July 05, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Them!

Grade: B –
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, and Michelle Pfeiffer
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Ant-Man and the Wasp registers as a slight, but otherwise witty diversion amid the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As complimentary as that may sound, it’s the same curve used to grade Thor: Ragnarok. And Guardians of the Galaxy. And certain elements of Spider-Man: Homecoming. And the first Ant-Man. The quirky exceptions in the MCU have become the norm, and as has we learned with Guardians Vol. 2, droll diversions that don’t develop a sensible, substantive underpinning flounder when stripped of their sense of discovery.

Director Peyton Reed returns for Ant-Man and the Wasp, this time aided by five credited screenwriters who notably don’t include Edgar Wright (unlike Ant-Man). The mishmash plot feels both busy and barren, erected around a standard four-pronged framework: good guys, bad guys (who aren’t truly bad), the cops, and the foil. Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), wife of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and mother to Hope (Evangeline Lilly), was lost in the Quantum Realm decades ago, and now the good guys wants to find and free her. They reluctantly enlist the help of erstwhile Ant-Man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who apparently mind-melded or whatever with Janet when he drifted into the Quantum Realm during the last movie.

The “bad” gal is Ava Foster, aka Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who lost her parents as a child during a science accident that also left her afflicted with an ultimately fatal ability to phase through objects and dimensions. The U.S. government previously conscripted Foster as a kid into a life working as an espionage assassin, a past we learn via montage even though it’s really the movie we’d far rather see.

Foster wants a cure, with the help of an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist (Laurence Fishburne), and her plan involves draining healing power from the Quantum Realm even if it kills Janet, though as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious to everyone except Foster that if she just waits literally a minute or two, both aims could be accomplished.

The cops are around only because they’re trying to catch Lang violating the two years of house arrest he’s serving for violating the Sokovia Accords back in Avengers: Civil War. Like much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, this is a cute subplot that quickly become wearisome, a description that also applies to our foil, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black market widget dealer whose function in this narrative menagerie is specious and unnecessary.

Oh, there are also Lang’s workmates, who’d only clutter matters more if not for Michael Peña’s Luis, whose rapidfire repartee and oddball non sequiturs steal every scene and better suit Reed’s farcical sensibilities.

The rest of the film comprises a series of zippy action sequences built around the eponymous heroes, whose powers to shrink and enlarge both themselves and any other object now seem devoid of rules and limitations, besides Lang’s constantly malfunctioning suit. Hope is now the Wasp, inheriting her wingsuit from mom, but unlike Lang’s gradual indoctrination to heroism that formed the spine of Ant-Man, Hope is already busily bustling around at the start of this sequel.

It’s refreshing that there isn’t an infinity stone in sight or people vaporizing into ash (well, if you stick around long enough …). While the film is breezy and light, it never feels like much is really at stake, and the kooky caper that remains seems stitched together. Ant-Man and the Wasp still generates buzz, but it doesn’t have much sting.