Thursday, July 5, 2018

Here We Grow Again: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

At a certain point, reviewing the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies feels as pointless as it would be to review a Big Mac. No matter where the McDonald's may be, a Big Mac is a Big Mac, same basic ingredients slapped together in a familiar style. Does it sometimes hit the spot, and other times leave you dryly smacking your lips saying, "eh, that's not quite what I wanted today" and feeling vaguely empty? Of course. So it is with the MCU. Among the emptiest is the latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, a small, silly, sci-fi plaything, with just enough nifty effects and charming actors to do a decent impression of entertainment. There are no surprises -- not even the surprises, if you catch my drift -- and the ratio of smirking comedy to zippy action is about what you'd expect. Is it worth measuring out the ways in which this particular pre-fab burger feels a little undercooked and the ways in which the special sauce is a bit thin? Maybe for those of us who care about doing such close reads. I'm thinking if I brought any such scrutiny I'd be taking a big dive in a shallow pool. (Pardon the mixed metaphors, but here is a movie that has driven my thoughts to drift.) Returning director Peyton Reed keeps things bouncy, and the two hours flies by breezily. It goes down smooth and easy, with the expected tastes in place. But compared to the extra doses of style and personality in the last several MCU entires -- the evocative Black Panther, the zazzy Thor 3, the groovy Guardians, the bouncy Spidey reboot, the bombastic cliffhanger of Avengers 3 -- there's not much here beyond the slight charms. It's a bright, colorful, nothing. 

A deliberately small-scale interregnum in the galactic conflict we've been tracing as of late -- technically an Infinity War prequel, I suppose, as no matter the conflict here, everyone's still feeling pretty good, Mr. Stark -- the movie finds Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) under house arrest after the (underwhelming) events of Civil War. He's snuck out by new partner The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her science guy father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, seeming quite checked out). They want him to help them enter the Quantum Realm and find a missing Michelle Pfeiffer (a great, if fleeting, sight as she's the mere MacGuffin Pfeiffer). There's no real overarching villain, just a bunch of people working at cross-purposes: a phasing lab-accident Ghost (Hannah John-Karen), a funny FBI agent (Randall Park), a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins), and a grump professor (Laurence Fishburne). There's a lot of hurrying and scurrying as various characters and a handful of props shrink down and then grow again, leading to quick-paced action in which the effects are deployed with the same rhythms the dialogue scenes use for quips. The scenes take on predictable shapes of exposition-joke-exposition and punch-gag-punch. Nothing much to get worked up about one way or the other, sometimes good for a chuckle and other times not. Best is, paradoxically, the slightest touch of all, silly little grace notes in which returning supporting characters -- Michael Peña, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale -- pop in with fully developed normie characters who side-eye the strange goings-on with some real befuddled charm. It adds up to a reasonably diverting two-hours in an air conditioned theater, but even by the MCU's standard lightness, my memory of this thing feels like it'll blow away on the summer breeze. 

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