Ant-Man and the Wasp movie review: A gigantic let-down after Avengers Infinity War

Ant-Man and the Wasp
Director – Peyton Reed
Cast – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lawrence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Hannah John-Kamen, Bobby Cannavale, Tip ‘TI’ Harris, Judy Greer, Randall Park
Rating – 2.5/5

It is more likely that you remember the lyrics to the rap portion of Linkin Park’s In the End than you do the finer details of the first Ant-Man movie’s plot. Despite being more forgettable than your least favourite colleague’s phone number, the first Ant-Man film was received with far more kindness than it deserved. It had such a difficult production that you could almost smell the breath of relief most viewers exhaled when they realised that it hadn’t tarnished the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gleaming reputation.

Poor Peyton Reed jumped on board at the very last minute after original director Edgar Wright dropped out due to creative differences. He delivered a perfectly adequate film, despite the fact that he was interpreting someone else’s vision with very little say in the final product. And Ant-Man was very much a product of several conflicting ideas, having grudgingly arrived at a compromise in service of the greater good. It was factory-made processed cheese in the face of some of the more artisanal adventures of the MCU, such as the first Avengers film, or Iron Man 3, or the Guardians movies – each boasting the singular artistic voices of visionary filmmakers.

And it is almost as if Marvel knows how utterly pointless these Ant-Man movies are, so they’re always scheduled immediately after an Avengers film, desperately hoping to lap up any overspill. This strategy worked for Ant-Man, and it will likely work for its sequel, the equally inconsequential Ant-Man and the Wasp.

But this time around, Reed – a very talented comedic filmmaker – has no one to blame but himself. This time, he was an active participant in the film’s development, and he worked with its six credited screenwriters – a recipe for disaster, if you ask me, but Marvel seems to make it work – to craft a more personal story.

There is narrative, thematic and musical continuity in Ant-Man and the Wasp – which doesn’t sound like asking too much – but for a Marvel sequel, it’s almost unheard of. To return to a similar, if not exactly the same tone, has an almost calming effect, especially after the unexpected new directions Marvel has been taking in some of its more recent films. But while Black Panther’s largely independent story worked in its favour, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels too slight to function on its own. Honestly, the entire plot of the film could have been done and dusted in a five-minute digression in Avengers: Infinity War. Not only would that have served the characters better, but it would’ve helped us, the audience, accept Ant-Man as an Avenger and not – as he still very much seems – an outsider.

And that’s how Paul Rudd plays him – there’s an uncertainty about Scott Lang, despite having found personal resolution at the end of the first film. He was a crucial part of the airport tussle in Captain America: Civil War, but can’t conceal his sheepishness when he refers to Steve Rogers as ‘Cap’. They’re not quite there yet.

And neither is this film. Instead of focussing on the personal dynamics of its terrific cast – like the last time, the interpersonal exchanges are easily the highlight of the film – Reed relies too much on science-y gobbledegook to fill in the gaps. Molecules are destabilised, rays are detracted and coils are depolarised – all of which sounds even more head-scratchingly unnecessary when spoken by an actor of Michael Douglas’ calibre.

Douglas reprises his role as Dr Hank Pym, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is as much his story as it is Scott’s – in fact, Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne, are very much the emotional anchors of the plot this time, a plot that has multiple antagonists but no real villain. She’s one-half of the title, of course. And together, the trio embarks on a quest to rescue Hank’s long-lost wife and Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne, from the quantum realm, where she has been trapped for decades.

The sub-atomic limbo, as fans of the MCU would know, was first introduced in Ant-Man, and is rumoured to play a vital part in Avengers 4 – if Janet can be found and rescued, then so can Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and the other ‘dead’ Avengers, who succumbed to Thanos’ finger snap at the end of Infinity War.

Just like Iron Man 2, which all those years ago felt like a poorly conceived excuse to introduce the concept of a potential Avengers film, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels like a feature-length introduction to the quantum realm. It explains Scott’s whereabouts during the events of Infinity War, and it features a typically excellent Michael Pena performance, but barely an hour has passed since I saw it, and it has already been reduced to dust in my memory.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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