Ant-Man and The Wasp
Edwin Arnaudin: Unlike me, you’re a fan of Ant-Man (2015). Not that we peasants have much say in the Marvel Studios decision-making process, but did you enjoy it enough to want a sequel?
Bruce Steele: I did. Ant-Man was a joy to watch because of its abundant and good-natured humor and its willingness to tell a (forgive me) smaller tale outside the demands of Marvel’s typical “save the universe” over-reach. And it had a terrific cast — not just the leads, but the comic support crew as well. The sequel reaffirms all those assets and adds a couple interesting new characters.
Edwin: The humor rarely connected with me in Ant-Man, a shortcoming I attribute to the script retaining enough DNA from original helmer Edgar Wright that it clashed with its “fixers” — Adam McKay (Anchorman) and Paul Rudd, who also stars as ex-con Scott Lang — under new director Peyton Reed (Yes Man). The surprisingly basic (for such a weird premise) origin story out of the way, Ant-Man and The Wasp is free to be weird in the quirky world of unusually-sized heroes and accessories. A new writing team helps, but I’m a bit shocked at how much better I like everyone this time around.
Bruce: Part of that may be your own freedom from the baggage you brought to the first movie, but I can sympathize with origin-story exhaustion. There’s no such impediment to introduction of Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as The Wasp: Set up in a tag during Ant-Man’s credits, she’s off and flying from the get-go in this film. Not that A&W is free of back story: The plot involves a quest by miniaturization inventor Hank (Michael Douglas) to rescue his long-lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the so-called Quantum Realm. Did this foray into parental history remind you of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2?
Edwin: That gleeful sequel did not come to mind, oddly enough, though A&W feels similarly on its own creative wavelength. In tandem with that mission — which, like its predecessor, refreshingly lacks the traditional MCU “world in peril” trappings you mentioned — are the efforts of the frequently intangible and invisible Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, Ready Player One) to steal Hank’s tech in hopes of curing her “ailment.” Resembling an untethered Star Wars hologram, she comes and goes, blinking in and out of vision through remarkable special effects and sinister actions and sounds that initially spooked me a bit. Were you also a little shaken and in awe?
Bruce: I thought Ghost was a fine addition to all this quantum nonsense. One thing I like about the Ant-Man movies is that they’re so very comic book-ish, without even a nod to the absurdity of the pseudo-science: Giant or tiny people with their voices unchanged but their masses magically altered to fit their size; people reduced to a sub-atomic scale and aging there for decades without sustenance; a multi-story building that’s shrunken and bounced around without any harm to what’s inside; tiny cars on tiny wheels that somehow drive as fast as the full-size cars chasing them. It’s utter silliness, with no rules at all except for those needed to tell the story. Into that realm of endless possibility steps the ever-phasing, often immaterial Ghost — who also fills the welcome role of the bad guy who might not be all bad.
Edwin: The expository dialogue of her backstory is about the only thing here that feels stale, but it makes sense within the narrative and I’m not sure there’s a better way to introduce that information. Like Black Panther’s Killmonger, she has sympathetic aims, leaving the more straightforward villainy to black market dealer Sonny Birch (Walton Goggins, acting like Tomb Raider never happened), though he rarely feels like a true threat. Toss in the humor of FBI Agent Woo (Randall Park, The Interview) always being one step behind Scott, Hope and Hank, and the momentum remains pretty constant. Were there any bumps along the way for you?
Bruce: As you might have guessed, I could have done without the end-credit tag scenes that drags this popcorn pleasure into the dreary fake future of Infinity War. But at least we got a real Stan Lee cameo, and the end-credit dioramas are Hereditary-worthy. On the down side, you’re right that Sonny never really feels like a threat, and the midichlorian magic connecting Hope’s lost mom to Ghost’s suffering was almost a suspension of disbelief too far. But taking Ant-Man and The Wasp too seriously is a mistake, so I went with the flow and enjoyed the ride. I also enjoyed the 3D, which for once seemed a conscious effort even in some static scenes and never became too dim or too nauseating. Would you recommend the upcharge?
Edwin: I would! As with the similarly worthy Doctor Strange, the wealth of unusual items in motion benefit from extra depth better than the average action flick detritus. What’s not to like about a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser flipping in slow motion at an unsuspecting motorcycle thug?
Bruce: Indeed! 3D also enhances the constant visual gags from size differentials. Would you agree that A&W is a family-friendly superhero movie? Scott’s close bond with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) is sweet and nicely played, and the violence is mostly of the punching and Taser variety. I don’t think anyone gets killed except Ghost’s parents, in a flashback.
Edwin: It’s pretty tame in that regard and I don’t recall the language being all that salty, either. So, yes, slap one of those gold Family Approved ribbons from value-touting ‘90s VHS covers on it and bring the kiddies! I’ve already sent honorary Movie Guy Kenny a text to say I think he and his AMG-in-training son Lucas will have a blast with it. There’s so much visual and verbal entertainment that parents and children alike should be captivated. Sounds like a B-plus for me.
Bruce: Agreed. It’s silly fun and maintains a tone of wide-eyed enjoyment throughout, something I feel like Rudd tries to do in a lot of his movies and doesn’t always succeed at. But his man-boy charms are perfectly matched to the unassuming, uncomplicated Ant-Man. Lilly, whose Hope is a tad cynical and bossy, and tougher than Scott, makes a good foil. They still seem like party-crashers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a bit like the new Spider-Man, minus the teen angst. Given how overheated and self-serious the MCU has become, Ant-Man and The Wasp is a blast of cool fresh air. I also give it a B-plus.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos: Walt Disney Studios)