Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Shrunken to the size of carpenter ants, Ant-Man and the Wasp team up to fight evil and discover the quantum realm.

You know that old saying? “Good things come in small packages.” Well, this could not be further from the truth for Ant-Man and the Wasp, the sequel to Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man. Most of the unique identity from the first movie has been stripped away, leaving behind a bland, generic comedy movie that shares all the same problems of other Hollywood-produced comedies. After a string of auteur-driven movies, it is disheartening to see Marvel fall back on old storytelling habits.

This is easily the worst MCU movie since Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2.

Ant-Man and the Wasp expands from the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, as Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is on the last few days of his house arrest. After experiencing a strange dream, Scott is reunited with Hope Van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), as they attempt to enter the quantum realm and locate Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hope’s long-lost mother.

The movie features three different villains, and all of them are terrible. Firstly, there is Ava Starr/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a woman suffering from molecular instability who wants to steal Dr. Pym’s technology to save her own life. Secondly, there is Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black market merchant who wants to steal Dr. Pym’s technology to make a big profit. Finally, there is Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), an FBI agent in charge of making sure Scott abides by his house arrest.

Let me begin by saying that I am officially sick of superhero crossovers. What little hope I had after watching Infinity War has now completely dissolved with Ant-Man and the Wasp. Characters make such a big deal out of Scott’s involvement in Civil War, calling him selfish and egotistical for helping Captain America without telling anyone else. Yet if I think back to the events of Civil War, Ant-Man was only in a 15-minute fight scene at an empty airport. It was a brief cameo at best, and yet they’ve used this minor event as the cause of Scott’s main conflict: fighting off Ghost, or staying at home to avoid a jail sentence.

I spent the beginning of the movie trying to understand why Scott was under house arrest, and the rest of the movie wondering why this was even a part of the story at all.

But beyond its silly story premise, my main objection comes from the way Ant-Man and the Wasp applies its comedy. Unlike the first Ant-Man, action and comedy are kept completely separate. There is zero visual comedy, and all of its humour is delivered through shot-reverse-shot dialogue. This results in a movie of talking heads, where all the scenes blend together and almost none of them stand out.

The excessive amount of dialogue also bleeds into the science fiction. Dr. Pym and Hope spout a whole lot of technobabble throughout the movie: quantum this, quantum that. At one point, Scott even addresses this pattern in a joke: “Do you just stick ‘quantum’ in front of every word?” But poking fun at the sci-fi jargon doesn’t diminish how boring the exposition is listen to. Technobabble inherently makes for bad science fiction because it only confuses and alienates viewers, and it is no less disaffecting here.

Technobabble also generally results in a chain of fetch quests. Get the quantum defractor! Now get to the molecular stabilizer! Ant-Man and the Wasp reduces its story to a series of destinations, leaving no room for any tension, build-up or rising action. A good story depends on dramatic scenes to set the stakes, connecting different points in our journey so that they work together on a logical and emotional level. Instead, we get a nonsensical, disjointed mess.

I was right in my Infinity War review when I wrote that Marvel was only interested in making “cinematic crossovers with lazy, disjointed plots that say nothing of substance.” Ant-Man and the Wasp is a demonstration of yet another Marvel movie dependent on the charm of its lead actors and the cultural relevance of their fictional heroes to carry their lousy movie. There are no real stakes or compelling conflict, just random occurrences that change the story on a superficial level.

After spending the entire story drumming up a life-or-death situation for Ghost, the movie ends with, I kid you not, a deus ex machina where one character magically solves the problem by channeling quantum energy through her fingertips. All that anticipation… for this? What a waste of time.

For all of its faults, I thought the first Ant-Man was a fun superhero flick. Marvel originally brought on distinctive filmmaker Edgar Wright to write and direct Ant-Man. But due to creative differences, Wright left the project. At the time, I felt that the movie still succeeded in spite of his departure. Only now do I realize how much of an impact he had on the movie.

In place of Wright, Marvel enlists Peyton Reed to helm the production of Ant-Man and its sequel. Best known for directing half-baked comedies like Yes Man, Bring It On and The Break-Up, Reed was likely asked to deliver a mediocre product that would placate a mass audience. With Ant-Man and the Wasp, Reed displays the limits of his creativity: one-note characters, exaggerated performances, and inconsistent pacing.

The biggest difference between the first and second movie is its sense of generic identity. Ant-Man was more than just a superhero comedy; it was a heist movie. Good heist movies are a lot like a good joke; they require a proper set-up, execution and payoff in order for the whole scheme to work. Without this deliberate structure, you get a lifeless movie where the punchlines don’t land and the payoff feels cheap.

But comedies are a dime a dozen. Financially, they are cheap to produce, easy to market, and unlikely to flop. Even if they fail as a story, mainstream audiences will likely enjoy a comedy if it is mildly charming. Likewise, Ant-Man and the Wasp has received moderate success and passable reviews. Had this been a Judd Apatow movie, this film would fly through my radar undetected. Too unremarkable to be good, too serviceable to be bad.

This isn’t some dumb chick flick though, it’s a sequel to a superhero movie with a lot of room to grow. Unfortunately, for all its potential, the only element they manage to improve on is Evangeline Lilly’s haircut.

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Either the most honest movie critic in the universe, or the least intelligent philosopher.

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Posted in Film and TV Reviews

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