Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer, Bobby Canavale, Michelle Pfeiffer
Ant-Man and the Wasp is Marvel Studios’ twentieth cinematic release since Iron Man, their first release, in 2008. In that time, the Studio has broken records, set precedents for other movies of a similar genre, and generally caused a stir throughout cinema. When Ant-Man arrived in 2016, the film generally reviewed well but wasn’t seen as anything particularly special. Ant-Man as a character certainly has his own vibe going on, though not in quite as grandiose a way as the likes of Captain America or Thor, not quite ranking as high as his Avenger counterparts in general (note his absence from Avengers: Infinity War). So in the grander scheme of the MCU, how does this second instalment fit in after the events of Infinity War?
Scott Lang (Rudd) has been under house arrest since his involvement with the Avengers in Civil War two years ago (the excuse given for why he did not get involved with the fight against Thanos in Infinity War). Although annoyed at Scott for using their Ant-Man suit and marking them as wanted by the FBI for their tech’s involvement in the Civil War events, Hank Pym (Douglas) and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Lilly), come out of hiding and track down Scott when he reveals that he had a dream about Hank’s wife, and Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne (Pfeiffer). Deciding that she must still be alive somewhere in the Quantum Realm and is using Scott to communicate with them, they set about opening another tunnel to the Realm in order to retrieve her. Bu not only do they have the FBI after them, after a deal goes awry between Hope and crooked businessman Sonny Burch (Goggins) they are also pursued by Burch and his cronies in want of Hank and Hope’s technology. There is also the introduction of the Ghost (John-Kamen), a formidable adversary whose molecular structure was damaged in an accident many years ago, meaning Ghost is physically being pulled apart and put back together, constantly and painfully. With Scott as Ant-Man and Hope taking on her mother’s mantle as the Wasp, they must fight off their foes whilst trying to rescue Janet.
As Marvel Studios movies go, Peyton Reed’s film doesn’t quite reach the same level of austerity as other Marvel movies of late, and this can be seen as working both for and against it. Arriving hot on the 2018 heels of the rollercoaster that was Infinity War and the game-changing Black Panther, it works as a nice break in-between the madness, though it doesn’t provide anything new in the way of story development for the MCU as a whole (or so it currently seems – the Quantum Realm could prove useful in the near future). However if it were to have done so, it would likely have had to have been another storyline that would really rock audiences, when we’ve really had a thrashing from the MCU this year already. It also perhaps boasts one too antagonists (if you count the light-hearted representation of the FBI as a true threat), so much so that it could be seen as a bit overwhelming. So whilst Reed’s movie doesn’t have the depth of story that other larger Marvel Studios movies may have and perhaps throws too many obstacles in the way of the heroes, it’s a welcome breather overall in its aspects of lightheartedness and character relationships.
One of the over-arching positives being raved about is the film’s female protagonist being present in the movie’s title, the first time Marvel Studios has done such a thing (obviously DC beat them to it overall with 2017’s Wonder Woman, though let’s not forget DC has been ahead of the game for a while, with 2004’s Catwoman and of course 1984’s Supergirl). In this sense Marvel has done something new for the MCU, even if it’s been done already elsewhere in the past; there’s a lot of extra pressure for female-centric movies these days, so it’s best Marvel keep up (just look at her positioning on the movie’s promotional poster above to see how much of an impact Hope has on the movie). The use of a female antagonist also works in its favour: again, it’s nothing entirely new (Hela in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok), along with changing a character who is supposed to be male in the comics to a female (The Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange), but if these aspects are no longer new, that is surely a good thing: it means it’s becoming the norm, which is exactly how it should have been all along.
Although Evangeline Lilly is probably best known for her role on the television show Lost and more recently as the elf Tauriel in The Hobbit trilogy, she’s potentially never been better than as Hope van Dyne. She falls very naturally into the role, and her innate strength and capabilities as an actress blend well together to create a character that firmly shows women can be intelligent and kick ass. Reed’s direction allows for Hope to stand out in a lot of scenes that feature male characters who might otherwise have overtaken the scene due to their characterisation; at times Hope has a quiet yet strong presence, so there is a constant awareness that even if she’s not saying or doing anything, she is there. She does not fade into the background like many female characters often do. Yes, there is argument for the likes of The Avengers’ Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora and Black Panther’s Shuri, but Hope is the only one to be credited alongside the male lead (thus far). And Lilly more than earns Hope’s place in that title, being a perfect counterpart to Paul Rudd’s Scott. Rudd provides more to the comedic side of the film, and it’s a lot more natural than in much of his past comedy. It works well and gives the whole film that lighter side that is sorely needed. Rudd is both entertaining and endearing, which in turn is helped along by the talents of young Abby Ryder Fortson, who is wonderful as Scott’s daughter, Cassie, creating a lovely father-daughter dynamic that feels very real. The same could be said for Lilly’s onscreen familial relationship with Michael Douglas – the emotion and blood ties are very much there.
Special mention must be given to relative new-comer Hannah John-Kamen. Her performance as Ghost is electrifying. The character, much like many antagonists, is going through some personal emotional torment that essentially causes her to be who she is, and John-Kamen’s ability to portray this in such a way that really pulls you in is truly a rare talent. Her physicality and expressions are very reminiscent of fellow British actress Emily Blunt, an amazing talent herself. John-Kamen virtually steals every scene she’s in, and manages to not make Ghost another clichéd villain. It will be very exciting to see what she takes on next.
If it’s hope for the future of the Avengers and the world they inhabit that we’re after, then we’re best off waiting for next year’s Captain Marvel, which is rumoured to be the saving grace to the current state of affairs in the MCU. Originally it was to be released in Ant-Man and the Wasp’s slot, but after the sequel was announced pretty quickly after Ant-Man, Marvel was pushed back nearly a year. A good move, as it means the hype, which Marvel Studios are experts in creating, will be in overdrive between now and March 2019. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a nice palette cleanser that will entertain the masses in-between larger MCU films, but it’s just not got the same pull as the larger MCU characters. As always, make sure you stick around for the mid-credits scene (there is an end-credits scene though it’s not got any real importance). Without giving anything away, it links Ant-Man and the Wasp back to the MCU at large and leaves a classic cliff-hanger that will gently tip you back into the “real” world of the MCU.