ROMANCE on the Superhero Field with “ANT-MAN AND THE WASP”

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The amazing thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that, while most of them feature superheroes as the central protagonist, the actual storyline genre for them individually can be as starkly varied as the colors in a kaleidoscope. The first “Captain America” movie was a period film, while its immediate sequel was a spy thriller. “Iron Man” had tech-oriented super-heroics while “Doctor Strange” had magic. “Guardians of the Galaxy” had cosmic threats while “Spider-Man: Homecoming” focused on street-level criminalities. 2015’s “Ant-Man” had a heist movie motif. Now its recently-premiered sequel presents itself as, of all possible things, a romantic comedy.

Believe it or not, that’s the genre being pushed by director Peyton Reed for “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, direct sequel to its original from three years ago and partly connected to the recent MCU installment “Avengers: Infinity War”; we will talk about that bit of world-building later. First we focus on the claim that this is a superhero rom-com. It is also notable that this movie is the first MCU installment to have the name of a super-heroine in the title, with the implication that she is every bit the equal to Ant-Man. Film scenes hint she is his better.

The sequel is established to take place two years after the original, and follows up from the status quo left after 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”. Scott Lang the (second) Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd, has been stuck in house arrest following his joining with Cap to (unwittingly) stand against the regulation of superheroes. And because his stole the Ant-Man suit from Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to do that, he and daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) have gone to ground without contacting Scott, who is running a security consultant firm with his former heist crew while awaiting the end of his house arrest.

Meanwhile Hank and Hope have their own problems to contend with, being hunted by the authorities that want to place Pym particle technology under government control as part of superhero regulation. Working in a nifty secret (shrinking) lab – one of the cheekiest visual jokes in this film – the two are researching Scott’s brief stay in the subatomic “Quantum Realm” from the last movie, believing it holds the key to bringing back Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet (brilliant appearance by Michelle Pfeiffer). They even built a “Quantum Tunnel” to facilitate further journeys into that realm.

Funny thing about “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is that there actually seems to be no villain for the story. Yes, there are antagonists: unscrupulous arms merchant Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) who supplies Pym with tech components, but wants to sell the resulting device on the black market. Then there is Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen), a “Ghost” of a woman rendered mostly intangible due to unstable molecules in a lab accident, who believes Pym’s quantum tech could reverse her potentially terminal condition. Both of these characters are violent; Burch a veteran killer and Ghost one by necessity, but to call either of them “villains” is exaggeration, from different points of view.

If you’ve been following this write-up so far, you realize there are a lot of subplots happening. Scott wants to risk breaking house arrest to help Hank and (possible second love after years-ago divorce) Hope with their mission, especially when it becomes necessary to protect the Pym lab from either Burch or Ghost’s attempts to seize it (in its miniature form); thankfully Hope has taken her mother’s mantle as the so-called Wasp. I have to give a thumbs-up to Reed for managing the storylines and making them come together sensibly.

Rounding out the characters are old and new cast members playing characters that fill out the story in one way or another. Michael Peña is back as Scott’s former heist crewmate Luis, now the face of their security firm; although his signature off-tangent comedic narrations was reduced to only one instance in this sequel. Abby Ryder Forston also comes back as Scott’s hero-worshipping daughter who thinks he could do no wrong, and thinks positively about Hope as her daddy’s potential new wife and her stepmother. Randall Park is also fun as FBI Agent Woo who keeps tabs on Scott’s house arrest, while Lawrence Fishburne takes time off from playing Perry White on the DC Extended Universe to fulfill his dream of being in a Marvel superhero movie, as Hank Pym’s former research partner Bill Foster.

The variety of special effects employed in the film is as expected of with the MCU, though the intensity is dialed down compared to stuff like in “Avengers”. The shrinking/growing powers are bit more substantial compared to the previous “Ant-Man” which copied the retro comic-book styling. There is also yet another flashback sequence featuring a younger-looking Michael Douglas as past Pym, a signature scene now.

All in all, there is enough chemistry and tension between Paul Rudd’s Scott and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope throughout “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to make the romantic comedy descriptor passable at least, and the superhero shenanigans despite the smaller scale of conflict are still pure MCU; so are the humor bits that no film in this Cinematic Universe can do without. About the only thing that can ruin this experience is the eventual connection to the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War” that could sour the denouement, forcing us to wait until “Avengers 4” in 2019 to see how it plays out.

Image courtesy of GameSpot

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