The summer of “Eh, it was alright” continues with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a film that feels like — and, in fact, is — the 20th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
You’d think after nearly two decades worth of comic book movies, the genre would start to feel a bit tired. And you’d be right!
The “Ant-Man” sequel isn’t bad. It’s just deeply unremarkable in the way that most PG-13 product is these days.
The Marvel formula, which most studios now imitate, has become so familiar that it’s begun to breed contempt.
How to make a Marvel movie:
Well, you get a few charming actors to play superheroes. These superheroes can do extraordinary things. But they’re still relatable, ya know. They joke knowingly about their magical powers and their wacky circumstances, letting the audience know that they’re not taking any of this too seriously.
Anyways, you’ve got to have a lot of plot, too, some of which ties back intricately (but not too intricately) to previous installments. The dialogue is largely expositional but throws in enough zingers to keep things moving. Gotta get those lols.
Mix in a couple of CG-heavy action sequences. A forgettable music score. A busy third act with our heroes working separately to obtain a thing or to stop a thing or whatever.
Roll credits. Run post-credits sequence. Preview the next installment in the MCU. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat ...
As these things go, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is fine. But it’s the 20th iteration of the MCU playbook. The formula is fraying. The gags and the quips and the derring-do are all starting to run together.
The superhero movie is and will continue to be the most popular genre for many years to come. The only thing in the history of movies that’s comparable to its reign is that of the Western, which dominated Hollywood for decades before finally imploding — it happened sometime between the release of “Star Wars” and the colossal failure of 1980’s “Heaven’s Gate.”
Though I’ve liked plenty of superhero movies, I welcome the genre’s eventual demise. But I’ll very likely be an old man by the time that happens. (If it happens at all.) In the meantime, I suppose, I’ll just deal with it, waiting for the occasional bright spot like “Logan” to come along.
If you’re not yet bored by comic book movies, good for you. You are a happy person. And you’ll more likely than not enjoy “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
The sequel picks up a few years after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” with Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) under house arrest for helping the Avengers who went rogue.
(The movie’s timeline runs alongside the events of this summer’s “Infinity War,” meaning that whopper of an ending hasn’t happened yet. The “Ant-Man 2” post-credits sequence ties the films’ timelines together neatly enough.)
With a few days left in his sentence, Scott reunites with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly). Pym and Hope are trying to rescue their missing wife and mother, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). Decades back, Janet shrank herself so small that she was lost to a subatomic netherworld called the Quantum Realm. The main thrust of the film is our heroes trying to help Pym “Fantastic Voyage” his way to tiny town to save his incredible shrinking wife.
And, I don’t know, there’s other stuff.
There’s a low-level criminal played by Walton Goggins. There’s a villain-ish character named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through physical matter. There’s Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), a former associate of Pym’s — and an Easter egg for fans of Avengers comics.
And there’s Scott’s family (Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Bobby Cannavale) and Scott’s friends (Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris), and there’s the FBI team (led by Randall Park) making sure Scott’s not up to any criminal activity.
Too many characters in this movie. Too much plot. It might have been a simple, breezy side adventure like the first “Ant-Man” — a much better movie — but it has too many boxes to check.
The story revolves around a Macguffin: a shrunken office building that everyone wants. The itty-bitty building contains a thing that, uh, can do a thing that will let the movie end so the audience can go home.
Though it doesn’t contain any sequences as inventive as those in “Civil War” or the first “Ant-Man,” the new film does offer a handful of clever sight gags, most of which have been spoiled by the trailer: The Wasp running along the side of a knife, growing back to normal size before chucking a giant salt shaker at a bad guy. A 20-foot-tall Ant-Man using a truck like a scooter.
Best of all is Pym’s descent into the eye-poppingly weird visuals of the Quantum Realm. Like “Doctor Strange,” the “Ant-Man” movies have a refreshingly distinct vibe to their special effects.
But compared to Marvel’s better entries, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels light on action, squeezing most of the big moments into its cramped finale. The film’s first two-thirds are just a lot of people meeting other people and explaining things to them.
Lilly and John-Komen at least get compelling-enough characters in Hope and Ghost. But everyone else is just going through the motions of the movie’s overwrought plot. Everyone else is just there to push Marvel’s increasingly bland brand of irreverent humor.
We’ve seen it all before. We’ll see it all again. And very soon.