If Marvel movies were Presidents, the first Ant Man would rank a solid Rutherford B. Hayes. Everyone remembers him sort of fondly, but he’s never the first one anyone thinks of. Premiering July 7, Ant-Man and the Wasp bumps the series into solid Harry S. Truman territory. Most of the credit goes firmly to the newest addition to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), the Wasp (AKA Hope Van Dyne) as effectively portrayed by Evangeline Lilly. For this installment, she ditches the horrible bob wig of the first Ant-Man and replaces it with a special shrinking suit that not only allows her to fly, it also has blasters that can reduce or enlarge whatever they hit. This last ability is put to good use during a number of well-choreographed action sequences. Her fighting style combines the character’s previously established adeptness at martial arts with a certain improvisational flair through the use of items found in the environment. The constant shrinking and enlarging adds a kinetic energy that prevents the action from feeling repetitive.
Along with the dynamically choreographed melees, Evangeline Lilly’s performance really adds an emotional depth to the proceedings. She was able to convey the pathos of losing one’s mother at a young age and the desire to prove oneself to their father without losing the ability to sting her opponents. This is not to imply that Paul Rudd as Ant-Man (AKA Scott Lang) is not involved. The film opens with him nearing the end of a two-year house arrest sentence handed down for his role in the epic airport battle sequence of Captain America: Civil War. He just needs to stay out of trouble for a few days, so he can spend more quality time with his daughter Cassie (an adorable Abby Fortson). Unfortunately, events make that goal more and more difficult to achieve.
The plot of the film eventually involves three distinct threads – the search for Dr. Hank Pym’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who we learned from the first movie disappeared into the “quantum world” while disabling a rogue ICBM; discovering the identity of the Ghost, a new character who can phase-shift through walls; and fighting off the henchmen of Sonny Burch, (a solid Walter Goggins) a black-market supplier of electronic components with his eyes set on the technology Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) keeps in his lab. While it sounds confusing, the movie does a nice job of overlapping these disparate threads together without bogging the film down during its 118-minute running time. It was also refreshing to see the stakes dropped down to a more manageable level, as was done to good effect in last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. The fate of the entire universe doesn’t have to always be on the line to make for a compelling conflict.
Another welcome return from the first film is Michael Peña, who reprises his fast-talking character of Luis. Returning director Peyton Reed wisely rations out his appearances so as to never tire the audience with his non-stop patter. It is clear by his infectious spirt that Mr. Peña had a blast making this film. He is also one of the few supporting actors working today who can seamlessly make the transition from drama (World Trade Center, The Martian) to comedy (CHIPS, Tower Heist).
One thing this film should be remembered for is being the first to cross the “uncanny valley.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to things that are meant to appear human, but are just off enough to cause an instinctual creepy sensation of dislike. This technological hurdle was not a problem here. Watching a seemingly young Michael Douglas during several flashback scenes made me yearn to see him in his own full-length Ant-Man feature.
Once all these elements are added together, Ant-Man and the Wasp, stands out as a significant improvement on what was already an affable original film. This is particularly true with the evolution of Evangeline Lilly into a fully developed superhero in her own right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Paul Rudd fan, but his Scott Lang is the epitome of the reluctant crime-fighter. He’s always entertaining to watch, but if there’s an iceberg ahead, most people would rather have the Wasp at the helm. It’s just nice to see Marvel add the Wasp to its roster of female protagonists (Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) who are able to take charge without any of the male characters treating them as damsels in need of rescue.
And for those wondering if they should stick around for the typical MCU post-credit scene, just hang tight. You’ll be glad you did.
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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP arrives in theatres everywhere on July 6th!
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