erik lundegaard


Monday July 09, 2018

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)


Love the title. Is it the first time a female superhero has gotten such billing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Yes. MCU hasn’t exactly been an EOE. It’s the one area where it lags behind DC. And the Wasp deserves the honor. Not only was she an original member of the Avengers, she named the Avengers:

Wasp names the Avengers

The title also has a 1950s sci-fi feel to it, doesn’t it? It wants an exclamation point: “Ant-Man and the Wasp!” Which makes sense because the characters truly bridged the gap between the horror stories Marvel produced in the post-Fredric Wertham 1950s and the mighty age of troubled superheroes they started creating in the early 1960s.

Our hero, Ant-Man, first appeared (hyphen-less) in Tales to Astonish #35, which was a Sept. 1962 issue. Keep in mind: That’s only a month after the debuts of Spider-Man and Thor, and a good six months before Iron Man. But that wasn’t the first time we saw Hank Pym.  In January 1962—when the Mighty Marvel Age was just the Fantastic Four—the cover story for Tales to Astonish #27 was “The Man in the Ant Hill!” It’s one of those “Be careful what you wish for” 1950s horror stories. Other scientists laugh at what scientist Hank Pym claims to have created: a serum that can shrink and a serum that can bring back to normal size. He takes the former and then can’t reach the latter and is in danger of being dragged into an ant hill to die a horrible death. He’s only saved by a friendly ant. Restored to his normal size, he throws away his serums as too dangerous for the likes of man.

Until, of course, Stan, Jack or some other scrub saw the possibilities.

One wonders why Hank and the ants. Why not Gorilla Man (Tales to Astonish #s 28 and 30)? Why not Titano, Vandoom or Moomba (TTA #s 10, 17 and 23)? Why not Groot (TTA #13)?

OK, Groot did make a comeback. But “The Man in the Bee-Hive!” (Tales of Suspense #32, August 1962)? One and done. Definitely not anchoring $162 million action movies.

Partridge Family redux
Ant-Man and the Wasp movie reviewAnyway, I love the title, and I love this early history, and I liked the movie a lot. If it’s a roller coaster, at least it's a roller coaster with a sense of humor. Paul Rudd has impeccable comic timing and is shockingly handsome. No one that handsome should be allowed to be that funny, yet there he is.

Nearly two years after the events in “Captain America: Civil War,” Scott Lang (Rudd), who helped Cap, et al., battle Iron Man, et al., in an airfield in Germany, is under house arrest, and watched like a hawk by hapless FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park of “VEEP” and “Fresh Off the Boat”). He just has a few days to go and the ankle bracelet can be removed. But during a daughter-less “C’mon, Get Happy” weekend (drums, book reading, bubble bath), he dreams, or flashes on, the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (wouldja believe ... Michelle Pfeiffer?), the only other person who went “subatomic,” as he did in the original, except he made it back. She was lost forever.

Or was she?

This revelation re-teams him with Janet’s husband, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and their daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). The two are trying to create a portal to the subatomic realm where Scott might contact/rescue Janet.

Two things get in the way:

  • Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a gangster with Russian help, who is after the portal for monetary gain
  • Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who keeps shifting into and out of the physical realm, and who, thanks to SHIELD, can kick ass

There’s a “Can’t we all just get along?” aspect to it. Ghost and the Pym/Van Dyne clan are actually after the same thing, if they’d only stop and talk. But Ghost, beautiful eyes flashing, British accent unexplained, blames Hank Pym for her current state and can hardly see through her hatred. She keeps taking what Pym needs: the building where the subatomic portal is being developed, shrunk to the size of carry-on luggage.

Quick question: Wasn’t the point of Ant-Man that he shrunk to ant size but maintained the density and weight of a normal man? So wouldn’t it be the same with the building? Or is that no longer the case in the MCU?

Adding levity is Scott’s ex-con business partners, the security firm X-Con, headed up by Luis (Michael Peńa). Their back-and-forth with Sonny’s crew on truth serum/not truth serum already feels like a classic.

The MCU does what the Might Marvel Age did, and what the DC Extended Universe can’t for the life of itself manage: has fun. It clashes personalities in a humorous way and occasionally gives us a big wink. I love Hope questioning Scott’s use of “Cap” for Captain America, as if they were best pals. I love it when Scott is shrunk to toddler size and how Hank keeps chiding him, asking how school was, and would he like some string cheese and a juicebox, and how Scott suddenly perks up: “Do you really have that?” No better way to end the joke than to go along with the joke. Particularly if it's sincere.  

Many of the principles (Rudd, Peńa) have comedy backgrounds. The director, Peyton Reed, directs comedies. Start with the funny and build out.

Infinity War redux
As we’re on the roller coaster, we wonder two things. OK, two and a half things:

  • Will Janet Van Dyne be rescued from the subatomic world?
  • Will Scott get away with violating house arrest?
  • Will Ghost be cured?

I assumed: Yes, maybe, shrug. Turns out: Yes, yes, yes. Indeed, the resolution to the first (Janet’s return) is what leads to the resolution of the third (Ghost’s cure). The woman (Janet) eases the pain the man (Hank) caused.

After the happy ending—two couples reunited, X-Con business booming, but isn’t there an underhanded FBI agent still on the loose?—and after the first round of credits, we get a reminder of where the MCU left off. Scott is gathering subatomic data and is about to be extracted when Hank and Hope, amid ashes, go poof, per “Avengers: Infinity War,” leaving Scott stranded. Party’s over. Funny no more.

I am intrigued by where they’ll go with this. It feels like they’ve totally worked themselves into a corner. I see no good escape. That’s the intriguing part.

Posted at 01:49 AM on Monday July 09, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018