FILM REVIEW: Style Over Substance In ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, suited for action in the latest entry in the superhero universe CREDIT: Ben Rothstein/Marvel Studios/TNS

Let’s face it. Paul Rudd has an ageless, amiable persona which translates perfectly to the big screen. It served him and the story really well in the first Ant-Man movie (2015). He’s now back as ex-thief Scott Lang, joined by  Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne/Wasp), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), and Laurence Fishburne (Dr. Bill Foster). However, there’s a fundamental problem this time. The freshness is largely gone, and the visuals are significantly more clever and amusing than most of the dialogue.

As usual, the plot has been tailored to slot into the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe. The choices made by Scott in Captain America: Civil War continue to trouble him. Even as he dotes on his adorable young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), an anklet-monitor confines him to his home and allows the authorities to keep close tabs on him. Enter Hank and Hope, father and daughter themselves, with an urgent request that Ant-Man assist them in rescuing her mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), from the seemingly boundless quantum realm of nanospace. Hank’s size-shifting laboratory draws the unwanted attention of both the greedy arms merchant Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and the desperate Ava/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who has the gift of phasing through solid objects. Add Michael Pena as Luis, Scott’s friend and co-proprietor of a private security firm, and you have a principal cast to populate this mix of comedy, romance, and pathos.

Alas, the story seems formulaic–even simplistic at certain points–and much of the attempted humor falls flat. (Five screenwriters, including Rudd, get credit here. That often does not bode well.) The dialogue frequently veers from the obvious to the strained. One highly notable exception is a rat-a-tat-tat, free-form riff by Pena’s Luis, under the effects of a “truth serum.” The set-up is tedious; the payoff is hilarious. In general, though, this script just doesn’t crackle the way the Deadpool material does.

Which brings us to the visual dimension of the picture. Kudos to director Peyton Reed (who has done excellent work on several TV comedies, including New Girl), cinematographer Dante Spinotti, editors Dan Lebental and Craig Wood, and the entire special effects team. Working with the basic concept of altering sizes and shapes–and doing so in frequently unexpected ways–they create the real magic, and most of the laugh-out-loud moments, in the movie. An extended car chase through the hilly streets of San Francisco; a swarm of tracking bees, as good as any GPS; and the sight of a super-sized Ant-Man treating a flatbed truck like a scooter are truly memorable.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a reasonably entertaining film, but not in a fully realized way. The experienced cast make the most of their characters and situations, yet the picture ultimately seems like a place-holder. After all, it immediately follows the much more ambitious and intense Avengers: Infinity War and precedes the next team of superheroes (and alliances) in Avengers 4, due out next spring. Perhaps by then, Ant-Man will finally get his own wings and blasters.

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