By Barry Neenan
Ant-Man and the Wasp. Does it need to exist? This is the MCU, that’s the wrong question to ask. Is it entertaining? Yes! The Ruddtastic adventure delivers again on comedy, but more surprisingly, this little film hides some big emotion.
[Ed: great, prerequisite size joke out of the way. proceed.]
AM&tW picks up in the wake of Civil War; as passingly mentioned in Infinity War, Scott Lang (and also Hawkeye) entered a plea deal with the US government, scoring some sweet house arrest action on the basis that their houses are where their children live. The film opens on Lang and his easily-best-part-of-the-first-film friend Luis (the wonderful Michael Peña) entertaining Lang’s daughter. I’m gonna be honest with you, here. I usually hate saccharine stuff, but if this film was just two hours of Paul Rudd being a good dad, it would still receive a glowing review.
However, plot happens. We’re also reacquainted with Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, and his daughter Evangeline Lilly, played by herself. Although they too are suffering legal consequences over Civil War, they think they can finally find wife, mother, original Wasp and actually did you know founding member of the Avengers in the comics for the love of god just let her be in a movie, Janet van Dyne. With Lang in tow, they set to pull Janet from the cosmic kaleidoscope to which she was banished in 1989.
Like its predecessor, this movie is big on comedy. The action is certainly up to standard – Wasp’s fight scenes are always a joy – but the film leans heavily on jokes to keep the rhythm breezy. The cast serves this beautifully. The returning actors have all settled into their roles, and the newcomers are very fun. Laurence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer are wonderful additions to any ensemble, Randall Park’s long-suffering Agent Woo is an unexpected favourite, and Hannah John-Kamen absolutely nails her part.
The weakest character, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), is just a starter villain who sticks around like a rude houseguest. It’s hard to care too much about his mercenary Southern vibes when the infinitely better Yondu Udonta already hit the same beats. But Burch lands some solid jokes, his motivation works (he would like lots of money), and he adds a bit of villainous kick to an otherwise wholesome cast.
Because that’s what really grabbed me about Ant-Man and the Wasp: its “villain”. Twenty movies into the MCU, and this is the first time I was actively rooting for the antagonist.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’ve loved previous MCU villains like the Vulture and Killmonger and Loki. But as much as I enjoyed their characters, I wasn’t heartbroken when they failed to steal Tony’s leftovers/incite a global race war/do whatever it is Loki wants. But this antagonist is exactly that: an antagonist, not a villain. Someone who opposes the heroes for very, very valid reasons. I genuinely wanted her to succeed, and felt genuine suspense about her fate.
A common problem with this kind of movie is the metatextual knowledge that everything will be alright by the end – Paul Rudd, for instance, needs to make it to the upcoming blockbuster, Untitled Avengers Film. Presenting a character with an understandable, desperate need to survive – one that was in actual danger of failing – elevated this film beyond the zany comedy it set out to be. For me, at least. Also she has a cool costume. Can’t underestimate that.
It’s not a perfect film. Kansas-raised David Dastmalchian growling out a ludicrous Eastern European accent was, once again, something the movie didn’t exactly need. I remember finding the first film funnier, even if I have a lower opinion of it overall. But this movie delivers a stronger emotional core and a far better antagonist, so I’d say it’s a trade up. Overall, it does its job and then some.
If you enjoyed the previous installment, want to see an MCU movie that does things a little differently, or are just tiding yourself over until Round Two with that bloody purple git, Ant-Man and the Wasp will make for a fine evening’s viewing.
Something, something… ants.