Ant-Man and the Wasp: I hope this ends here

I don’t know what it is with Ant-Man movies. They are simply not great.

This movie is less dumb than its prequel, and has some genuinely enjoyable sequences. But ultimately, the movie is just lukewarm. I don’t think it’s because Ant-Man isn’t a serious superhero. I mean, the Guardians of the Galaxy films are light and fun, but never venture into the territory of silliness. The movies are pretty intense, all things considered, and the stakes are sky-high (literally :P). The problem with Ant-Man, in my opinion, is that in trying to make the films light and cool, they fail to make them memorable. I think that is because of two reasons. First, in order for a film to be memorable, it should succeed in engaging the audience. This will happen only if the viewer is as concerned about the stakes in the story as the characters. Second, since this is a superhero movie, the tech/powers that are integral to the movie need to be understandable and believable for the audience. Ant-Man fails on both these counts.

Let us first look at the stakes in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Hank Pym, the physicist who invented the Ant-Man suit wants to go into the quantum realm to find his wife who got lost there many years ago. Keep in mind, this is the twentieth film in the MCU. By now I am used to the fate of the universe being at stake. This film turns that trope around by making the stakes the lives of two women – Pym’s wife in the quantum realm and Ava Starr/Ghost, the daughter of a former associate of Pym’s whose body is disintegrating due to quantum phasing (there is a lot of ‘quantum’ in this film that I will discuss in the next part of the review). So far so good. Not every superhero film needs to be about saving the galaxy from supervillains. But they do need situations and characters the audience can care about. Good movies in the MCU have done that by having the antagonists pose moral quandaries in addition to physical challenges for the protagonists.

In this case, the two antagonists – Sonny, a black-market tech-dealer, and Ghost didn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, the challenge they presented was entirely in the form of chase and action sequences. Ghost had started to make herself credible by stating that her condition was as a result of her father being discredited by Pym, but rather than explore that threat, the film quickly resolved it by establishing her father as a liar and a thief. Even the one person who was helping her, another pissed-off former associate of Pym’s (the guy managed to piss off every single person he interacted with), abruptly changed his tune and began supporting Pym’s mission to find his wife instead of his own goal of harnessing Van Dyne’s energy from the quantum realm to cure Ghost of her affliction. Even Ghost’s affliction loses its seriousness towards the end of the film, when a newly returned Van Dyne can cure her simply by touching her and passing on the quantum energy she supposedly absorbed over the years.

This brings me to my second point. This film explores the quantum realm, an area where physics changes character completely. The problem is that the film overuses the concept and spews out ideas that must impress the audience simply because they have the word ‘quantum’ before them. The film acknowledges this by having Ant-Man say, “Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” Far-fetched quantum mechanics is supposed to explain everything – how Van Dyne managed to survive for years in the quantum realm, how she managed to make an antenna, meet with and plug it on to Ant-Man when he entered the quantum realm, understand that there is healing energy in the quantum realm, harness that energy in her own body… All of this is simply too far-fetched, even for a universe that tells us stories about adventures in outer space.

So, if you’re still wondering why Ant-Man wasn’t called to be a part of the Avengers in Infinity War, you know that the silliness of the series probably had more than a small part to play in it.

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Ant-Man: Dumb and Dumber

In 2016, when Captain America: Civil War had hit the theatres I had gone to see it with a friend of mine. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of superhero movies. I remember finding the movie outlandish and silly (NOT my sentiments today, I can assure you). The only parts of the film I had enjoyed were the action sequences featuring Ant-Man. He was funny and didn’t take himself too seriously (unlike the rest of the cast). I remember telling my friend that I wanted to watch the Ant-Man film, because that was probably the only superhero movie I would enjoy. You can imagine my excitement, then, when it was my turn to watch Ant-Man in the MCU movie list. After a relatively heavy film like Avengers: Age of Ultron, I thought this movie would provide the perfect respite. Oh, how wrong I was!

Ant-Man starts with great promise. Unlike other superhero movies, where the principal character is either a genius and/or the toughest fighter and/or a billionaire, the protagonist here is a thief. He is broke and can’t even hold a job at Baskin Robbins. He becomes a superhero only because a scientist needs an expendable foot soldier. Beyond this, however, the movie is just dumb. There is no compelling reason for any of the characters’ actions. For instance, why does Lang think that a suit that powerful can be stolen from a house safe? Why does Hank Pym say that Scott Lang is his only hope? Lang may be a good thief, but how difficult would it be for Pym to find another thief? Why does Darren Cross/Yellowjacket have to steal Pym’s suit if he has a functional suit of his own? One could argue that he thought it was not fully developed, but the fear of his experiments failing didn’t stop Cross from experimenting indiscriminately on animals. When the fate of the world was at stake why did Pym, Hope and Ant-Man decide to break into a lab with a bunch of silly, small-time crooks? Why was a world-class science facility so easy to break into in the first place? Hope hung out with her dad for most of the movie. How did she believe that Cross wouldn’t find that out? Why did Cross play along with Hope even though he knew? Had these questions been thought through, we would have probably gotten a smarter movie. Instead, we get a parody-esque portrayal of this great character. It is meant to be funny, but the movie didn’t so much as make me smile. I was just appalled at the stupidity of everything to find the gags funny.

In addition to a scattered plot, the movie also suffers from the lack of a formidable villain. I have written about this before, but a superhero movie needs a good villain. Every hero needs a challenge to prove himself/herself, and the greater the challenge, the more impressive the hero. In much of this movie, Ant-Man is unchallenged, at least when it comes to his powers. He gets a moment to shine when he defeats the Avengers’ Falcon. But I wish the movie had set up the antagonist so that we knew the challenge Ant-Man was dealing with. Furthermore, the viewer has no understanding of the antagonist’s motivations or powers. This reduces the action to mindless fighting. The film never poses a larger right versus wrong question, much less try to answer that question through action. And finally, if I may add, I just couldn’t get on board with trained ants as Ant-Man’s minions. It was more disgusting than anything else, unfortunately.

The trope of saving the world from advanced weaponry falling into the wrong hands has been done countless times in the past. Even though Ant-Man fails, we know Marvel can do it again, much better. You know how I know that? Its basically Marvel’s MO.