‘Ant-Man’ installment begins to overstretch Marvel universe

This filim still released by Marvel Studios shows Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” (Photo courtesy Marvel Studios)

“Ant-Man & The Wasp”

 

As the era of Marvel closes out its 10th year, I think film historians of the future will note this point in the company’s history as the beginning of the end of the complete and total cohesion that the studio has managed to instill in the 20 films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.It’s not that this week’s “Ant-Man and The Wasp” breaks any new ground, necessarily, but instead that this film pays more attention to its family-friendly, easygoing vibe than it does to the greater story going on around it.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed it, it has some quality issues that I haven’t seen in the Marvel films to this point, which also, I think, points to a spreading out and diluting of the Marvel brand as the Universe gets bigger and more populated. I think it’s possible we might eventually get a Marvel movie that is actually bad. (I can practically hear my Movie Talk co-hosts rolling their eyes.)

“Ant-Man and The Wasp” opens with a recreation of an expository scene from the first “Ant-Man.” It’s the early ’80s and Hank Pym, as the original incarnation of the character, and his wife, here played by Michelle Pfeiffer as the first Wasp, are working together to take down a rogue nuke heading for the American coastline. Its hull proves too thick to cut through, however, so Wasp takes the drastic action to shrink between the molecules of the metal to get inside and wreck the machinery, knowing that doing so would basically doom her. Shrinking to sub-atomic size basically sets off a chain reaction causing the hero to continue shrinking uncontrollably until they reach the unpredictable and inescapable quantum realm. The Wasp is gone and Hank blames himself.

Flash-forward to the present and Hank, along with his daughter Hope, think they may have discovered a way to find Mom and bring her home. The dialogue is peppered with impenetrable concepts like quantum entanglement and quantum dispersion fields to the point where Scott Lang, current Ant-Man, mutters “Do you guys just throw the word quantum in front of everything?” That was a wry little in-joke for the writers, but one that is surprisingly on point. The exposition in this movie makes no sense, for the most part, and is often awkwardly delivered. It made me wonder why the writers spent so much time trying to make sure the audience was caught up when the stuff they were catching us up on was difficult to follow.

Scott (the ever genial and funny Paul Rudd) is currently at the tail end of a two-year sentence of house arrest following his participation in the events of “Civil War,” where Captain America basically went rogue. He gets roped into Hope and Hank’s quantum scheme despite his constant surveillance from the FBI, which makes for a pretty funny side story co-starring Randall Park as the agent in charge. Complicating matters further are two villains — a greedy entrepreneur played by Walton Goggins and a bizarre hooded character who can phase in and out of physical existence named Ghost. Goggins’ Sonny Burch is sort of funny, but completely irrelevant to the point that you often forget he’s even there. Ghost is far more interesting, but her issues were so tied up in the quantum mumbo jumbo that I was never sure what the rules were regarding her powers/condition. Sometimes she could control it, sometimes she couldn’t. As played by Hannah John-Kamen, the character is interesting and sympathetic despite the writing.

This movie is best when it is focusing on action starring Rudd’s Ant-Man and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope and the latest incarnation of the Wasp. Lilly was one of the best parts of “Lost,” but hadn’t done much of note until she was cast in “Ant-Man.” Watching her kick butt as unquestionably the more talented member of the duo is a blast. The other place this film shines is in the comedy, particularly involving fan-favorite Luis, played by Michael Pena and his two cohorts. These two essential components, action and comedy, are what this team excels at. Dense plot and complicated science, not so much.

After the major dirge that was “Infinity War,” it’s no surprise that studio would release a movie like “Ant-Man.” Silly and lightweight, it’s a good chaser that heavy, heavy film. Without spoiling, I’ll recommend you hang around through the credits to see where the two movies connect. Fear not — I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end. There’s just too much money to be made from all these characters to see them disappear in a puff of ash.

As for this particular franchise, I’ll be happy to tune in for another round, but I’d caution the filmmakers to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. “Doctor Strange” and “Thor” can get by with any number of fantastic goings on because they don’t bother trying to explain the science behind it. Maybe there should be a similar aesthetic here. Or, if the science is important, get it right and use it as a teaching opportunity instead of just throwing the word “quantum” in front of everything. Grade: B

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for action violence and brief language.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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