July 13, 2018

Small Expectations: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

By Tim Hruszkewycz *

Jodorowsky’s “Dune.”

In 2013, a documentary chronicled Alejandro Jodorowsky’s absolutely insane attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

I have no excuse to why I haven’t seen this movie. I’ve had plenty of time. But film snobs know what Jodorowsky’s “Dune” signifies. It is about a work that was never made that would have changed cinema as we know it. It is the ultimate “What if…” for film fans.

Some people might substitute the original cut of Orson Welles’s “The Magnificent Ambersons”, but we all get the point.

 never really cared for “Dune.” I’ve tried. I read the first book. But my Jodorowsky’s “Dune” was Edgar Wright’s “Ant-Man.”

Many people have seen the 2015  “Ant-Man.” It’s an okay film.

I watch it every so often, usually around the time one of the Marvel Studios tent-pole films come out. I always want to like it. Paul Rudd is charming. There are some fun jokes in the movie. Ant-Man is a fun character. The 3D version is actually pretty nifty, with all of the shrinking sequences. But I never really love the movie. It is, at best, fine. That seems to be the critical consensus.

The reason I invest so much into this movie is because it had the potential to be great. Some people know the history of the first “Ant-Man” movie. Around the same time that Jon Favreau was working on the first “Iron Man” film, Edgar Wright began teasing that he was going to be directing “Ant-Man.”

He was working on his Cornetto trilogy’s conclusion, “The World’s End” and kept releasing little tidbits about his progress with “Ant-Man.”

Months grew into years and Marvel Studios became the box office behemoth that it is today. Edgar Wright is my favorite director. He directed amazing quasi-indie action comedies including “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”, the aforementioned “The World’s End”, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and last year’s “Baby Driver.” What these movies have in common is that they are meticulously planned films. They need to be watched over-and-over to understand how insane their structure really is.

Edgar Wright, my favorite director, was going to write and direct “Ant-Man”…

…and then it didn’t happen. Marvel had too much to lose by having a tonally different action movie from the rest of its slate and the movie was turned over to Peyton Reed. If you watch the closing credits on that movie, it is noticeable that too many people had their hands on this movie.

I’m sorry if this is a long way to get to a point, but my headspace is central to my review of this movie.
The first “Ant-Man”, for what few positive things it presents, represents one of the greatest lost opportunities for superhero films. It’s a bummer. But with the release of “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, Peyton Reed finally had a film that was not a contract movie, but a movie that was solely his own.

I have not gotten my coveted Edgar Wright film, but I did get a chance to see an “Ant-Man” movie with only one person really controlling it- unlike that first film, which screams “corporate oversight” if I’ve ever seen it.

The bottom line: “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a better movie than its predecessor.

I know many people who like the first film. I have a feeling that those people who loved the first film will absolutely love the second film. It’s a lot of the same tonal stuff and it carries the same sense of humor as the first film.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” learns from some of the mistakes that the first film stumbled over. Gone is the very milquetoast villain who mirrors the hero’s powers. Instead, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has a villain who is sympathetic, albeit kind of crazy.

The second film also builds up the mythology of “Ant-Man”, which could actually lead to some pretty fun stuff for future Marvel movies, “Avengers 4” included.

Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly gave lackluster performances in the first “Ant-Man”. They honestly seemed like they were above doing that film. While not perfect, especially in the more comic sequences, they seem to have more appreciation for the work in the sequel.

But the film is not without its share of problems. Like the first film, I left the theater with a sense of being entertained, but not enriched. Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige has stated that the “Ant-Man” films tend to be palate-cleansers after the deeply moving entries in the franchise, particularly movies like “Avengers: Infinity War.” From a business perspective, that makes a lot of sense. Considering that there was a fairly strong sense of Marvel fatigue around “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, Feige is serving the greater landscapes by having its shrinking heroes present –pardon the pun -smaller films.

The problem with this strategy lies is that these films are often sacrificial. Stakes are fairly low in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

Paul Rudd was brilliant in “Captain America: Civil War.” In fact, I like him more in “Civil War” than I like any of the jokes in either “Ant-Man” movie.

In this film, Paul Rudd seems to understand his character and he does his best with a movie that doesn’t try very hard to impress.  But when he is given a meatier part, like his role in “Civil War”, he meets the needs of that role. He is an impressive actor, and the character itself is capable of great things. Therefore, a movie that is only pretty good left me feeling slightly disappointed by its faults.

The film is once again stolen by not by its primary or secondary cast. The third-tier characters really had me laughing audibly, much to my wife’s chagrin. Michael Peña, T.I., and David Dastmalchian as a trio of ex-cons trying to make right somehow always get me laughing. They have little to do with this story. I almost feel bad for their appearance in this film because, narratively, they have little to do. But that’s where “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is somewhat vital to the franchise, outside of the much-needed reprieve from the pathos of the other films.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” offers a ground-level view of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe might look like from the view of the common man. (Please note: I have avoided all but one “size” pun in this entire review.) The ex-cons are working class guys trying to make it in the world. Paul Rudd’s major goal for the movie is, yes, to defeat the bad guy and save Hope’s mother from the Quantum Realm. But he is mainly concerned about repairing his relationships with his estranged wife and ensuring that his daughter continues being proud of him.

Another engaging character is the FBI agent Jimmy Woo, a nod a more obscure character in the Marvel Comics. In the film, he’s a guy who paradoxically finds Scott Lang charming, despite his job ensuring that Lang doesn’t leave his house during his time on house-arrest. The non-heroes are perhaps what make the movie fascinating. Reed gets me invested enough in Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer’s journey though a microscopic fever dream, but I am more interested in Paul Rudd’s joke time with his daughter, Cassie.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is definitely worth a watch, but I know I’m never really going to see what could have been done with these characters. Rather, the movie serves as a filler of two hours where I chuckled a few times while taking guesses at some fairly telegraphed plot twists. The movie is fun simply for fun-sake. It has some solid, if not basic, messages about the importance of fatherhood. It gets trippy every so often. It has some excellent size-changing combat and jokes. It’s a good time. For those people looking to continue the emotional rollercoaster that was “Avengers: Infinity War”, there is only a little bit of emotional stress presented “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The worst thing you can say about seeing “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in theaters is that you can tell your co-workers that you went to go to see that new Michael Douglas / Michelle Pfeiffer movie.

I told my wife that during the movie. It made her giggle

Tim Hruszkewycz is a high school English and film teacher at Villa Madonna Academy in Villa Hills, KY. He also co-hosts the Literally Anything podcast at literallyanything.net and blogs about film

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.