Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Ant-Man and the Wasp


I got to see Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) this past weekend.

People are well aware that I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by now. I think it’s absolutely remarkable that a production company finally listened to people who were bored with the same four superheroes and gave us a whole story line to follow that didn’t involve seeing the same origin stories 950 times each.

Ant-Man (2015) was a risky story to go down, though, and I don’t mean because they didn’t go with Hank Pym as the size-changing superhero in the films. In fact, using Hank as the main character would have been even riskier. In the comics, Hank is distinctly unlikable. He has an aggressive, sometimes abusive, streak that would have been very difficult for the director to portray as heroic.

In the first Ant-Man, you really don’t get to see much of what makes Hank a difficult character, but in the second one, they delve into it a little more. He has a few outbursts that give the other characters cause to stop and do a double-take. You meet some of the people from his past that have stories that confirm he might not be the best person. A genius, undeniably, but his selfishness is very much highlighted. I really liked that it was poked at a little.

I feel, especially because of the route they took with Hank, that the MCU is utilizing the entire Ant-Man branch as a generalized redemption story. Scott Lang is an ex-con and Hank Pym is a narcissist… you see them both come to face their actions and push forward into better people.

I really like that aspect of Ant-Man.

Sure, it’s also something they’ve been doing with Iron Man… but on a lesser scale.

In Iron Man (2008), Tony Stark is the past-asshole. Just Tony. He was surrounded by people who were better humans than he was and that gave him something to hold on to as he worked on redeeming himself. For Scott Lang, he’s surrounded by other ex-cons and an ex-(sometimes current)-jackass.

Now, I know people who don’t really prefer the Ant-Man branch of the MCU. I’ve heard arguments that’s it’s way too ridiculous, or that the action isn’t up to snuff, even that it feels too much removed from the rest of the MCU.

I disagree with all of those arguments.

Marvel has always relied on having a thread of comedic relief, going as far back as the movies in Phase 1, like Iron Man and Thor (2011). As time went on and they realized that people responded well to that kind of comedy and they ramped it up. We eventually wound up with things like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017).

I mean, could you imagine any production company trying to put out a superhero action film that used a dance-off as part of the final showdown in the early 2000s? There was no way they would have. The majority of superhero films that went that heavy on the laughs before the MCU wound up being critically panned. That’s how we got shit like the original Howard the Duck (1986), Bat-Nipples, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Batman & Robin, Killing Gunther, The Expendables 3) as a really bad Mr. Freeze.

Sure, you had stuff like The Mystery Men (1999) and The Mask (1994), but they were in the minority. Aside from which, it’s arguable whether or not The Mask is even a superhero film to begin with, I’d buy it – but not everyone would.

Marvel decided that it wasn’t the practice that was the issue, it was the expectations. So, they worked us up to that kind of humor. They showed us what our expectations should line up with. What we wound up getting was some very serious ideas that were backed by a relatable and ultimately human sense of humor.

That’s what Ant-Man is.

The MCU offers us threads of humor, but the storylines are actually extremely dark when you think about them. I mean, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) didn’t really require much thought to see the darkness, but going straight back to Phase 1, it’s always been dark.

Tony Stark is a weapons engineer that gets kidnapped and then spends the rest of his time as a hero making up for the weapons he made. His story is laced with undertones of guilt, addiction, and even PTSD. Thor is a god whose siblings have both turned on him, he leads a relatively lonely existence and winds up having to be the catalyst of the destruction of his whole world and, eventually, his people. Captain America is experimented on, stolen from his timeline, loses everyone he’s ever loved and lives the rest of his life with a single purpose, and the government wants his blood over it.

All the Avengers – in fact, all the heroes in the MCU, have stories that make them incredibly flawed people trying to swim through some seriously relatable darkness.

Ant-Man is different. Although Scott Lang has growing to do and a past to make up for, there’s a lighter note. The film itself is meant to be that line of comedy throughout the entire rest of the universe. Where the other films fed us the smaller bits of dark with a few grains of sugar, Ant-Man is the spoonful sugar that helps us swallow the great void of darkness that would otherwise encompass the whole series.

And, after Infinity War, we were all in need of something lighter. It’s due to the fact that Infinity War threw us head first into that void that Ant-Man and the Wasp HAD to be even lighter than the first. There is still that tell-tale thread of dark, but we get to see a lot more of Paul Rudd’s (Mute, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, Ideal Home) signature comedic timing.

Just to add to that, I was initially skeptical about Rudd as Ant-Man and I have since realized that there was no one else who could have made such a random hero as likeable as he is in the films. I hope Sarah Finn (Iron Man, Kick-Ass, Thor), the person in charge of casting for Marvel films, makes a huge amount of money – because she’s worth every penny.

Action is another story.

In the first Ant-Man, some of the action was smaller because the actual characters were tiny at the time, and the director/editor still managed to make it seem epic. They tied those parts into the comedy aspect perfectly. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, that wasn’t as big of an issue. All the action that was involved was thrilling. And Paul Rudd didn’t carry the weight of all that action on his shoulders alone.

Can we just talk about The Wasp? Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hurt Locker, Little Evil) kicked some serious ass as Hope Van Dyne. Her acting made the character feel real and, because of that, all the action sequences were even more engrossing. Her stunt doubles, Ingrid Kleinig (Suicide Squad, Mad Max: Fury Road, Tomorrow When the War Began) and Renae Moneymaker (X-Men: Apocalypse, Furious 7, John Wick), were on POINT. There was never a boring moment when the Wasp was on screen – regardless of who was in the suit.

Then there’s the last argument I’ve heard: that it feels too removed from the rest of the MCU. To that I only have one thing to say…

You haven’t been paying attention, have you?

The entire movie starts off with a direct nod to Captain America: Civil War (2016). Sorry, not a nod. A nod would be a basic mention, maybe a setting that was meant to call back to it a little bit. That’s not how Ant-Man and the Wasp started off. Instead, it was a direct continuation of the story.

Sure, there’s been six movies since Civil War, so it might be easy to miss… but still. Scott wasn’t arrested after the events of Ant-Man, remember? Paxton, played by Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace, Mr. Robot, Boundaries), opted not to take him in. So, why was he under house-arrest at the beginning of this film?

In Civil War, Captain America went to rescue the people who’d fought alongside him… but Scott decided not to accept the help. He stayed put and accepted his fate because he didn’t want to live on the run away from his daughter. It was likely the fact that he chose to stay behind that got the government to give him a break with sentencing. Otherwise, he clearly would have been incarcerated for breaking the Sokovia Accords.

Immediately, you start out with that significant connection to the universe. Not just that, but you have an exact idea of the time-line of the events of the film. Especially due to the after-credits scene.

Now, I warned you about spoilers to begin with. So, if you’ve read this far because you saw the movie – but you missed the final scene because you left the theater or some shit and now you’re pissed I’m talking about it? I have no sympathy for you. Marvel is not new. If you leave before that final scene, that’s on you. You knew it was there.

In the after-credits scene, Scott is sent back to the quantum realm. While he’s there, Hope, Hank and Janet are all dusted by the snap. You’re left with no idea how – or if – Scott will be able to get back.

That means that the entire Ant-Man and the Wasp film takes place mostly during the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018). It explains Scott’s absence from that film and may even indicate that he’ll have something to do with the second part of that story. I think that might even be a call back to the first issue of The Avengers (1963) comic, since he and Wasp are both on the cover. We got to learn more about Wasp in this past movie and, in Infinity War, Part 2 (or whatever it winds up being called), I believe he’ll further establish himself as a worthy Avenger.

All-in-all, I truly believe that Ant-Man­ and Ant-Man and the Wasp are both solid MCU films. They have a slightly different tone and a lighter feel in general – but I believe even that is in relation to the universe itself.

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