Ant-man and the wasp
- Review by Dara McWade
Ant-Man is, at his core, the awkward Avenger. His powerset is an odd one: he shrinks, grows, and controls ants. His motivations are pure and grounded; he just wants to be a good father to his daughter, Cassie, and to his friends. Most of all, his personality is insecure. He is Paul Rudd made superhero. The Ant-Man films have separated themselves from the rest of the marvel pack by bringing a smaller sense of scale (pun definitely intended). This sub-series isn’t about mad titans, or international politics, but parenthood and family, with strong redemptive arcs for the two main male figures: the Ant-Men, Rudd’s ex-con, and Michael Douglas’s cranky standoffish scientist Hank Pym who creates as many problems as solutions.
It also focuses on a much smaller area: San Francisco. The geography of the city plays a role within the film, it's steep hills playing into chases, the bay itself becoming an element of danger. Even the vibe of the famously accepting city carries through, with a major subplot involving Scott and Luis's securities business that employs their ex-con social group. Speaking of, Michael Pēna's Luis returns for the second entry, along with the rest of the crew.
However, this time Evageline Lily's Superheroic persona, The Wasp, is elevated to co-lead, and given her own story. The Wasp should be Lang's narrative foil in many ways. She uses his powers in better, more innovative ways, her sense of responsibility is larger, and their romantic spark brings more conflict than a healthy relationship probably should. Her plot, while being the main drive of the film, is one with far less personal focus. Her, and her father, Hank Pym, search for her missing Mother (played in flashbacks by Michelle Pfeiffer) in the "Quantum Realm", a alternate Universe reached by shrinking "between the atoms". It's an intriguingly sci-fi concept, that often seems to break with Lang's local world. It's an interesting diversion, and has the feeling of a science-fiction adventure story. It never quite mixes as well as the other stuff, however. While much of this has Lang stumble around someone else's plot, his conflicts are always brought back home to his fatherhood.
Ant-Man and the Wasp retains, and even expands, upon the Marvel franchise’s sense of fun, the set-pieces filled with ingenuity, using both leads powers and technologies in innovative ways. The plot device of the film is a building containing Pym's lab, shrunk to the size of a briefcase, and at one point a Pez Dispenser is used as an oversized weapon. The action is animated and fun. It doesn’t quite feel real, but that feels beside the point in this one as most of it is played for laughs and the sheer thrill of seeing these powers used as inventively as they are. It's interesting how the film uses it's science-fiction. Besides the plot device of the Quantum Realm, they mostly use it for (notably fantastic) gags, instead of using it for metaphor or pathos.
The stakes do feel so low at times they threaten to take the film out from under it. In hindsight, the threat feels insignificant. Perhaps, that was the point: the film's true heart belongs to it's grounded dynamics and not it's interdimensional travel or villains phasing out of sync. The film trades in themes of redemption and family, and while these films have appeared in the MCU before, none have felt so stubbornly stuck within them. The group of ex-cons struggling to survive on the straight and narrow, the antagonist just desperate to survive with her own new family, the two once-absent fathers trying to make up for lost time with their daughters. Who couldn't love shaggy dog stories like that?
Paul Rudd may be an awkward Superhero, but damned if he doesn't make a great Dad.