9 Aug 2018

Screen Time: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Peyton Reed
Runtime: 118 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 2 August 2018 (UK)/6 July 2018 (USA)

James R: This film will forever be known on this side of the Atlantic as 'The one delayed by the World Cup' - as much as I enjoyed the world's premier football knockout competition over June and July, it was massively disappointing to learn that, in their infinite wisdom, Disney/Marvel were shifting the release date of Ant-Man And The Wasp to August over here. I managed to avoid any spoilers but, in this digital age, waiting for this movie felt like a throwback to the 1980s where UK audiences were made to wait for films, with only stills from a copy of Starburst to tide us over.

The second outing for Paul Rudd's micro- (and sometimes macro-)sized hero represents something of a conundrum that might not be immediately apparent when you consider the hard facts; this is now the twentieth - twentieth! - Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, (so the studio have got this hero film thing running pretty smoothly) and a no-brainer sequel reteaming most of the creative forces of a film that grossed north of $500 million worldwide.

However, Ant-Man And The Wasp has bigger problems than some of the other Marvel properties. Part of the charm of 2015's Ant-Man was that it gave us another texture to the MCU in that it was, at heart, a heist movie. Despite a seemingly-troubled conception (with the departure of Edgar Wright, and a rewrite of the screenplay) the first Ant-Man was a film that centred around the redemption of Scott Lang, and a series of break-ins. Add in the comedy chops of Paul Rudd and Adam McKay and what we got was the lightest Marvel movie in tone, but also one with a strong and distinct narrative.

Jumping forward to Ant-Man And The Wasp, things are different. As director Peyton Reed said that this was "part action film, part romantic comedy", and wanted it "to be a little more of an Elmore Leonard Vibe." So, the challenge here was to deliver what all good sequels should do: expand on the original, give us more of the same stuff that we enjoyed last time, whilst looking to do something new - oh, and pick up some of the narrative strands of the original film. And then tie it in to the wider MCU. When you consider all this, Ant-Man And The Wasp is a movie that aims big, whilst staying grounded.

The film begins with Scott Lang still under house arrest after accepting Steve Rogers' call to arms in Captain America: Civil War. Despite having healed the rift with his family, Lang is now estranged from Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne following his contribution in Cap's rebellion against the Sokovia Accords. The three heroes are soon thrown back together as Hank and Hope continue to search for their mother, Janet, trapped in the quantum realm, whilst in a game of cat-and-mouse with the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and criminal businessman Sonny Burch (the ever-great Walton Goggins.)
Undoubtedly, the strongest aspect of Ant-Man And The Wasp is its cast. Marvel have usually been terrific with their choices, and Paul Rudd continues to be an incredibly likeable leading man, with multiple comedic gifts - he is a Marvel character most people can empathise with. Rather than being a genius or a god, he's making it up as he goes. Once again, Michael Peña proves to be the secret sauce in the Ant-Man recipe, providing yet more priceless anecdotes and support to Scott as his also-reformed friend Luis. In principle, this should also be Evangeline Lilly's movie - she certainly was worthy of equal billing in the original Ant-Man, but here she felt a little one-dimensional - the search for her mother providing her entire motivation, with her relationship with Scott sadly reduced to a few spiky exchanges until the final act.

Given the tricky demands of this sequel, Ant-Man And The Wasp isn't quite as enjoyable as the original: in (understandably) shifting the focus from a heist movie, the final experience is one which packs less of a punch. As usual with Marvel movies, villainy remains a problem, but here, it's not that they're uninteresting: if anything, Ghost is a little too interesting.

Ghost is revealed to be a tragic character merely trying to survive following a life of cruel servitude for S.H.I.E.L.D. Given how intriguing she is, it feels like she's short-changed with the amount of screen time she gets. She's worthy of a film to herself, and  John-Kamen deserved more time to make Ghost even more compelling. Sonny Birch on the other hand is under-developed to the point of caricature; a character whose main function is to exclaim: "I want that! Do whatever it takes to get it!" On reflection, either of these characters could have made for interesting antagonists - it felt like they doubled-down and lost in choosing both.
Despite this, Peyton Reed still delivers a film that's an enjoyable two-hour romp. His love for the Marvel Universe is obvious, and his special effects team have done a great job in continuing to find new takes and angles on being microscopic and gigantic (and virtually all points in between). There's several great laugh-out-loud moments (including perhaps Stan Lee's funniest cameo to date) and, crucially for me, I never looked at my watch once.

One minor gripe away from the film itself though is levelled at Marvel's usually canny marketing team: given how well they kept the biggest secrets of Avengers under wraps, it seems strange that the Ant-Man And The Wasp trailers revealed virtually everything: the big set pieces and a number of the comedy beats were all laid out, and it was sad not to feel surprised by some of the developments on screen.

So is this the best superhero film you'll see this year? Not at all - its attempt to be all things to all people leaves it feeling a little less focused than the original - but it's a slick two hours, driven on by Rudd's charisma. As others have said, this was a zesty sorbet needed to clear the palette after the desolation of Avengers: Infinity War. 7/10

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