July 2, 2018

CINEMA | 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' Magnifies Silly Antics

"Who are you and why do you know so much about car wash protocol?"
Paul Rudd Evangeline Lilly Peyton Reed | Ant-Man and the Wasp

Tune into our audio review of Ant-Man and the Wasp on Episode 172 of the Vertical Viewing Podcast (available on iTunes) where we also discuss the latest in pop culture with regular co-hosts Scott Willson, Jared Sargent, and Michael Lynd. (1h17)

What's most refreshing and appealing about the first Ant-Man and now it's sequel is how different and weird they feel in comparison to other Marvel Studios fare. Director Peyton Reed and star/co-writer Paul Rudd return to a fairly standalone comic feature exploring territory largely outside recent Avengers happenings and serving its own clearly defined lower stakes goals.

Most welcome is a very badass Evangeline Lilly's firm ascent to superhero status as The Wasp after being self-awarely cast aside despite being the rightful and qualified heir to her father Hank Pym, who are both now fugitives played by a still gruff but fun Michael Douglas, and his size-altering technology. How Rudd's jokey Scott and Lilly's serious Hope play off each other is seldom not entertaining only enhanced by their now battling side-by-side as superhero partners.

The film's place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe largely revolves around the aftermath of Scott's involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War. He's under house arrest while trying to co-parent his young daughter Cassie—still played by the impossibly adorable Abby Ryder Fortson. The large focus on daily parenthood and their father/daughter bond is a nice elixir to the rest of the MCU's more dramatic paternal consequences.

As for the rather surprising already deep bench of Ant-Man supporting players, Michael Peña's Luis continues to be a scene stealer as his further developed storytelling and hyper-surreal monologuing gags, jovial demeanour, and wide-eyed antics really brighten up the film's narrative momentum. Both Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale also provide some extra comic balance grounding Scott's family life and his Ant-Man alter ego.

Paul Rudd Evangeline Lilly Peyton Reed | Ant-Man and the Wasp

New this time around, Randall Park as Lang's FBI Agent handler is ever so delightful. His comic energy with Rudd, their gags about doing close-up magic, and awkward dialogue are never not a highlight in between all the film's organized chaos. This is where Reed's talents for balancing character performances, naturalistic comedy, and visually interesting yet sensible action come together to make most of the inconsequential events flourish on the screen.

As for the rest of the large cast, Walton Goggins as a low-level arms dealer adds some punch, but he's largely a tool of the troublesome villain dynamics—there are no less than three separate sets of antagonists. Hannah John-Kamen plays the main physical villain of Ghost with murky matter-fading powers, but her reveal and role in the greater plot ultimately feel of little consequence. Her quest and resolution make for little eventual sense and really only serve to complicate Scott's life and motivate Hope and Hank's journey to save their mom/wife Janet and original Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the overly complicated Quantum Realm.

It should be remarked how little Pfieffer is in the film. She's an undoubted treat but she's barely used to effect. Most of her interactions are done through CGI de-aging flashbacks and Pudd's own comic interpretations. Furthermore, Laurence Fishburne is also somewhat regulated to a wasted plot point role that gets somewhat complicated and confusing. His character as Pym's old partner could have easily been simplified and/or cast with a much less notable or established actor.

What makes Ant-Man and the Wasp so enjoyably refreshing, like its predecessor, is both its focus on smaller scale silly humour first and the low-stakes nature of its superhero action. Its modest but amusing aims let the characters showcase some inventive and playful entertainment. Rudd continues to be an appealing reluctant superhero now more competently aided by Lilly's awesome physicality.

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