Ant Man and the Wasp Film Review
More B movie than Ant movie
Ant Man and The Wasp (dir. Peyton Reed) fits into a peculiar tradition in American movies today: the resurgence of the 50s-style science fiction B movie. Go back some 60 years and you’ll recognise the same mumbo jumbo science of The Fly (1958), expeditions into unknown fantasy realms ala Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and giant, insectile creatures straight out of Them! (1954), which the Ant Man sequel, written by pop culture-trigger-happy Chris Mckenna among others (incl. the movie’s star, Paul Rudd), directly references by having it play on TV.
A couple of weeks back we had the ludicrously hackneyed science-gone-wrong plot of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and before that the low-budget hit emphasising nuclear family values A Quiet Place (2018). It makes sense Marvel would lead the trend’s influence. In the 40s and the 50s, movie studios like Warner Brothers, Fox Studios and the monster movie specialty studio Monogram Pictures, were used like brand names to sell their products, exactly the way Marvel does now. Audiences knew what they were going to get with a new release when it was branded this way, and the studios pushed directorial anonymity, leaving creative control to the production companies and hiring big stars to sell the hokey dialogue and plots.
The best things about Ant Man and the Wasp are its somewhat-self-aware sendups of the ancient genre, but it’s constantly bogged down by callbacks to other Marvel entries, feeling like a tiny, barely significant piece in a giant puzzle that’ll never get finished.
The core plot of the film has a likable, fittingly 50s B movie setup: Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is stuck in a place called the Quantum Realm, and Scott Lang (Rudd) must again suit up as Ant-Man and rescue her. He’s been there before, he knows that this place, which one reaches when they shrink themselves down to a subatomic level and cannot again grow to normal size, is not a safe place to be.
For a movie that spends a good hour or so setting up the idea of the Quantum Realm and what it’s like and how dangerous it is to be in there, they spend a remarkably short time in it. When Scott and Janet’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and her husband Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) devise the technology to revisit the realm and rescue Janet, the movie cuts away the moment we enter the realm.
The rest of the movie is spent with a plot tie-in from the Captain America: Civil War (2016) movie which has Scott under house arrest, trying his best to be a good dad while his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) spends weekends with him in elaborate cubby houses. These scenes are filler and padding, which only work because, like all the magnetic screen stars from the genre films of the 50s, the lead actor is so effortlessly captivating. The script plays up Rudd’s talents as a singer and musician, having him play drums, sing karaoke and practice misdirection through magic. Rudd is so limber, gracefully goofy, naturally funny and willing that you get distracted from the loose plot.
The fight scenes involving Hope as The Wasp and a ghostly, particle-tearing kind-of-villain named Ava (Hannah John Karmen) flirt with the idea of a shrinking winged superhero vs one that can walk through walls, but they mostly just kick and throw each other across rooms. Ava and her father Dr Bill Foster (Lawrence Fishburne) kidnap Hope, Scott and Hank to steal the subatomic particle technology for themselves, while Sonny Burch, a slimy villain whose primary characteristic is that he likes money (Walton Goggins), leads Scott in a chase across town while Scott’s suit malfunctions and he performs tasks at awkwardly inappropriate sizes.
Like any good studio, Marvel allows its lesser properties restricted creative freedom, flexing the budget on visual effects and skimping on in-camera action scenes. The chase scenes, with an overgrown Scott manipulating a truck through city streets, emphasise the kitsch-y novelty, playing up gags like showing a quiet restaurant contrasting with the minor madness outside. There’s a few shots of crowds scattering, but mostly the car chase is achieved with interior shots—when you get a glimpse of the surroundings, cars are driving along the street as though nothing is happening and faceless pedestrians are minding their own business. The biggest movie studio in the world is only going to cordon off streets for epic action setpieces when it really counts, not for Ant Man.
Even ten years on it’s still interesting to see Marvel flirt with genres in their epic line-up of superhero movies, but each one of them suffers from its obligations to the continuity of tone and plot in the franchise. Ant Man and the Wasp is the right kind of movie to borrow from an older genre, I just wish it could’ve grown up enough to break from its Marvel constraints.
Feature image via wall.alphacoders.com/