Marvel Studios’ gamble to pick the lesser-known of their comic heroes paid off with Iron Man ten years ago. Since then, with few exceptions – such as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Captain America: Civil War – the more obscure the character, the higher the cinematic grosses have been; only the most avid Marvel follower would be fully knowledgeable of the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to their movie debut, and their success still manages to surprise. In 2015, another less well-known Marvel character got his movie debut, with Ant-Man, a more comic but still dramatically engaging treat. Originally helmed by modern auteur Edgar Wright, with fellow Brit, Joe Cornish on writing duty, but after a (quite on-trend) falling out with the Disney executives, directing duties fell to Peyton Reed. This last minute change did not grate or affect the final product, unlike the jarring elements of tone and style that were apparent in rival company DC’s recent Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon mashup, Justice League.
Which brings us to its sequel, Ant-Man And The Wasp, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe follow-up not featuring an established group or a famous name. Does this second instalment of Marvel’s tiniest hero work? Following the epic conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War is going to be no easy task…
At the beginning of the movie, our hero Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man) still has to balance his life without getting drawn into either crime or out of this world adventures. Paul Rudd is excellent in this role, and has great chemistry with both his daughter, and Michael Douglas as the cranky but lovable Hank Pym.
Contrasting with Infinity War, the story hones-in on character needs and emotional core, rather than an “apocalyptic monster of the week”, and the humour of farce is played to its strengths. This allows Michael Peña to steal the show as Luis, softening more serious scenes in just the right way, with his sidekicks also adding their own sayings and quotable lines that are destined to be on a T-shirt or meme coming your way soon.
Meanwhile, despite sharing the title, the Wasp (played well by Evangeline Lilly) surprisingly only has a secondary part in the film, although she is superb in her action sequences. I was expecting her role to be deeper, like other female leads in other recent fantasy movies, such as Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, rather than being given such a minor story arc. In the same way, Michelle Pfeiffer’s brief time on screen as her mother Janet Van Dyne – the original Wasp – proves she needs to return to the superhero universe. (In fact I feel her Catwoman is due a return, and could improve the current Batman reliance on macho-man scraps.)
The villain of the piece is the only let down: The Ghost, although well acted by Hannah John-Kamen, feels like a character borrowed from a TV show rather than a cinematic foil to take down our heroes. Thanos she is not. Her reason for being bad is slight and cliché, and headed to an obvious conclusion. The inclusion of both a female villain and hero looks good on paper, but with little screen time together, this is nothing new. The other antagonists, though funny, do lack edge, and at times their manic rage or just plain ineptness lessens the stories ability to keep you on the edge of your seat.
In fact, much of peril lacks the imagination as the first movie. Yes, it still has small and giant funny visuals that raise a smile – though nothing that we haven’t seen before – and although the joke of a small object become larger and vice versa doesn’t tire, but I would liked to see this fun technology get into the hands of the villains, like the eponymous face apparel swapping allegiances at the most vital moments in The Mask.
Not to say that the film isn’t enjoyable. There are a number of fun set pieces and the plot revolving around smaller themes – both metaphorically and literally on screen – gives the film a more down-to-earth caring side than the enormous space opera that has been in the recent Marvel cannon.
As a breather before next year’s the universe shattering conclusion (after 1990s-set Captain Marvel), telling a more intimate and light tale makes sense, and I found myself caring a lot about the plight of the good guys, despite it not having epic consequences. With a great supporting cast, brilliant one-liners, and a simple plot you can follow without getting a headache, Ant-Man And The Wasp proves that it’s not size that’s important, but what you do with it that counts, something that the more melodramatic, violent DC have yet to grasp.