You know what is wrong with the world today? People hate vanilla too much. No, really. There is a visceral hatred of all things vanilla. In fact, that hatred extends to all things “mediocre”. If it does not stand out, it deserves to be ignored or reviled. Nonsense, I say. Vanilla is awesome. Vanilla is underrated. And sometimes mediocrity should be celebrated.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is vanilla. Not in a boring, plain “meh” sort of way. But more like “this is so creamy and familiar” sort of way. There is nothing in Marvel Studio’s latest offering that is genre defining. Nothing and nobody stands out. The plot is personal as opposed to earth shattering (a welcome change after the gut punch we know as “Infinity War”). The characters don’t grow in any meaningful way (because they don’t have to). The plot has some glaring holes and seems to exist purely as a foundation for things to come. Which is fine. And despite is apparent mediocrity, that lesson is something rival-but-who-are-we-kidding-not-really DC studios should take to heart. More than special effects, six packs and massive budgets, sometimes comic book characters just need one thing: Time.
To be honest, the first few minutes of Ant-Man and the Wasp are just bad. Its basically five minutes of pure exposition. As far as first impressions go, it was a terrible one and came across as extremely lazy. I would expect that sort of weak storytelling in a fan made YouTube video, not in a movie with a multi million dollar budget.
But it does recover quickly. Where the first Ant-Man was in essence, a heist movie, this one is rescue mission. That said, the plot also focuses on the idea of repairing relationships. The fallout of Civil War sees Scott Lang (played in typical Paul Rudd fashion) under house arrest and trying to be a better father to his little girl. It also has left Hank Pym and his daughter Hope embittered towards Scott as they are now both on the run because of him. It is a familiar pattern in Scott’s life, he acts without thinking things through and hurts the ones he loves because of it. In this sense the movie continues the conflict of him trying to be a good man and doing the right thing which, in some excruciating instances, means doing nothing. Something he has predictably failed at.
However, Scott is not the main protagonist here. That mantle is held collectively between him and Hope Van Dyne aka The Wasp. I’m glad Evangeline Lilly is getting to play a badass. The first Ant-Man felt like it robbed her of that opportunity. Allowing her to do what she does here is a welcome change. I just don’t see why it had to come at the expense of Scott’s role. The dynamic between them seems different now. Where as Scott was a brilliant thief in the first movie, and a capable enough combatant in Civil War, here he just comes across as a third wheel and occasionally, an idiot. Completely unnecessary in my opinion. The movie has room enough for two strong leads.
The action makes up for it though. With the old “shrink and expand” mechanic being used to convincing effect. The sequences are all rather well done and felt “comic bookey” enough without going entirely over the top. Sure the convenient use of the word “quantum” as a way to explain the supposed “science” does get tiresome, but considering we just witnessed a dude chuck a whole moon into Ironman not to long ago, this is relatively tame. More importantly, it is fun.
My biggest complaint with the film is with the villains. There are two primary antagonists, neither of which make any lasting impression. I’ll start with Sonny Burch, an arms smuggler played by the brilliant Walton Goggins. Brilliant that is, in his other work, not here. This film sees his talents utterly wasted. Sonny exists purely as a plot device and gets zero chances to develop. As for the second, ie, Ghost, she too comes across as a missed opportunity. The character is fine, the actor (Hannah John Kaman) does a good enough job and the suit is the most “look-a-cyber-ninja” suit you will see. That is not a complaint but anyone that has played a video game in the last ten years will find it familiar. My concern lies in the fact that the her motivations hinge on the idea of her constantly “phasing” in and out of existence due to a quantum accident. If that is true, she should just phase through the floor. There is no reason why she should even be able to stand. Sitting on a bed is not a problem, but holding a teddy bear is. This makes zero sense. And yes, I know the idea of “serious physics” is laughable in a movie whose whole shtick is shrinking and expanding matter in violation of every Newtonian law, but at least it adheres to the rules set in the make believe world. Ghost breaks the very rules that define her existence. It makes no sense at all. The movie has no problems subjecting viewers to minutes of exposition in the very first scene. Well, we could have actually used some when it came to how its primary antagonist can stand on solid ground.
I will grant this: narratively speaking, this idea of constant “phasing” does make for some interesting philosophical allusions. Ghost should not be alive. She survived something that killed everyone but her, leaving her with an inescapable sense of guilt. Her condition leaves her incapable of living a normal life but makes her an excellent secret agent. Even so, she cant really have a “career” either. In a very real sense, she does not belong to any world. Her loyalties, like her physical form, are constantly shifting, ever unclear. Its a pity that this theme is handled so clumsily. The best thing I can say about Ghost as a character is that despite her incongruities, she is brimming with potential. I hope Marvel does her justice the next time around as she could turn out to be on of the better antagonists/anti heroes in the MCU.
Speaking of missed opportunities, as a comic nerd, I find the glossing over of Hank Pym’s character faults rather frustrating. This is not a likable guy. Pym has few redeeming qualities apart from his scientific acumen. He is a deeply flawed human being whose arrogance results in some pretty spectacular consequences in the books. The movies glosses over it, when to me, this is one of the deepest narrative pools in the source material. Why waste it like this? Micheal Douglas is a fantastic actor, so why not let him plumb the depths of Pym’s shallow character?
There are other instances of lazy writing further down the line but I wont expound on them as it delves into major spoiler territory. Lets just say a certain character should, after her particular experiences, be rendered stark raving mad. Instead she looks like she walked out of a salon, eyeliner and all. What? How? Huh? Maybe something got left on the editing room floor, but even if all this gets answered in the next (inevitable) film, it still comes across as lazy and mildly insulting.
But hey, at least Micheal Pena as Luis is still amazing. The original trio of comic relief is still going strong. The humor in the film is definitely one of the strong points. Though some of the one liners do fall flat occasionally, there are laughs to be had aplenty.
All this complaining may seem like I didn’t like the movie. But this is one of films that somehow ends up being more than the sum of its parts. I’m almost embarrassed that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Even though I think it could have been something special, it does succeed as a sequel, warts and all. It’s triumph lies in the fact that despite all its glaring faults it was still fun. By no measure is it the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it serves as a great accompaniment to the crazy buffet of “Sock Bam Pow!” the studio offers.
Oh, another thing, I haven’t had an after credit sequence make my jaw hit the floor this way since Nick Fury uttered the words “Avengers Initiative” back in 2008. For many, that alone will make up for the movie’s many faults.
Alright, I’m off to get some ice cream. Vanilla, obviously.
FINAL SCORE 7.0/10