If there’s one thing that Marvel Studios do best, it’s casting. Arguably, the entire franchise may not be where it is right now if Robery Downey Jr had not been given the now-iconic role of Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man, but it seems like every major casting decision they’ve made has been perfect. A few years ago I couldn’t have imagined an actor like Paul Rudd fitting in anywhere in the Marvel cinematic universe, but then along came Ant-Man, completely putting that notion to rest.
There may be a fair amount of people who don’t like Paul Rudd, but I bet those are few and far between. His goofy, everyman personality type makes him the kind of guy you could enjoy throwing back a few beers with, and easily the character that most audiences of this movie will identify with. Scott Lang, the character originally created by David Michelinie and John Byrne in this two part story from 1979,
seems tailor-made for an actor like Rudd. A noble character with a selfless goal, Lang stole Pym’s Ant Man costume as part of an effort to save his daughter Cassie’s life. No lofty world-saving ambitions, no billions of dollars, no enhanced physical powers, the Lang of the comics successfully translated to the screen in 2015’s Ant-Man, after some years of development hell, and while I thought the script needed some work, it was a breath of fresh air for the Marvel cinematic universe, which has become as consumed with BIG STUFF as the comic books have.
This time around, Lang is on the verge of completing a two year house arrest for his part in Captain America:Civil War when he is recruited into assisting Henry Pym and his daughter Janet Van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, reprising their roles) into rescuing the original Wasp, played here by Michelle Pfeiffer, from a mysterious sub-molecular dimension known as the Quantum Realm, but which existed in the comics universe as Sub-Atomica (the Hulk visited it a number of times). In order to do this, Pym and Van Dyne have been assembling a device from parts purchased by Sonny Burch, an oily businessman played by The Shield‘s Walton Goggins, who has put two and two together and sees a way to make big money from whatever they’re building. Further compounding the problem is a new character who wants the tech for her own personal use.
This story is my biggest problem with the movie. While I’ve complained numerous times about the boilerplate content of many of the Marvel movies (the first Ant Man included), there was a mostly strong central conflict that directly related to the main character. Here in Ant-Man and The Wasp, the central conflict is between Pym, Van Dyne and the two parties who stand in the way of their goal. Lang/Ant-Man’s role in the movie is essentially to be hired help. This is not to say that he isn’t involved in any action – he’s involved in most of it – but the lack of focus I’m referring to is that the central motivation is owned by the other characters in the movie – in the fight scenes, it’s both the movie’s female characters that are the more accomplished fighters too. It’s a relatively minor quibble, and it in no way spoiled the movie, but this aspect and some of the weaker elements contributed to me knocking a half point from my review score.
The weak spots are mostly to do with the minor characters in the movie, notably Dave and Kurt, on the side of the good guys, and pretty much all of the bad guys who never at any point seem competent enough to actually be the bad guys. At best, these characters are filler in between the action and comedy bits, at worst, they’re negated by the more compelling threat, visuals and story of the character the good guys refer to as Ghost. This was one of the elements of the movie I loved. The costume is terrific looking, the visuals were excellent, and the character’s powers made for a number of well put together action scenes – and to be a guy for a minute, Hannah John-Kamen is drop-dead gorgeous as the unfortunate Ava/Ghost. I enjoyed this character every time she appeared onscreen, and while director Peyton Reed’s grasp of shooting fight choreography doesn’t match the Russo Brothers, these scenes are fun to watch.
I think I covered the bases of the things that didn’t completely work for me, but there are lots of things I enjoyed here. Rudd’s performance is typical of what he delivers, and the scenes he plays against his precocious daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston) are sweet and sincere. Randall Park plays Jimmy Woo, an FBI agent assigned to the Lang/Pym/Van Dyne case – he’s determined to catch ’em all for violating the “Sokovia Accords” put in place after Avengers: Age of Ultron that led to the events of Civil War. Woo is a comic relief character, typical of the incompetent lawman that keeps getting the runaround from the good guys, but Park is a funny presence and a couple of his scenes with Rudd are amusing, the best of which is an awkward parting scene towards the end of the movie.
But the biggest star of all are in the effects. Not only does Marvel continue to excel in digitally de-ageing the stars, they exploit to great effect the movie’s size-changing story feature. While much of the written gags fall flat, or raise a smile at best, the visual gags come thick and fast and lead to almost all of the movie’s actually funny parts. There are tons of them, and all of them are really well done to the point where I wanted to see more of them.
The movie also contains a subject that’s of intense interest to me – the actual, real-world attraction of Morrissey’s music to the Latin community. A couple of Morrissey-based ringtones appear in the movie, and in one pretty funny scene Michael Pena explains why Latinos love Morrissey so much. I still don’t get it, and never will, but to see that in a movie amused me to no end.
I’ll end on another guy note – Hanna John-Kamen might be gorgeous, but Evangeline Lilly somehow transcends that description. Every time she appears in a scene, that’s the direction I was looking in, and while the Wasp costume is mostly just a serviceable copy of Ant-Man’s, and missing the kind of individualistic design choices that was a huge part of the Wasp’s character in the comics, she looked terrific in it – but then I have a thing for women in costumes, and I don’t mind saying it!
© Andrew Hope, 2018