Monday, 16 July 2018

Ant-Man And The Wasp (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), while under house arrest after his actions in Captain America: Civil War, gets a mysterious vision connected to his mentors Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). As he risks further imprisonment to see them, he discovers that this vision may be the key Pym and Van Dyne need to rescue Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Pym's wife, Hope's mother and the original Wasp. As Scott once again prepares to enter the Quantum Realm, new villains lay in wait to take Pym's technology for their own purposes.

After having seen Rudd as one of the least appealing dads on film in Ideal Home, it is quite relieving to see him back in his element like this. Aside from continuing his knack for improv in a few scenes, his character definitions feel more finely-tuned this time around with how he wears the mantle of a hero and a parent. To that end, his scenes opposite Abby Ryder Fortson are downright heart-melting, helped in no small way by Abby’s rather infectious grinning in a few key moments. Add Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale to the equation, and the Lang family makes for one of the more grounded I can recall seeing, especially in a film this stuffed with outright bizarre ideas. On the Pym/Van Dyne side of things, it’s not quite as cheery but equally affecting. Lilly’s expanded role here means that we get a better idea of what we only saw glimpses of back in the first film, allowing for some very solid character moments and some kick-ass action beats once she dons the mantle of the Wasp. Opposite her, Douglas is in prime form, basically taking all of the rather questionable background his character was given on the printed page (and in parts within this film as well) and turns it into an outright deconstruction that is sure to entice older comic readers who have seen Pym’s exploits first-hand.

T.I, David Dastmalchian and Michael Peña get some good moments in as part of Lang’s entourage, with Peña in particular having a lot of fun as part of the size-shifting shenanigans in the action beats. Randall Park gets some decent moments as Lang’s parole officer, even if a certain improved moment between him and Rudd skirts the line between awkward and funny a little too hard in places. Walton Goggins as a black market tech salesman makes for an affable but still effective antagonistic presence, leaving plenty of room for Hannah John-Kamen to add yet another notch on the MCU villain belt. It’s honestly astounding that we’re in the tenth year of this franchise, and with Ghost’s very self-preservation-fuelled motive here, Marvel is still adding fresh ideas into its approach to villains. Same goes for Laurence Fishburne as one of Pym’s former colleagues, not only bringing his talents to a superhero universe that deserves his chops for a change, but also channelling some of Pym and even Ghost’s more dramatic textures to really give the story a push into proper emotional territory.

So, as you can probably tell by the sheer volume of text, this film is already off to a good start with the amazing cast on offer. But what about the production itself? Well, since returning director Peyton Reed isn’t dealing with a film that he was dragged into halfway-through, the end result feels a lot more focused than the first film ultimately did. Not great clashes of tone, nor is there a lingering feeling of someone else’s fingerprints all over the production; it’s a singular vision, one that still shows the same willingness to experiment with the main size-altering concept. While some of the CGI work is a bit wonky, falling short of what should be expected from the MCU by this point, its use is still a great boon for this narrative. The acting scenes feature some serious kinetic thrills in how the use of growing and shrinking is utilized, resulting in a lot of slick, bombastic and frequently funny scenes. Hell, even with certain setbacks with the visuals, the effects used to bring Ghost’s powers to the screen are eerily effective, and the same can be said a thousand-fold for this film’s updated and near-psychedelic depiction of the Quantum Realm. I’d advise that you get used to the word ‘quantum’ because, with this script, you’re going to be hearing it a lot.

Speaking of the script, it seems that we are in full-blown comedy mode with the writer’s room for this one. Along with Paul Rudd providing chunks of his own dialogue once again, and relative newcomers Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari joining in, we have the screenwriting duo of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. McKenna and Sommers’ cinematic track record so far is something to be envied, considering their contributions to the LEGO Batman Movie, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle and even their previous work on the MCU with Spider-Man: Homecoming. These guys know their shit, comically speaking, and that is quite clear within moments of this film starting. All the character banter here, aside from being quite effective on sheer chuckle value, builds on the chemistry of the actors to make for some exceptionally warm, comforting and even tear-jerking exchanges. It strikes a nice balance between pathos and humour, made even better by the smaller touches that dot the narrative landscape here.

For one, the use of Rob Base’s It Takes Two for the trailer to this is quite fitting, considering a number of gags here relating to rather kitsch soundtrack picks. Some of them are more subtle, like a nod to Whitney Houston’s My Name Is Not Susan, while others are more forceful, like the use of the Partridge Family theme as Scott Lang’s character theme. I’d call it saccharine if it didn’t work so damn well. And for another, between the depictions of sleight-of-hand magic tricks and the frequent discussions involving quantum physics and rather heady scientific detail, there’s a definite fascination with quote-unquote “magic” to be found here as well. It’s like they took Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law and ran with it, adding another facet to the MCU’s take on the line between science and magic.

Actually, speaking of the MCU as a whole, that’s probably one of the few niggling points to be found here: Where the hell does this fit into the series? I mean, this is following hot on the heels of Avengers: Infinity War, a film that took an almost Logan-esque turn that is still being felt by audiences right now. To follow that up with a rather kooky, if heart-felt, comedy feels a bit out-of-place… until you start delving a bit deeper into what is going on in this story. Between the impetus for the two titular characters to get involved in the plot and the motive behind what is ostensibly this film’s main villain, this film’s main intent is saving people, be they someone close or even yourself; it’s a tried-and-true superhero staple, but it also highlights an element of optimism that is sorely needed after Infinity War.

We are given a similar description of the Quantum Realm as we got in the first film, one of a place that is impossible to make it back from and one that Scott Lang only managed to escape through sheer happenstance. Of course, achieving the impossible is something of a commonality with these kinds of fantastical characters, and with the earth-shattering note that Infinity War ended on, this film gives the audience a gentle reminder that, even in the most dire of situations, all hope is not lost. Looking at the timeline of the series, and knowing where Phase Three will be going after this point, it fits in surprisingly well and makes it feel like this film exists for a reason beyond just an audience pick-me-up.

All in all, I am genuinely impressed with how much this film manages to get right, especially with how muddled the first Ant-Man turned out. The acting has everyone on their A-game, fleshing out the characters to a point of genuine connection, the visuals keep things interesting through a combination of mostly-efficient CGI and serious creativity behind the scenes, the action beats get the blood pumping in all the right ways, and the writing is funny and even uplifting in places without it ever coming into conflict with itself or with the films that came before this. It’s another solid entry in the franchise, one that feels in-tune with Phase Three’s calling cards as far as production aesthetic is concerned, and it leaves me once again excited to see what comes next.

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