Skip to main content

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp
(2018)

(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring. 


My expectations weren't that high; I liked the original, but I was very aware that Peyton Reed was no Edgar Wright, and his lack of flair outside the prevized sequences lent the picture a rather lax feeling at times; "We arent a big Marvel movie, so we may as well strike the pose of a sitcom". As such, I was less than jubilant to learn he’d been retained for the sequel. The surprise is, I've few complaints regarding his work here. I suspect part of that's Ant-Man and the Wasp being much, much better paced, so there's little time to reflect on all the opportunities Reed misses that a more creative eye, with all the inherent possibilities of adjusting perspectives, would take advantage of. It's true that he doesn’t imbue anything approach white-knuckle pacing into the action, but neither does he edit the life out of it; it's easy to see what's going on, and more essentially, Reed's mostly attempting action-comedy rather than pure thrills, at which he succeeds admirably.


Certainly, while Thor: Ragnarok will doubtless continue to garner all the applause for going where James Gunn went first with Guardians of the Galaxy, only with significantly less quality control on Taika Waititi's part, I found Reed's effort (from a screenplay credited to – count 'em – Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari) more satisfying overall. As such, it's closer to the rarefied level of a worthy sequel to Innerspace the first Ant-man didn’t quite reach; there's even a half-sized sequence that succeeds where Joe Dante failed (admittedly, that’s Innerspace's solitary bum note). 


Much of that is probably down to McKenna and Sommers, who made Spider-man: Homecoming such an agreeably breezy delight while not stinting on the heart and plot. There's a lot of potentially unwieldy exposition here, both covering the loss of Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the plan by Hank (Michael Douglas) to retrieve her from the quantum realm ("Do you guys just put the word 'quantum' in front of everything?" asks a pained Scott at one point), and stitching in the post-Civil War continuity, but Reed rarely makes heavy weather of these onuses; indeed, with Scott's house arrest, this becomes a gag-fuelled boon, particularly in the case of FBI parole officer Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) – also a youth pastor – and his somewhat bromantic fixation on Scott.


Ant-Man and the Wasp's structure also carries an agreeable internal tension, such that we're immediately set up for Hank's quest to find Janet, only for it to be entirely derailed by the double-crossing of Walter Goggins' black marketeer and, separately, molecularly unstable Ava Starr/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Once Hank is back on track and plunged into the quantum for his own ant-ics, Reed reliably juggles the competing elements of pursuing parties and the against-the-clock macro mission.


That aforementioned Empire review complained about repeated riffs, such as the irrepressible Michael Peña's Luis treating us to another all-parts-performed-vocally "flashback" sequence (this one where he's on "truth serum") and the unfortunate casualties among Scott's ant-buddies (this time at the beak of an opportunistic seagull), but you’ll get no complaints from me as they're both very funny (again). Peña can't help but steal the show whenever he's in frame, from relating how he'd love to have a limited special power and a suit ("Or even just a suit") and a baffling partiality to Morrissey (any partiality to Morrissey is baffling). 


I'm a big fan of the way Reed et al have felt free to go broader and more cartoonish than the first movie, not least the pet giant ant playing the drums or having a bath (standing in for Scott with his ankle monitor). The re-sizing gimmick for comic effect has also been honed, best utilised in the chase sequences (the iconic San Francisco hills setting more than references the city's pursuit sequence heritage, not least The Dead Pool), but the emotional beats also land, mostly centring on retrieving Janet and the situation besetting Ava, the latter revealed as subjected to MKUltra/SHIELD super soldier training from infancy.


Ava's skillset is inventively rendered, easily besting the combined assaults of Scott and Hope. I'm not entirely persuaded by Jane's magic hands as a solution to her suffering (doubtless Ava will return, now able to turn her phasing off and on at will), but both John-Kamen and Pfeiffer are welcome additions to the ensemble (and this really does feel like an ensemble, rather than a logjam of stars struggling for a show-off moment of as can happen with Avengers; Bobby Carnavale seems to be back just to hug Scott, but he does it so well, you don’t doubt he simply enjoyed being on set). 


De-aging effects have been applied fairly seamlessly to Douglas once again, and Pfeiffer too (although she still looks radiant anyway), but young Laurence Fishburne has been played by his son Langston. Fishburne's part’s rather thin, leading to earnest and rather rushed speeches establishing his moral compass in the third act, while Goggins' hairpiece makes more of an impression than his character (although, "I've committed numerous health code violations at my restaurant. Some of them will shock you" is one of the funniest lines in a movie packed to the rafters with them).


Hope meanwhile is way cooler than Scott when suited up, although it helps that she knows what she's doing while Scott is hampered by an amusingly on-the-fritz outfit causing him sudden fluctuations in size (I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I'm sure his "Come here, you little weasel" while pursuing Goggins is a reference to Martin Short's "Where are you, you little weasel?" In Innerspace). Evangeline Lilly's generally required to be the straight man to Rudd's mugging, but she clearly relishes any chance she gets to play for laughs.


I'm certain I’m in the minority then, but I found this easily the most satisfying MCU entry of the year. I can't escape the feeling that a more versatile director would have doubled-down on the chance to go really out there with some of the visuals, but Reed pulls off the comedy with aplomb and more than sustains the necessary tension. As for Rudd, he's appealingly self-effacing, having etched out a niche as Marvel's butt-of-all-jokes, not-so-superhero; it'll be interesting to see how this filters into a surely more grim-faced outlook on his part in the Avengers 4. On that score, the mid-credits sting is a marvellous piece of cliffhanger inventiveness, wiping out Hank, Janet and Hope and leaving Scott stranded in the quantum realm (we don’t learn whether the same fate befalls his daughter). After that, doubtless we'll want a return to Scott levity for Ant-Man 3Ant-Man and the Wasp 2.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

Bad luck to kill a seabird.

The Lighthouse (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Eggers’ acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – second feature is, in some respects, a similar beast to his previous The Witch, whereby isolated individuals of bygone eras are subjected to the unsparing attentions of nature. In his scheme of things, nature becomes an active, embodied force, one that has no respect for the line between imaginings and reality and which proceeds to test its targets’ sanity by means of both elements and elementals. All helped along by unhealthy doses of superstition. But where The Witch sustained itself, and the gradual unravelling of the family unit led to a germane climax, The Lighthouse becomes, well, rather silly.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

On account of you, I nearly heard the opera.

A Night at the Opera (1935)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers head over to MGM, minus one Zeppo, and despite their variably citing A Night at the Opera as their best film, you can see – well, perhaps not instantly, but by about the half-hour mark – that something was undoubtedly lost along the way. It isn’t that there’s an absence of very funny material – there’s a strong contender for their best scene in the mix – but that there’s a lot else too. Added to which, the best of the very funny material can be found during the first half of the picture.