(Netflix Streaming, January 2019) It says much about the Marvel Cinematic universe’s self-assurance that it not only knows how to make decent movies (nearly) every single time, but counter-programs deliberate tonal shifts within the series itself. Much as the sombre Avengers: Age of Ultron was followed by the first comic Ant-Man, here we have the even-more sombre Avengers: Infinity War followed by the almost-as-comic Ant-Man and the Wasp. Once more featuring a charming Paul Rudd, this sequel also aims for a lighter, funnier, not quite as melancholic kind of film with the MCU … and that’s not a bad thing. It’s often very funny (with Michael Peña once again winning comic MVP), although the comedy aspect is balanced against more serious elements, including an unusually sympathetic antagonist as played by Hannah John-Kamen. Rudd is backed by capable supporting talent, including a much-welcome bigger turn from Evangeline Lilly, as well as characters played by veteran Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer. The transition from lighthearted caper film to more metaphysical fantasy in interesting to watch, and the top-notch special effects help sell the film’s wilder sequences, such as a car chase exploiting the scale-changing powers around which the Ant-Man series is based. It may not be particularly deep (and at times it feels like a filler episode in between the Infinity War/Endgame two-parter), but Ant-Man and the Wasp passes the time nicely—there’s something interesting, funny or entertaining every few minutes and that’s not a bad change of pace after the sombre conclusion of previous MCU film—which shows up in a ponderous post-credit sequence.
(Netflix Streaming, March 2016) It had to happen at some point: I think I’ve reached a certain jadedness level regarding the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The time to wonder at how Marvel maintains such a level of quality has passed; we may have entered the age of diminishing returns. Or I’m being grouchy for no good reason: Ant-Man, after all, is competently made, decently paced, suitably integrated with the rest of the MCU … it’s hard to point at the film and say that something is wrong with it. Paul Rudd is a good choice for the titular role, bringing his usual affability on-screen and setting up an interesting addition to the ongoing MCU serial. The film’s microscopic action sequences feel new enough, and the film’s relatively small scale and restrained ambitions is a welcome change of pace from the usual save-the-world grandiosity of most other comic-book movies. However… Ant-Man does feel quite a bit more ordinary than it ought to have been. The scale-switching action leaves us hungry for more, the usually-enjoyable Corey Stoll seems wasted in a fairly typical villainous role, while Evangeline Lilly seems far more capable than what little she’s given to do here. (But then there’s the sequel to consider.) In short, there’s a sense that as competent as it is, Ant-Man is holding back from its true potential. Without getting into the what-ifs of the film’s troubled production history in which director Ed Wright (whose movies I love) was replaced by Peyton Reed (whose first two movies I love), it seems as if Reed wasn’t able or allowed to push Ant-Man as far as it could go. The result is fine, but the problem with MCU films is that they have to top themselves in order to keep the wow factor: Once you’ve hit The Avengers, Guardian of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier levels, it’s hard to go back to mere competence. Heck, when even Age of Ultron starts smelling like déjà vu, the MCU enters a new phase: how to keep things interesting without necessarily saving the world every time. Ant-Man is a sufficiently different beast to keep things interesting, but it also hints at how difficult it’s going to be to keep up interest at a time when half a dozen new comic-book movies are scheduled every year.