Thoughts on ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’

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Past entries:
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger

The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Thor: Ragnarok

Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War

After the intensity of Infinity War, a bit of a breather seemed called for; something to lighten the mood. Besides, we had to learn what Ant-Man and Pyms were getting up to.

Following the events of Civil War, Scott Lang cut a deal with the government to serve his sentence on house arrest so that he could at least be with his family. However, his actions exposed Hank Pym’s research to the world, and under the terms of the Sokovia Accords, that meant they had to turn it over to the UN, so they’ve been on the run ever since, furious at Scott for his blunder.

But, as Scott’s sentence nears its end, he has a vision of the Quantum Realm and of Hank’s long-lost wife, Janet, AKA the Wasp, prompting him to call Pym with a phone he’d stashed away for the purpose. As it turns out, Hank and Hope have been spending the past few years working on a ‘Quantum Tunnel’ in the hopes of venturing down to the bottom of reality to find Janet, and now they realize that Scott might be the key to actually finding her. Meanwhile, though, a young woman named Ava, AKA Ghost, the daughter of one of Pym’s old rivals, begins stalking them, hoping to use their technology to cure herself of a condition causing her to phase through objects and which threatens to soon kill her. At the same time, Hope’s black market contact turns on them, and the FBI lurks just waiting for a chance to bring in the Pym’s and catch Scott violating the terms of his sentence.

So, I loved Ant-Man, and I love Ant-Man and the Wasp just as much. If I could sum it up in one word, it’d be that it’s a very nice film: the characters are all very likable, there’s comparatively little in the way of violence (I don’t think a single person dies in it except in a flashback), nor is there any real evil-scheme or world-threatening danger for the heroes to overcome; it’s just several groups of people with conflicting goals, only one of which is truly evil, though he’s too outclassed to be much of a threat.

Surprisingly enough, this actually makes the film hugely interesting, as we watch the characters struggling to balance their conflicting responsibilities in a very extreme and strange set of circumstances. Scott wants to help Hank and Hope, whom he cares for and whose plight he feels responsible for, but he also doesn’t want to risk being separated from his daughter, and he has a responsibility to his friends and the security company they’re trying to get off the ground (as they’re all ex-cons it’s very difficult for them to find honest work). Meanwhile, Hank’s old colleague, Bill Foster, is trying to figure out a way to save Ghost, but without hurting anyone else, while Ghost herself is not really a bad person, but is desperate with fear and constant pain, leading her to hurt people in an effort to save herself. And all the while, Hank is working to save his wife and repair the family that was ripped apart so many years ago.

The thing is, we want all of these people to succeed at all their goals, so watching the film unfold and seeing them encountering and overcoming obstacle after obstacle is extremely engaging.

The only really bad guy is a sleazy black market dealer named Sonny Birch, who upon discovering that he’s been dealing with the Pym family, tries to strike a bargain to buy their quantum tech, and when they refuse tries to take it by force for his shady buyers (we never learn who they are, and we really don’t need to; it’s enough that he’s a bad guy). But though he’s obviously a dangerous man under normal circumstances, he and his men are little match for Ant-Man and the Wasp with their size-shifting tech. Even so, he is able to cause problems by threatening their friends or by catching them off guard. He’d be useless as a main villain in a standard superhero film, but he fits perfectly into the ensemble as one more complication.

There is also the FBI, headed by the genial Agent Woo, who is clearly itching to get his hands on the Pyms and is eager to catch Scott going over the line, but again, isn’t malicious or cruel; just doing his job (he apologizes to Scott for whooping at the news that the Pyms have been arrested). He does have a mole on his staff who is feeding Birch information, but the guy isn’t really a character and it’s not like Woo knew about that.

What results is a very atypical superhero flick; again, there’s no world-threatening crisis, no supervillain, just a complicated situation involving a lot of different people and livened by superpowers (it actually reminds me a little of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, another film that dropped the franchise formula and just applied its established elements to a complicated situation).

It works in large part because the characters are just so entertaining and likable. It’s much the same line up as the first film, but everyone has moved on a little, grown up a little. Scott’s daughter is now ten, and the film proper opens with an adorable sequence of them playing in an elaborate cardboard mock-up he built for her recreating his Ant-Man adventures. Once again, their relationship is delightful, all the more now that she’s a little older and able to participate in his adventures a bit more (such as covering for him when the FBI comes calling, or perking him up when he feels he’s ruined everything). I also really like his response when she suggests that she could be his new partner (“You would be the best partner, and I would be the worst father if I let you”).

Scott himself is much the same lovable everyman struggling to do the right thing and often blowing it due to not thinking the consequences through. The film makes it clear that going to help Captain America created huge problems, not only for himself, but for his friends, including potentially destroying his budding romance with Hope. Most of the film consists of him trying to repair that relationship, much as Hank is trying to repair his shattered family (and Ghost her shattered body).

Hope, meanwhile, has shed much of her tight, businesswoman persona (shown by her longer hair style: something joked about in the film itself) and is considerably more relaxed and affectionate this time around: character traits that were beginning to emerge in the first film. The two of them still have great chemistry as a pair of complimentary personalities which have apparently begun to rub off on each other, with Hope becoming more playful (I love the way she teases him when a malfunctioning suit leaves him the size of a three-year-old) and Scott more serious (he’s trying to start his own business).

And I have to say, I really like her as the Wasp. She’s athletic and shows off the power of her shrinking tech, as well as her blasters and wings (“I take it you didn’t have that tech for me,” Scott says upon learning about her arsenal. “No, I did,” Hank answers casually), and, well, she’s just cool. Like in the first film, they find the right balance between the suit’s powers and the skill of the wearer to make the fights interesting and cathartic without making her seem invulnerable.

But best of all, neither of them overshadows the other. Hope’s the more focused and action-oriented of the two, handling most of the big fight scenes, and she never ‘blows it’ like Scott does at one or two points, but Scott’s devotion and improvisational skills saves them more than once (including him rushing to her rescue when she gets ambushed by Ghost in the initial fight scene), culminating in them each saving the other’s life at the climax. It’s a very good balance between two very charming characters with very cool powers.

I like the way that she starts out dismissive and cold towards him, but the more time she spends in his company the more the same qualities that made her like him in the first place draw her affection again, such as his kindness, loyalty, and sense of humor. There’s a good scene where she expresses her fear that her mother might not even recognize her after all this time and Scott uses both his sense of humor and experience as a parent to reassure her. Another scene suggests that she would have gone with him to Germany if he had only thought to ask (“I if I had, you’d never have been caught”).

In short, the relationship between the two title characters is great, to the point that I would have liked one or two more scenes of just the two of them.

Likewise, I like Hope’s new loving relationship with Hank, as the two of them have been essentially on the run for the past few years and are now united in trying to save Janet, whose loss tore them apart in the first place (the circumstances of her disappearance are re-told in the prologue, complete with a glimpse of their loving family life before hand, and Hank saying “Telling you she wasn’t coming home was the hardest thing I ever had to do”).

Hank Pym is, once again, a great character; he’s charming enough to be likable, but you see at once why, as Scott says, he seems to have a lot of falling outs with people. He’s prickly, arrogant, and impatient with those less intelligent than himself – which is more or less everyone – and it’s implied that the only person who ever could successfully disagree with him was his wife. As before there’s a sense of weight to Pym: something about his lines, the way he speaks and the way he carries himself, he feels like a great scientist.

Then there’s Ghost, who I suppose you could call the villain, though again, she’s not truly a bad person, she’s just doing bad things because she’s scared and in pain. She has a checkered past, including implications that her father (Elias Starr, who was a villain named ‘Egghead’ in the comics: a nice touch) was a crook, but she remains sympathetic despite her misdeeds. Partly this is due to the influence of Foster, who is both a pleasant personality in himself and exercises restrain on Ghost. This includes a scene where she thinks of using Cassie to get to Lang, and Foster warns her that he will absolutely not tolerate anything of the kind. Then at the end, when she’s been saved, she actually admits that she’s done wrong and he ought to leave her, which he refuses to do.

Again, these are just very nice, very admirable characters. Even Scott’s three ex-con buddies are lovable and heroic in their own ways, showing loyalty to one another and trying to get their lives back on track by helping to protect people from criminals like themselves. I also like how, after Hope beats up Birch’s men and takes the part he was trying to cheat her over, she still pays him the agreed price (she’s not a thief).

The film continues the glorious creativity of the first movie, with even more creative applications for the size-changing tech. Here not only do they shrink themselves, but they ride around in cars that can grow or shrink at will, and Hank even has a whole building that he can shrink down to the size of a briefcase to carry around with him. Likewise with the ants, which are blown up in size to serve as manual labor and body guards (solving the question of how two people managed to build such an elaborate machine, and how they evaded the authorities for two years).

Then at the end we have another, more extensive trip to the Quantum Realm, which is beautifully surreal and oddly threatening. When Scott says that it ‘messes with your mind’ we can see exactly what he means. This culminates in a beautiful scene where Hank finally finds Janet, and they embrace each other on the floor of the world. Speaking of beauty, there’s a bit early in Hank’s ‘dive’ where the film pauses momentarily to just allow him (and us) to gaze about at the wonders of the microscopic world, including a group of water bears drifting past like whales (“You never said it was so beautiful, Scott,” Hank comments).

Once again it feels like the filmmakers were in love with their own premise and wanted to do every crazy thing with growing and shrinking that they could think of. Now we apply it to car chases, as the car alternates between normal and Hotwheels sizes (pretty handy down Lombard Street), or we send Giant-Man barreling down the street riding a truck like a skateboard. Or you can carry a small army of bodyguards around in an Altoids tin.

Not to mention the humor, of course, which is back in full force (the film is, if anything, funnier than the first). And again, much of the humor just comes from the characters’ personalities interacting and the absurdities inherent in their circumstances. Like a bit where Scott keeps trying to summon more flying ants, only for them to get picked off by seagulls. Or his struggles with a malfunctioning new suit that results in periodic shifts in size (Hope gets to show her sense of humor and her warmth in these scenes as she both teases him and gives him some quick maintenance). Young Cassie yet again gets some delightfully charming ‘kid’ moments, and amazingly enough actually comes across like a real kid most of the time, with her charmingly immature imagination and somewhat impractical ideas. One of my favorite jokes in the film has Giant Man riding down the street past a coffee-shop…and the jaded hipsters and too busy with their computers to notice.

And of course, Luis gets to narrate another one of his stories, this time under the influence of truth serum (preceded by an argument with the bad guys about whether there is actually such a thing), summarizing the first film and the characters’ relationships. The thing is, though, it’s not only hilarious, but when you stop to think about it, it’s also him showing his heroic side; unable to either stay silent or lie to protect his friend, he instead deliberately misinterprets the question and makes his answer as long and rambling as possible, including a digression about how his grandmother ran a place with a jukebox that only played Morrissey songs.

This is part of what something like Homecoming was missing in its comedy; the humor here comes from a place of warmth and good-will, playing off the personalities of those involved and developing, rather than cheapening them.

So, again; I really like Ant-Man and the Wasp. Like it’s predecessor, it’s just a very nice, very fun, feel-good adventure. The romance is sweet and not over-done, the characters are lovable, the action is thrilling and not too violent (the PG-13 rating is a mystery), and the visuals are spectacular and creative. These two films together probably represent just the most sheer fun of the whole MCU.

However, this does take place just before the events of Infinity War, which means that the happy ending we get is inevitably doomed, and mid-credits sequence shows us the sudden, cataclysmic decimation of all the joy and cheer that we had just been enjoying. Which means that this film, like Infinity War, won’t be truly complete until after Endgame.

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