"ANT-MAN & THE WASP" (2018) Review
Two months after the theatrical release of the explosive "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR", the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) released "ANT-MAN & THE WASP", the sequel to the 2015 movie, "ANT-MAN". Peyton Reed, who had directed the previous film, returned to helm the latest one.
Set two years following the events of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR", "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" found Scott Lang aka Ant-Man nearing the end of two years of house arrest for his participation in the battle at Leipzig Airport in Germany and his violation of the Sokovia Accords. Unbeknownst to Scott, his use of the Ant-Man suit and arrest led the U.S. government to view Dr. Hank Pym's Ant-Man particles technology and the Ant-Man suit as a violation of the Sokovia Accords. Both Hank and his daughter, Hope van Dyne, ended up becoming wanted fugitives from the law.
In the film's opening, Hank and Hope briefly manage to open a tunnel to the Quantum Realm, where they believe his wife, Dr. Janet van Dyne, might still be trapped after shrinking to sub-atomic levels during a mission as the Wasp in 1987. Two (or three) days before the end of his house arrest, Scott has a dream about him taking on Janet's body, when he was briefly inside the Quantum Realm two years earlier. He leaves a telephone message to Hank about the dream and a few hours later, finds himself kidnapped by Hope. Despite their anger at Scott for his actions with Captain America two years earlier, Hope and Hank need his help to stabilize Hank's quantum tunnel and pinpoint Janet's location, so they can retrieve her. However, there are a few problems that the trio have to overcome: 1) Evading Special FBI Agent Jimmy Woo, who has been assigned to monitor Scott; 2) prevent both arms dealer Sonny Birch and a quantumly unstable masked woman from Hank's past named Ava Starr aka "Ghost" from stealing Hank's shrunken lab that contains the quantum tunnel.
In the wake of movies like "BLACK PANTHER" and "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR", "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" seemed like a light, adventure frolic in compare. Like its 2015 predecessor, the movie is a story about a family. Yes, I can anticipate the next comment. "BLACK PANTHER" was also a family saga. But unlike that film, "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" is a lighter fare that centered around the Pym-van Dyne family and the rescue of one particular member - Dr. Janet van Dyne aka the Wasp. Or the first Wasp. For once, Scott's relationship with his daughter Cassie Lang does not play a major role in the film's narrative. But his business relationship and friendship with his fellow ex-convicts - Luis, Dave and Kurt - did. Luis, along with Dave, Kurt and Scott had created a home security firm called X-Con Security Consultants. However, Scott's efforts to help Hank and Hope threatened the friends' plans to recruit new clients and financing for their new firm. After many mishaps, kidnappings and brushes with the law, Scott managed to recruit his friends to help the Pym-van Dyne family rescue Janet van Dyne from the Quantum Realm and deal with the threat of the Ghost and especially, Sonny Burch. And Hank's past conflict with former colleague Elihas Starr led to him dealing with the latter's angry and desperate daughter, Ava Starr aka Ghost.
Just like the 2015 movie, "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" brimmed with a great deal of light and witty humor. Some of the humor struck me as a bit too light - especially Hope's use of the large-sized ant to fool the F.B.I. into believing that Scott had not broken his house arrest. But a good deal of the humor struck me as spot-on. This included a sequence in which Scott, while wearing Hank's unfinished Ant-Man suit, breaking into Cassie's school locker to retrieve the old one; Scott's witty interactions with the F.B.I. agent monitoring him, Agent Jimmy Woo; and the crazy car chase through San Francisco's streets in which Team Pym struggled to prevent both Sonny Burch's men and Ava from getting their hands on Hank's mobile lab. But if I had to select the funniest - and what I believe to be the second-best - scene in the movie, it would have to be the one in which Sonny Burch and his men attempt to extract information from Luis using drugs, while Dave and Kurt looked on. That had to be the funniest scene in the movie and one of the funniest in the entire MCU franchise.
"ANT-MAN & THE WASP" also featured some pretty good action sequences. First and foremost was the San Francisco car chase mentioned in the previous paragraph. I thought director Peyton Reed did an excellent job in switching back and forth between the scenes that featured either Ant-Man or the Wasp and Luis during the sequence. Both Ant-Man and the Wasp's fight scenes with the Ghost struct me as entertaining and a little mind-blowing. At the same time, Reed and the film's special effects team did an excellent job in conveying how the Pym particles tech used by Ant-Man, the Wasp and Luis affected the chase sequence. This chase culminated in an excellent visual moment in which an enlarged Ant-Man rose through San Francisco Bay in order to get his hands on Hank's lab, which had been snatched by Sonny Burch. Truly a memorable moment. But my favorite sequence featured the Wasp's first-rate brawl with Sonny Burch's men inside a San Francisco restaurant, as she attempted to retrieve the money she and Hank had gathered to pay for a piece of equipment that Burch had refused to give her.
However, for a movie strong on comedy, it provided a good deal of emotional drama and pathos in the film. After all, at its heart, "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" is a family-dominated film. Just as I had earlier pointed out. The movie opened on an emotional note as audiences watched Hank and Janet say good-bye to a young Hope before embarking on that mission that would leave Janet lost in the Quantum Realm for the next three decades. Between Janet's communication to her family via Scott's body, the revelation of Ava's family tragedy and her current physical state and more importantly, Janet's actual reunion with Hank and Hope; the movie brimmed with some deep and very satisfying emotions. The one sequence that left me in tears proved to be the Pym-Van Dyne family reunion. Audiences did not learn, until the film's first post-credit scene that the events of "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" had occurred before and during the events of "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR". And ironically, that last moment in which moviegoers discovered how Thanos' snap affected the character in this movie struck me as more tragic and effective than the ending of "INFINITY WAR".
As much as I enjoyed "ANT-MAN & THE WASP", I cannot deny that it had flaws. For me, the film's main flaws stemmed from "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR" and the Sokovia Accords. I have never liked the Sokovia Accords story arc. Not only did I find it questionable written, but not fully explored by the MCU after the 2016 movie - with the exception of early Season Four of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." and "ANT-MAN & THE WASP". My main problem with the Sokovia Accords is that the MCU writers do not seem to know the difference between an accord and a law. And since neither Scott, Hank or Hope had signed the document, I saw no reason why they should be affected.
But apparently, after being rescued from the government's Raft by Steve Rogers aka Captain America; along with Clint Burton aka Hawkeye made a deal with the Federal courts and settled for two years of house arrest for violating the Accords. While being incarcerated inside the Raft, Scott had unintentionally revealed Hank's name, which led both Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Thaddeus Ross to recall that Hank Pym had created the Ant-Man suit. But when Scott made the deal, both Hank and Hope became wanted fugitives because Hank had not registered the Ant-Man suit. I have a lot of problems with this scenario.
One, due to the bombing in Vienna, Austria; the Accords had not yet been ratified when Scott and Clint were first arrested. Two, Hank had first created the Ant-Man suit back in the 1980s and had been unaware of Scott's use of the suit in Berlin. After being freed by Steve, Scott had shrunken the suit and mailed it to his daughter Cassie, while declaring that it had been destroyed. If the suit was officially considered destroyed, why was Scott arrested anyway without the crucial evidence any prosecutor would need to convict him? Why were Hank and Hope declared as fugitives for failing to register a suit that officially no longer existed? Why did Hope become a wanted fugitive? The Feds remained unaware of the Wasp suit and her use of it. And she had played no role in the creation of the Ant-Man suit. Also, the writers did not need the Sokovia Accords as a reason for Scott to face conviction and house arrest. He had violated his parole when he left the country to help Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon and the others. One day, I will write an article on why I regard the Sokovia Accords arc as the biggest pile of shit ever created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But I will add that the story arc made the narrative for "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" occasionally frustrating for me.
"ANT-MAN & THE WASP" suffered from one more flaw. The movie's villains did not strike me as particularly strong. As individual characters, both Sonny Burch and Ava Starr were interesting. They did not strike me as strong adversaries for this movie. Sonny was basically a slick capitalist who wanted to use Hank's technology to bolster his bank account. And his story arc was comedic at best. Although Ava provided plenty of strum and drang in the plot - including her threat to kidnap Cassie Lang and use her to convince Scott to hand over Hank's portable lab. But Ava's goal was fueled by anger at Hank for what happened to her father, and a desperate desire to use his quantum technology. By the end of the film, it took Janet to help stabilize her condition. Although I found both characters interesting, neither was another Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, who had proven to be a more interesting and dangerous character to me.
I certainly had no problems with the film's performances. Abby Ryder Fortson, Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale gave solid performances as Scott's daughter Cassie Lang, his ex-wife Maggie Paxton and the latter's second husband, police officer Jim Paxton. Randall Park gave a funny and sly performance as F.B.I. Special Agent Jimmy Woo (who was a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent), who happened to be Scott's parole officer. Laurence Fishburne proved to be both humorous and enduring as Dr. Bill Foster, Hank's former partner who became Ava's guardian following the deaths of her parents. Both Tip "T.I." Harris and David Dastmalchian were hilarious as Scott's friends and co-owners of the X-Con Security firm, Dave and Kurt. Once again, Michael Peña proved to be a comedic dream as Scott's closest friend, Luis, who proved to be the brainchild of X-Con Security. Harris, Dastmalchian and especially Peña were breathtakingly funny in one scene in which Luis found himself being interrogated by Sonny Burch after being injected with truth serum. That has to be, without a doubt, the funniest scene in any MCU movie I have ever watched.
Michelle Pfieffer was only seen in the film's pre-credit and post-credit scenes, along with at least fifteen minutes of the main narrative. And yet, being the first-rate actress that she is, managed to provide a very poignant performance as the missing Dr. Janet van Dyne aka the former Wasp. Due to the comedic elements of his character, Sonny Burch did not strike me as a particularly memorable villain. But I cannot deny that I found the character very entertaining, thanks to Walton Goggins' smooth and insidious performance that seemed to be punctuated with a good deal of sharp comedy. I have only seen Hannah John-Kamen in at least two other films - "TOMB RAIDER" and "READY PLAYER ONE". While I found her appearance in the latest Lara Croft film rather brief and unmemorable, I was very impressed by her intense performance as one of the villains in "READY PLAYER ONE". In "ANT-MAN & THE WASP", John-Kamen skillfully added a lace of desperation to her intense performance as Ava Starr who frantically tries to get her hands on Hank's quantum lab in order to save her life.
After viewing "ANT-MAN & THE WASP", I think I was more impressed with Michael Douglas' portrayal of Dr. Hank Pym aka the former Ant-Man than I was in the 2015 film. This movie revealed just how emotionally volatile and annoying Hank Pym could be. Douglas did a superb job in exploring Hank's not-so-pleasant personality and at the same time, managed to make him still likable. Evangeline Lilly's portrayal of the film's leading lady Hope van Dyne aka the Wasp struck me as more relaxed in this film than in it was back in 2015. That is understandable, considering that Hope seemed to be in a better place emotionally in her relationship with her father and as the new Wasp. I also happily noticed that Lilly managed to give a more witty, relaxed and elegant performance. I also found her rather funny, thanks to scenes that featured her scenes with Scott at Cassie's school and Luis' drug-enhanced flashbacks during his interrogation by Burch. Paul Rudd was equally funny as the movie's leading man, Scott Lang aka Ant-Man. Rudd brought his usual charm and comic timing to the fore throughout the movie. But he also proved what a truly first-rate actor he can be - especially in one scene in which Janet's spirit took control of his body. He did an excellent job in recapturing Pfieffer's mannerisms and diction without being heavy-handed or obvious.
Overall, I enjoyed "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" very much. My only problems with the film was that it could have used a stronger villain and screenwriters used the Sokovia Accords as part of its narrative, when it was unnecessary. However, "ANT-MAN & THE WASP" featured some great direction by Peyton Reed, excellent performances by a cast led by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, a first-rate family comedy-drama and a very memorable and poignant post-credit scene.