“Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018): Little Moments, No Big Picture (Review)
Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t have a central villain. It is kept from greatness largely for this reason.
Sure, there are “bad guys” who have enough resources to be formidable when chasing the good guys around through the streets of San Francisco. But coherence is missing from the full picture because the good guys simply aren’t in a story that’s engaging enough to warrant any urgency from the script or the audience. The characters even act as though they’re stupidly aware of the disposability of their own story. Like, yeah, technically there’s a “now or never” plot involving the rescue of a person. Unfortunately the word “technically” really does feel like the most important word in that prior sentence.
Taking place before Thanos reared his big purple head upon the galaxy in Infinity War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) resides under house arrest after his actions at the airport in Germany that we saw in Civil War. Hank and Hope aren’t talking to him, until he has a strange dream that may or may not have been planted there when he was briefly in the quantum realm in the first Ant-Man. Then they break him out with all too ease, and commence upon a rescue op for Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), a.k.a. the Wasp, a.k.a. Hank’s long-vanished wife. This has been Pym’s obsession since Scott’s return from the quantum realm, and he’s built a big portable lab to engineer a venture into it.
It’s weird to see what’s basically the plot of The Core occupy the entirety of this film, and it feels phoned in from the get-go just like that one was. It continues the Phase III theme of failed dads and dad-figures seeking redemption or imparting lessons of past mistakes that we’re to understand wreaked some horrendous collateral damage (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Infinity War). But it doesn’t follow that pattern in substance. It just sleepwalks through it, and relies on the toys to do the rest.
Intrigue comes from conflict, which Marvel demonstrated an acute enough understanding of merely two months ago with Thanos in Infinity War, and even better with Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok before. Whatever your misgivings about those films, they packed a lot of power in their punches, and not just because we had seen nearly everyone on screen at least once in a previous movie. They didn’t design grand, elaborate plot schemes and then just quick-fix their way out. They punished their characters, made them see and understand themselves, made them sacrifice, and defined their heroism (or villainy) around their morally upstanding (or abominable) choices. Ant-Man and the Wasp has no character arcs, no growth, no development, and no revelation, which means that it will not survive without energy. Of that it has little because it’s so disjointed. It doesn’t even feel like what’s on screen is organically unfolding in front of you, or is promising to take you anywhere that Marvel hasn’t already taken you before. Even Luis’s hyperactive montage of narration that everyone loved from the first film feels obligatory and dry.
The first Ant-Man made up for its villain-less first half by having all its energy saved up for its second. To the extent that it was saved, it was saved solely by what I might as well call “Marvel leftovers.” This film has more confidence, more gusto in its action scenes from start to finish, especially with its choice of soundtrack music, which alone makes it tolerable and even momentarily fun. But it went from having ¾ of a villain before to no villain at all now, and the Marvel leftovers at this point work far more against it than for it.
Go ahead and see it, but only if you absolutely must.