Back to the future.
With the box office disappointment of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Disney executives are freaking out. Star Wars has reliably been a billion-dollar-per-movie enterprise since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, and anything less is the equivalent of the New England Patriots failing to win the Super Bowl. In other words, completely unacceptable. Heads will roll, the children of executives will have to settle for less-than-life-size TIE fighters for Christmas, and they might have to delay the opening of Star Wars Land at Disney World to avoid bankruptcy court. What’s that? Avengers: Infinity War has made over two billion dollars at the box office? Here is your full-scale TIE fighter, son. And a functioning Iron Man suit, just because.
A lot of ink (or electrons) has been spilt by people trying to explain why Solo failed and most of them are trying way too hard, saying it failed because of so-called Star Wars Fatigue or bad marketing. The reason we know marketing and fatigue are bullshit excuses, though, is because the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) exists. The latest film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, is the twentieth film in that franchise and will succeed, in part, because it moves the story and universe forward instead of backwards. Solo did not do that for the Star Wars universe. And fans will be more than happy to make Ant-Man and the Wasp a box office success despite nineteen films worth of fatigue.
People are tired of this? Please.
After watching Infinity War, I noted that I was really curious where Ant-Man and the Wasp was going to take us because, well, you know (and if you do not know, you definitely are not watching this film any time soon). Ant-Man was conspicuously missing from Infinity War, so it became obvious that Ant-Man and the Wasp was going to explain why he was missing. The genius of this film is that it is a standalone story about Ant-Man (and Wasp) that waits until the very end of the film to reveal that explanation.
It is not lost on me that I just railed against going back in time and Ant-Man and the Wasp does exactly that. It works in this case because it is much more sideways than backwards, filling in a gap that was left purposely and precisely for this film. Incidentally, Captain Marvel almost assuredly will do the same thing. The MCU was designed to operate this way, with several parallel stories going on that converge into one film. Therefore, it is necessary to move sideways to avoid leaving a gaping hole in the overarching narrative.
Sometimes you have to move sideways to go forward.
Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up with Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), nearly finished serving a three-year house-arrest sentence for violating the Sokovia accords (see: Captain America: Civil War). With three days left to go, he has a crazy dream about Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Hope, a.k.a. Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), kidnaps Scott because she and Hank believe the dream was actually a message from Janet from the quantum realm, where she was lost decades earlier. That would be our main plot – rescue the damsel in distress (side note: could this plot be any more Disney?). Our secondary plot revolves around Ghost, a.k.a. Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen), a woman who can pass through objects, due to an accident involving a quantum tunnel when she was a child. She also wants to get her hands on Scott for the location of Janet because she believes she can use the quantum energy Janet has absorbed to cure her of her affliction, which is killing her. Toss in Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) as a black-market technology dealer who wants Hank’s quantum technology and we complete what becomes a fantastically fun and humorous action movie.
What I love about the recent spat of MCU films is they have really embraced the comic part of comic-book movie. While they have included comedic relief since Iron-Man kicked off the franchise, the films were always much more serious than funny. Guardians of the Galaxy shifted the balance to something much closer to fifty-fifty and the films have become that much more enjoyable. For example, Scott is always joking about how he completely understands what all the scientists in the room are talking about, then, in a moment of perfect movie self-awareness, Scott asks Hank and Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) if they just put the word quantum in front of everything.
(Side note: Infinity War is definitely much more serious, but the attempt to end half of all life by Thanos is not exactly haha funny).
Is this quantum?
Another thing that is really good about this film is that Wasp is arguably the main character of the film. Much time is devoted to fleshing out her character, her motivations, and her skills and she easily has the best action scenes in the movie. By the end of this film, it is clear that if she got in a fight with Ant-Man, she would take him out without breaking a sweat. That is not to say Ant-Man is a bad fighter, rather she is that good. In a moment of cockiness normally reserved for men, she remarks to Scott that if she had been with him at the airport fight in Civil War, he would not have gotten caught. I am definitely Team Wasp after that exchange.
I got this.
Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a great movie that continues the string of high-quality films produced by Marvel. It has great pacing, really good writing, and a retro-70s-cop-show feel that comes off as genuine and subtle rather than as a cheap stunt for purely nostalgic purposes. If you are not entertained by this film, do me a favor and avoid saying it is because of Marvel fatigue. Accept that you are probably just dead inside.
Rating: Worth every penny no matter how many times you see it.