462. Ant-Man and the Wasp

★★½

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels less like a movie and more a two-hour TV episode in a Saturday morning superhero series.  It’s remarkably self-contained from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, with only the occasional mention to Steve Rogers or “Captain America: Civil War,” a film that came out two years ago. But instead of heightening the independent storytelling potential of this small-scale insect entree, we get a film whose humor feels borrowed from a season finale of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and whose entire plot feels like its based on a McGuffin stolen from an unproduced, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” teleplay.

That McGuffin being the Quantum Realm. Basically, its a super-microscopic area where the rules of space or time don’t really matter. 20 bucks says those specific mentions of SPACE and TIME will have an impact on Thanos’ ability to use those stones in that area for the “Infinity War” sequel. But for now, it’s just the super mysterious place where Janet Van-Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) from the first “Ant-Man” went missing decades ago. And it’s also the place where Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a villain with the ability to walk through walls, wants to harness the energy of Hope and the Quantum Realm to save her life. But there’s also Dr. Foster (Laurence Fishburne), another scientist and former associate of Pym’s studying the Quantum Realm with mysterious intentions. While these Quantum entanglements are tightening in dark classrooms and hidden laboratories, black market tech trader Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) is outside, scooting around the sunny streets of San Francisco trying to steal Pym’s lab.

Oh, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, is also in the movie.

It’s a relatively jolly romp glistened with the same fresh humor that made “Ant-Man” such a welcome surprise, not funny in the “‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ taking itself less seriously” sense, but more “funny because it has genuine jokes from likable characters” manner. The core nearly drowns us in anticipation for someone to enter Quantum Realm, but there’s enough one-liners and extended gags from Scott, Luis (Michael Pena), and crew to keep us treading water until then.

But there’s a general aura that “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” while charming, still under delivers. Everything revolving the Quantum Realm is explained through needlessly complex scientific jargon, an easy way for the filmmakers to do exactly whatever they want it to do. “Well how could Janet survive down there, and how can we even find her, and why does Ghost need her?” an “Ant-Man and the Wasp” character hypothetically asks. “Simple, by re-calibrating the proton thrusters and re-sequencing the beta surges to account for the flux-magisalijdkfsdjjcxers, we can find her.” Oh okay, I forgot about the flux-magisalijdkfsdjjcxers, that makes perfect sense now,

Not to mention that the emotional core and character arcs of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” are all pretty weak. The supposed “rivalry” between Pym and Foster feels artificial, the origins of  the malevolent Ghost and her mysterious superpowers explained in an all too familiar, Marvel manner. Scott doesn’t really have an internal drive or dilemma besides trying to escape the solitude of house arrest and spend more time with his daughter who he regularly sees. Without spoiling too much, everyone is exactly the same people they were when they started, ready for their next adventure where nothing else will change them either.

More so, Everything in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels like it happened just because characters were bored, started pursuing hobbies, and then some of those hobbies conflicted with the hobbies of others folks. It’s just an over-amplified, cinematic version of your next-door neighbor playing their guitar too loud, disrupting your ability to play the drums, and instead of telling them to turn their music down or passive-aggressively playing the “Tom Sawyer” solo even louder, you’re shrinking and expanding at exponential rates while friends are piloting tiny spaceships into unexplored areas beyond time and space. Tomato, Tohmato.

These faults are a result of the two seemingly contradictory goals of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to begin with: Being small scale and disconnected from the MCU, while introducing something extremely crucial for the second “Infinity War” film. This is a movie stuck in conflicts with no resolutions. It has too little character development or too much, the scope, power and importance of the Quantum Realm is either too unappreciative small or too wildly massive. Like its titular hero, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels under house arrest, a small scale story set in a city only 47-square miles large, with the freedom to do whatever it wants in those confines, but confined none-the-less.

 

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