gonna have to watch another Murder on the Orient Express remake to get my Michelle on?
As yet another heist/comedy, this movie adheres to the annoying “point cameras at improv actors and hope for the best” school of comedic thought that’s the reason I stopped watching modern comedies. Some of us grew up learning that half of comedy is in the timing, but we didn’t go to the right schools or suck up to the right fake friends, so here we are: forced to sit through even more plot-stopped riff sessions that needed a whole tin of polish before escaping the writer’s room. Not as many as last time, thank god, but they are there and they take me right out of the story. Some corners have criticized Thor: Ragnarok for just this reason, but at least there, I could appreciate Jack Kirby-inspired set design. Here, we’re back on boring old Earth, and as much as I like Spanish Deco architecture, San Fran doesn’t have that much of it anymore.
Sidenote: during one such bull-session, Team Ant-Man’s resident Russian Hacker, Dave (though the Russian Hacker side of his character’s significantly downplayed here, for some reason, can’t imagine why) asks everyone else if they know about “baba yaga” – the Slavic version of the woods-dwelling, child-eating witch, most widely popularized by Hansel and Gretel. And I couldn’t help but go, “Man…doesn’t everyone know Baba Yaga, now? What, did John Wick not come out on Earth 2×10 to the 5th?” If so, Jesus…I thought the Marvel Cinematic Universe was already fucked…
End sidenote. Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t the Ant-Man film I wanted three years ago, but it’s a lot closer. The title is more than a desperation play by Marvel – “Hey, look, all you newly-minted Wonder Woman fans, we got our own hot chick in a sweet outfit!” – since there are two Ant-Men and two Wasps in this film, and both get to a good place by the end. For almost sixty years, a lot of superhero stories have been generational stories, and since the superhero universe that used to be known for that can’t stop shooting itself in both feet, I’m glad to see Marvel stepping in to fill the gap. How long until Scotty’s daughter, Cassie, achieves the Stature she’s destined for? Do we have enough time before all of this falls down?
All I know for sure is, we got a good Ant-Man and the Wasp movie, and I’ll take what I can get out of this hellworld. It’s a lightweight bit of heist/comedy fluff that does more to expand the scope of this universe than a Big Dumb Crossover ever could. And hey – I’m glad to admit I was wrong. For once one of my horrible predictions did not come true and Michael Douglas did not die at the end of this movie…unless you count his turning to dust in a scene halfway through the credits.
So, okay – I was still right. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.