Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

July 17, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp Aims Small but Hits Big

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In superhero movies, saving the world has become the equivalent of drinking cough syrup: excruciating, repetitive, ultimately necessary and, dare I say, boring? On one hand, there is no better way to raise stakes or unify disparate groups of people; when the fate of the world is at risk, even major ideological differences can be pushed aside for the sake of ensuring survival. But if this trope is repeated too many times, that sense of urgency can quickly give way to leisure. When the stakes are repeatedly raised, the risks feel disingenuine and deceitful, because the on-screen peace and/or carnage we know will ultimately be reversed in the future.

Peyton Reed was surely aware this fatigue as he directed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third film of 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp. It was never going to be the cultural landmark that is Black Panther, nor the ultimate culmination of ten years of films like Avengers: Infinity War. Like the first Ant Man film, Ant-Man and the Wasp seems tacked on to Marvel’s release calendar absentmindedly, almost as if trying to get a slice of the two prior films’ critical and box office glory. Yet Ant-Man and the Wasp is less the cinematic equivalent of an an ant running off with a piece of your sandwich at a picnic and more like the light spread of Dijon mustard that, though subtle, makes your sub even more spectacular.

By keeping the stakes refreshingly low and overloading the film with Marvel’s predictable, but nonetheless infectious, humor, Ant-Man and the Wasp shows that life does not consist solely of big moments. It is the small moments, the mundane, day-to-day events, that matter and ultimately shape who we are. The film is not naïve; it is aware that one’s world can end with just a snap of one’s fingers, but that realization highlights the important things in life that are too often overlooked in favor of spectacle — namely love, family and friendship. By going small, it ironically shows what the big and essential things really are.

If you were to dig beneath the surface to the subatomic narrative DNA of the film, you would find that it surprisingly speaks to great lengths on the subject of fatherhood. For antagonist Ava Starr/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), she is angered at the loss of her own father and, while she seeks revenge, her rage is a mask for her longing to form an identity in the real world apart from the legacy of her parents. For renowned scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), there has never been a problem or issue he has not been able to solve, but he is at a loss when it comes to safely rescuing his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the nebulous Quantum Realm. Painfully realizing his limitations, he trains his own daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to do the work that he cannot. He projects his desires and aspirations upon her, and she shoulders the burden and pressure well, with no signs of breaking down beneath her yellow-tinted helmet. Buoyed by Lilly’s gruff and terse portrayal, there is no denying Hope’s skill; she is just as adept at assembling a high-tech quantum tunnel as she is able to effortlessly takedown Sonny Burch’s (Walton Goggins) henchman. Yet her acceptance of the Wasp mantle, while rousing, is tragic as well. She seems like someone who never had the opportunity to grow up, with her own aspirations being replaced by her father’s ambitions.

In contrast, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) wants his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) to escape from his own shadow. The start of Ant-Man and the Wasp sees Scott under house arrest due to the events of Captain America: Civil War. Cassie encourages Scott to become Ant-Man again later, even humorously offering to help him fight crime. To this, Scott states that if he were at any point to let his daughter become a superhero, he “would be a terrible father.” He courageously wants Cassie to not repeat his mistakes but to live freely, even if it comes at the cost of his influence in her life. It is a different philosophy than Hank’s, and the film engages with important themes through these characters.

While the search for Janet and the exploration of fatherhood drive the film forward, the film’s humor, mostly given by the likes of Luis (Michael Peña) and newcomer Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) help give it momentum. At this point, if you have not gotten on board with the cookie-cutter jokes Marvel injects into its films, from caustic sarcasm to incessant name calling, you will not grow to like it more here.

In my Avengers: Infinity War review, I stated that I hoped Avengers 4 would be less Good Friday, more Easter Sunday. While the stone has not rolled away from the tomb yet, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome step in the right direction. Small but imperative films like this one are proof that the future of the MCU will continue to shine bright and leave hearts warm, even despite adversity.

Zachary Lee is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at zjl4@cornell.edu.