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

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.