07 August 2018

First Impressions: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Not only did I see Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) extremely late in its run (its 5th week of release), but after seeing it on Sunday I watched Sorry to Bother You (2018) on Monday, which means my brain is all jumbled up. I liked both of these films a lot, and we'll try to keep these impressions to the mild insanity of the former movie and not the full-blown insanity of the latter.

I was first struck by how many people were still in the theater. It was almost a full house on the fifth week of release. Now, the overall theater count is down of course, but people are still seeing this shit. Where its premiere weekend didn't promise that much of a multiplier, it's now outgrossed THOR (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and not to mention its predecessor, Ant-Man (2015). Did you know that people tend to like these movies?

Quite the ANTagonistic relationship
Marvel has packed 2018 with three decent releases in just under five months. We actually have longer to wait until the next one - Captain Marvel (2019) next March. Each of these films has had a distinct flavor. Black Panther (2018) was somehow the most popular, most lauded, and best of the lot, becoming a cultural force on its own. Infinity War (2018) was the grand-daddy (Thanos = Ultimate Daddy) monster blockbuster film, even though its gross ended up shy of Black Panther. I am interested in the emotional investment, though. Black Panther was a politically invested look at the worldwide Black experience as well as a stunning action film with mixes of lost civilization fantasy. Infinity War was an exhausting tome concerning death itself and the balance of the universe. We needed Ant-Man and the Wasp.

See, nothing in this movie really cares about this larger than life stuff. Ironic for a film that mostly concerns size changes. It's a total palette cleanser. Let's just get silly after all this Kingship battling and Universe-ending crap. Let's have giant ants and cardboard tunnel slides with little kids. Hide and seek and shrinking transportable labs. This movie has so much fun with itself, the rules it's made for its little niche in the Marvel Universe and even in the villains it sets against our heroes.

Most importantly, though, this film is filled with what I always look for in a big flick, which is cleverness. The situations, the use of shrinking or enlarging, the action sequences - it's all very clever. It's unexpected. There's an edge to this movie which nails its light-hearted, fun tone to a great degree. It's top to bottom refreshing.

That's not to say there aren't problems. SPOILERS forever from here on out so go out and give more money to Disney if you want to keep reading. Or if you don't care because it doesn't totally matter, keep reading. The weirdest thing this movie does is actually deal with the inconsistent writing in previous outings. Or rather, it doesn't actually deal with any of it. The first Ant-Man's big villain was defeated when Paul Rudd shrank into the Quantum Realm to bust his suit up. However, he was able to return no problem when that was supposedly a Realm no one could return from. The whole point of A-MatW is going to the Quantum Realm to bring back Michelle Pfeiffer, who has been trapped there for thirty years. No one seems to make a big deal about Paul Rudd being able to do it without issue.

Same story for why Hank Pym and his daughter needed Paul Rudd in the first place. Supposedly using the Pym Particles to shrink down over time is hazardous to one's health, so he didn't want to risk his or his daughter's life. No one cares about that anymore and Evangeline Lilly's Wasp is far more capable than Paul Rudd, and Pym himself goes subatomic to bring back his boo. I don't necessarily have a problem with this because who cares, it's kind of a stupid idea in the first place, but it's also the entire rationale for recruiting Rudd. There is a bit in here about needing Rudd's thief skills, maybe a slight retcon, but it ends up a little weird. Like a bad excuse not to have Lilly suit up the first time around. Don't get me wrong, I think saving the Wasp for this film injects it with a lot of distinctive energy and allows the first film to focus solely on Rudd and his journey, but it's all lazy, quasi-anti-woman superhero excuses to get there.

On the same note, the entire basis for this film jumps off of Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) and Paul Rudd's actions against the Sokovia Accords in Germany. For having what feels like a ton of movies since CIVIL WAR this is the first one to really deal with the ramifications of those Accords passing and it's worth exploring. This is a world where superheroes become criminals without falling in line to the government and it's subtle but the constant government intrusion and suspicion makes it clear the film's on Captain America's side. Of course they are.

There are two big questions the movie presents on this subject. One is why the hell did Paul Rudd go help? He didn't really know "Cap" as he calls him now and risked (and paid for) more than many of the other Avengers. More importantly, Evangeline Lilly asks him why he didn't ask her to go. Well, not only did he not know she was the Wasp at that point, but it's also a sly dig at including more women in the greater MCU, and hopefully hints she'll pop up in crossovers to come.

Alright, let's get into this. There are a lot of good tonal things and clever sequences, but somehow it feels both bloated and smaller. The stakes are right where they should be with an Ant-Man movie - Paul Rudd mostly wants to spend time with his daughter but is torn by duties to both his friends/co-workers and mentor / love interest Hank and Hope. All that is grand. There are, however, way too many characters that we are supposed to remember from the first film. You can make plenty of CIVIL WAR references, that's fine, that's a $408 million movie and huge phenomenon. You can't rely on Ant-Man too much. I totally forgot that Judy Greer was even it in. In fact, I still don't quite believe she was. Bobby Cannavale either. Was he a big hugger / Paul Rudd supporter? I have no idea, but he kind of shows up here with some schtick for some reason.

I remember Michael Pena because he's amazing, but definitely forgot that T.I. is in the MCU. I loved how he even wore his hat in classic T.I. fashion. Also while playing an ex-con! Good for you, T.I.! His and David Dalmastchian's characters were definitely entertaining, and I suppose it'd be weird for purists if they were left out, but I'm not sure anyone would care. There were also multiple duplicitous FBI agents (FBI is HYDRA!) and then Ghost and Laurence Fishburne (not a single "Bill Foster looks like Nick Fury" joke?), which I guess existed to give Ghost both the pain of losing both parents while offering her another surrogate father figure? His connection to helping her seemed weak.

You're out of phase! Get in your weird bubble!
Let's get into Ghost. Perhaps the most sympathetic Marvel villain ever, this is a girl literally being torn apart by Quantum Energy. It provides a pretty cool power and backstory, that I'd like to see explored more, and throwing in Fishburne as a random dude trying to help her didn't have a great emotional connection. It all multiplied characters. He could have been an uncle or something. This is another film where the heroes are able to find some sympathy and solve their villains' plight through compassion rather than a beatdown, which is again, clever and refreshing. And she's not cocky or evil - just angry and selfish, perhaps righteously so considering her constant pain and impending death. We probably needed a scene where Hank Pym is confronted for his role in discrediting her father, instead of blowing him off as a "Traitor" but the film doesn't really have time for that.

Speaking of Hank Pym, we need an 80s movie bad starring Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer as the original Ant-Man and the Wasp. Marvel keeps showing off their age reduction technology and while these two are good, Laurence Fishburne, holy shit. That was good. Pfeiffer definitely isn't used as much as she should have been - I'm not even going to ask how she survived in the Quantum Realm for thirty years alone or what freaky powers she picked up. I'd like to the see the angle of Hank's hubris developed a bit more, after all, in the comics he was the one who made Ultron. That was a big boo-boo.

The last angle is Walton Goggins and you might be sitting there thinking what the hell is with all these conflicting parties, and yeah, this movie is mostly each group at different points chasing after the same whatever or whatever. It's like they keep bopping in and out of the film with different angles of attack and each characters has their own little thing. Goggins specializes in black market technology trades, and I can see a connection with Michael Keaton's Vulture one day. Trivia alert: Michael Keaton's real name is Michael Douglas, but he had to change it because of Hank Pym - that'd be a fun movie!

Finallly, Paul Rudd, who is reliably amazing and doesn't have the ego to center the movie around himself. He asks almost meta questions at times ("Do you guys just put the word 'Quantum' in front of everything to make it sound more scientific?") and does a nice job playing both the straight man during the crazier moments and the doof during the more serious moments. There's even a bit of Kafka when he's replaced by a giant ant. This movie is weird.

In general I liked this flick a lot, there are a ton of issues, clearly, but it gives such a good feeling that it's easy to ignore those issues and just enjoy the film. The ending I think paves the way for Time Travel in Avengers 4: Avengers in Time (2019) and we'll fucking see where that shit goes. Until then, enjoy Aquaman (2018) you bastards!

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