Monday, July 09, 2018

REVIEW: Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018)

Let's make one thing straight right off the needle: if you didn't like the first Ant-Man film, no need to state the obvious about this one. But if so, why are you even reading this? It's a Marvel Studios movie, so of course it follows the MCU recipe for big-screen popcorn munching success. Yes, all their movies slightly try to be their own thing -and on that point I'll stare-contest to death anyone who disagrees that Ragnaork and Iron Man 3 are the best of the lot because they stray more- but they all follow the same guidelines. Unlikely hero rising, plenty of funny banter, a generous splash of CGI, breeze-light tone and a cardboard cutout vilain.

The story picks-up roughly two years after the events of Civil War, where SPOILER ALERT diminutive smartmouth Scott Lang joined the now-outlaw Captain America and fought a losing battle against Tony Stark's Avengers. As explained in one of those condescending plot-exposition speeches, both to a character and to the audience, the American & German governments reached a deal to have Scott extradited back home under house arrest and probation for two years. Meanwhile his wanted “accomplices”, Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne, are working to figure out if Janet Van Dyne is still alive in the microverse (Miniverse? Teenyverse?). Three days before Lang goes “Scott” free, he receives a mysterious message from the stranded lady, and therefore again joins less-than-happy-about-it father & daughter to try and bring back mommy. Standing in their way is a tech-dealing gangster who looks, talks and acts a lot like Raylan Givens' best frenemy Boyd Crowder, and a masked figure who can walk through walls thus gets obviously nicknamed Ghost.

Little attention is paid to the story, to be honest, and that as much by the viewer than the writers. Plotholes are sometimes so large you could drive a van into them without even shringking it, as long as the van is from Hyundai who clearly paid sponsorship fees through the nostrils. But you barely really notice or care because it allows for a brisk and very well sustained pace, one that may take a little while to take off but thereafter never sets down. And isn't that what going to the movies is all about? If you're gonna pay seventeen bucks to sit for two hours in a cold dark room with smelly strangers, you better have tons of stress-free, unrelenting fun!

Introducing: ANTonio Banderas!

Like almost always in contemporary big spectacle movies, what attention is taken from the story goes to the visuals. With CGI as advanced as it now is, the wow factor from the days of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park is long-gone, so effects need to be not just realistic but very clever and inventive. Luckily the gimmick of shrinking tech is a perfect playground for animators, and offers chase and fight scenes that for once don't feel like you've seen them all a thousand times before. If Richard Donner's Superman made you believe a man can fly, Peyton Reed's team will make you wish you too could road-rage some shrinking powers into an SUV full of large a-holes.

On the other hand charcters suffer badly in their development. Kudos to the actors for finding ways to remain interesting to watch because they're being given very little to work with. Starting with the vilains, an aspect with which the studio is still struggling since the original Iron man. Hannah John-Lamen may be the breakout star of 2018 (this year alone she was also in Tomb Raider and Ready Player One whle still headlining SYFY's hit show Killjoys) she's given next to nothing after all the fight scenes are done. Her character Ghost is left with a 3-minute bad-guy monologue to explain her backstory, movitation, intentions and state of mind all wrapped in one lazy package. Walton Goggins is spared such a thing but feels like every baddy he's played since Justified, while Morphe.. I mean Laurence Fishburne's appearance should rank just a smidge above cameo.

Unsurprisingly though, two actors manage to pull the right cards and rise above the rest. Paul Rudd, the man who just won't age, plays such a likeable anti-hero that you want to be his little girl and play-pretend a robbery with him. Even though the two films are named after his character, this is much more the Wasp's movie where Scott is relegated to being her comic relief, yet never do we feel Rudd using that as an excuse to phone it in like many a lesser actor would have. But mostly, Michael Pena once again steals the show with the over-caffeinated Luis, who's story-telling skills are cranked up to eleven.

Whaddaya mean not "that" kinda dump truck?!?

Ant-Man & the Wasp will not win over anyone already indifferent to the MCU, nor those afflicted with superhero fatigue after the veritable assault of the genre over the last 10 years. But then again critics have been predicting such a disease since Joel Schumacher swamped the Bat-franchise, and those who still queue for the next Marvel entry wil certainly not miss their money. It has plenty of flaws and fails to avoid predictability at every turn, but damn it if I won't go see it again before it leaves the marquee.