Friday, July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Makes Superhero Movies Feel Good Again

Ant-Man and the Wasp movie review
Since Avengers: Infinity War left us in an exhausted heap of feels, Marvel offered their least suspected characters to cleanse our palate after everything changed with a snap of Thanos's figures. Surprisingly, against the odds that one of the Avengers' smallest heroes could fill in the summer gap, that's exactly what Ant-Man and the Wasp does: pick up the pieces from Infinity War's devastating wake and gear us up for the next leg in the Avengers' recovery with Captain Marvel in 2019.

Starting where we left off in Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) have rekindled their relationship and are determined to return to the quantum realm to find their long-lost matriarch Janet (Michelle Pfieffer). However, in the two years since Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) sided with Captain America in Captain America: Civil War to fight Iron Man over the Accords, he made a plea deal and was put on house-arrest to avoid going to jail. Brought in to help Hank and Hope on their quest, they're on the run from the FBI, and together, they must race against time and a new form of Ant-Man called the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who is hellbent on stealing their new quantum technology.

Similar to Guardians of the Galaxy rallying up misfits around the universe, Ant-Man became a bit of an anomaly three years ago, bringing Paul Rudd into the Marvel franchise as a superhero that hadn't amassed the same popularity a la Iron-Man or Captain America. Defying expectations, one wouldn't necessarily think a superhero that shrinks down to the size of an insect and uses ants for sidekicks would work, yet the movie's heartwarming father-daughter relationships, snarkiness, corny running jokes, and stunning special-effects helped Scott Lang and his quirky friends create his own little cult of fans who love this bombastic world.

Building off of the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp packs in the jokes, brings on the action, and puts the fun-back-into-dysfunctional family. If you wanted more of Scott and Hope (Casey, Hank, Luis, etc), this film has everything: a well-rounded villain, a script to make you laugh, cry, and yes, fear for the inevitable moment for how this story connects to Infinity War, Luis's hilarious telephone monologues, enough life-size ants to creep you out and want to make them your messed-up dogs, mystifying layers to what exists within the quantum realm, and tender moments between Hank/Hope/Janet and Scott/Casey/Maggie/Jim that'll break your heart and put it back together again (rinse and repeat).

As much as Scott might be the intentional focus, and Rudd charms with his Scott's bumbling goodnatured choices that always backfire on him, this journey is also much more of an ensemble film. It gives familiar and new faces a chance to shine in their own way -Michael Douglas has more grumpy, charming energy than ever before; Michael Pena slays with his sincere naivety; Randall Park knocks it out of the park as the quirky FBI agent on Scott's tail; Michelle Pfeffier makes an emotional, divine long-awaited appearance as Janet.

Most of all though, way before Captain Marvel releases in 2019, the movie gives its heroine Hope enough of the reigns that this could be considered the first flick for a female superhero in the MCU. The story essentially revolves around her and Hank doing everything they can to reunite her with her mom, and Scott's brought into the fold of what they want versus the other way around. She's a fierce, vulnerable, smart, protective, and proactive character whose independence and love for her family is as much a part of her as her off-and-on again romance with Scott;  their partnership lets them get on each other's nerves, flirt, protect and save each other. Like everyone in the cast, but as the leads, Rudd and Lily have a wonderful annoyed-but-in-love-with-each-other chemistry that makes them one of the MCU's funnest relationships and characters.

And as for the newer faces, the director Peyton Reed took advantage of Hank's dejected apprentice Yellowjacket seeking power in the first film to go in a different direction with this villain. The Ghost (aka Ava Starr) joins Marvel's newest phase of antagonists who are more like people with agendas you can't necessarily argue is wrong (like Killmonger in Black Panther) rather than pure bad guys who are evil for evil's sake. The comic book character's originally male, and refreshingly, they cast a woman instead. She has layers and oomph that lets Hannah John-Kamen give it her all in an awesome breakout  role - the likes of which I wish I had someone like her on-screen growing up.

If I could think of some flaws for Marvel's twentieth movie, it'd probably be that in classic Marvel fashion, the third act does drag on a bit longer - as they all do - as the villains weave together against our heroes in a long highly-choreographed action scene. As well, the story does eventually collide with Infinity War. If you know how that ended, you're probably not blindly walking into the possibilities of what could happen in Ant-Man and the Wasp. That said, this movie takes you on such an entertaining adventure, and ends on such a cathartic high note, if you want to savor the experience and not go crazy for another eight months until the next Avengers movie, you'd be smart to skip out before the end credits. To be honest, the post-credits scene feel thrown into an otherwise great story and it's not Marvel's best cliffhanger. If you stay to watch it, you will risk feeling like this sequel's deceiving you by taking away from a family experience that's so rewarding and fun.

To his advantage, Ant-Man and his friends have the awkward, lucky privilege of being far enough outside of the Avengers to be its own thing, yet close enough to the Infinity War battle that you want to see how the two connect. Honestly, Ant-Man and the Wasp manages to pull off that balance. It takes you back into the familial, snarky world you love to be the sarcastic, goodhearted, wild adventure that's exactly what you need not only to have a good time at the movies, but like pre-Thanos's bid for world domination Black Panther, also serve a nice reminder that some of these superhero movies can still keep things light and fresh; make you laugh, cry, and honestly, feel a little bigger than life itself.

Rating: ★
Have you seen Ant-Man and the Wasp? What did you think?

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