Review of “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

(No video this week as I babbled more incoherently than normal.)

Following his actions in Berlin to support Captain America, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords. A team of FBI agents swarms his house if his electronic ankle monitoring bracelet gets too far away from the base station. His use of shrinking technology has also gotten Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) into trouble and on the most wanted list but they have avoided capture. Scott, Pym and Hope reunite despite that violating Scott’s probation. It isn’t a happy reunion as Pym and Hope are angry he used their tech and got them on the wrong side of the law. Following Scott’s brief time in the quantum realm Pym believes he can rescue his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) by constructing a quantum tunnel. To do that he needs specialized parts that he purchases from a shady black-market operator named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). During an exchange of money for a part Burch tells Hope he knows who she really is and wants to sell Pym technology to some criminal buyers he’s already arranged. She refuses and uses her Wasp suit to get the part. The fight for the part is interrupted by a person in a suit that can phase through solid walls. Called Ghost for this ability, the newcomer attempts to steal the part but Hope fights Ghost off with Scott’s help. Ghost then goes to the van where Pym is waiting and steals the miniaturized building that houses his lab. Ghost is a woman named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) whose father used to be an associate of Pym’s at SHIELD. Pym got her father fired and he tried to continue his research on his own. That research was trying to access the quantum realm and an accident killed Ava’s parents and left her comprised of atoms that tear themselves apart causing her constant pain. The trio go to another of Pym’s former partners Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn) for help in tracking the lab using energy emissions. Foster and Pym had a bad falling out and after decades apart they still don’t like each other. Ava needs the quantum tunnel to mend her molecules, so she doesn’t die in a few weeks but her needs and Pym’s efforts to retrieve his wife are at odds and they are both running out of time.

Ant-Man is one of those Marvel heroes that on the surface doesn’t seem like a character that deserves his own movie. He doesn’t have the flashy tech of Iron Man, the godlike abilities of Thor, the tragic backstory and green-tinted mayhem of the Hulk, the power, history and patriotism of Captain America and the magical powers of Dr. Strange. Ant-Man can get small (and infrequently very big) and communicate with bugs. Both are useful abilities at times but not exactly the stuff of blockbuster movies. With 2015’s “Ant-Man” Marvel showed how a little guy can be a big hero. Now “Ant-Man and the Wasp” proves the first film wasn’t a fluke. It also helps that this film serves as the palate cleanser after “Avengers: Infinity War.”

The most noticeable aspect of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is it is far more comedic than most Marvel films. A criticism of “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” was the humor felt forced and at times ill-placed. Moments that didn’t need to be tagged with a joke got one anyway. I didn’t see this as being a problem, but many did. Perhaps the lighter tone of “Ant-Man” means the sequel can get away with more jokes and running gags and there are plenty of both in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” We get a humorous thread involving closeup magic that weaves through the film. The character of FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, gets some fun moments every time he’s on screen. And the thief of the film is Michael Pena as Luis, Scott Lang’s former cellmate and now business partner in a security firm run by ex-cons that’s called X-Con. Pena has the gift of a motormouth and that is put to good use in a scene where Burch and his henchmen give Luis a truth serum to find where the lab is located. It is a very funny scene of Luis recounting how he met Scott and his history with Hope. Seeing his words being acted out by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly is one of the film’s high points.

The light and comedic acting of Paul Rudd is also a joy to watch. Rudd is a naturally calming presence in nearly every film he’s in. In scenes where his character is stressed and in danger Rudd manages to play the role in a way that says, “I got this” even if it turns out he doesn’t. Rudd is credited as a writer on both films and his humor and goofy charm can be seen throughout the script.

All this lightness also means “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is largely inconsequential to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where the events of the movie occur in the timeline isn’t clear until the mid-credits scene which places it as happening just prior to “Avengers: Infinity War.” This brief scene is far more important to the MCU than anything that precedes it. It also offers a clue to how Ant-Man could affect the action in “Avengers 4.” Perhaps the movie gives us a future hero that can be folded into Phase 4 and it shows just how useful enlarged ants can be in a construction project and as security guards; otherwise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is like that little bit of sherbet you get between courses at finer restaurants: It’s a palate cleanser following the events of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

While it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the film it isn’t a severe complaint either. The MCU now totals 20 released films with two more in the immediate future: “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers 4.” Not every movie that’s part of the MCU has necessarily been instrumental in expanding the overarching story that leads to the ultimate clash with Thanos. I would argue “Iron Man 2” and “Thor: The Dark World” were just two of the mostly stand-alone adventures for these characters. Watching these heroes deal with their own issues can be as enjoyable as watching them band together and fight a demon bent on destroying half the life in the universe. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” gives us a brief respite as we prepare for what will likely be yet another emotional roller coaster in “Avengers 4.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. The shrinking and growing technology is used to flip cars and cause motorcycle crashes. Hope Van Dyne’s Wasp costume has blasters that shoot out fire and cause a non-lethal impact. Wasp, Ant-Man and Ghost are proficient fighters in hand-to-hand combat. Ghost can also put her hand inside people and injure or kill them. There is some gunplay, but no one is shown getting shot. Foul language is scattered and mild.

It may not have the same impact as other MCU films but “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a lighthearted romp with a little romance on the side. Make sure you stay in your seat during the credits. The mid-credits scene is the one you want to watch while the post credits is just a joke that you can watch if you’re are a completist. Here’s a little spoiler: You’ve already seen part of it in the trailer. The film is fun and, at its heart, is about families being torn apart and the struggle to put them pack together. Perhaps it’s a little deeper then I gave it credit for.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” gets five stars.

This week there are a couple of new films that could both be considered cartoons…or cartoonish. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation—

Skyscraper—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Martian”

Botanist and astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a six-person crew exploring the surface of Mars as part of the Ares III mission. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is informed by crew member Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) of an approaching dust storm that has intensified since the last weather update and may cause their return vehicle to topple over. Lewis orders the crew to head to the launch vehicle and prepare to return to their mothership Hermes in orbit. As they walk from a habitat module to the return vehicle, a piece of equipment is picked up by the wind and strikes Watney with such force that it carries him away from the others. Unable to see him in the blinding storm and receiving telemetry that his suit has been breached, Lewis makes the decision to leave him behind since it appears he is dead. The crew launches and begins the nine month trip back to Earth. Watney wakes up, injured but alive. He returns to the habitat and assesses his situation. He can’t contact Hermes or NASA since his communications equipment was destroyed in the storm. He is in a habitat designed to last 30 days with a limited food and water supply and he’s looking at a minimum of four years before the next mission is scheduled to arrive. Watney begins thinking of ways to extend his food and water supply. Back on Earth, Mars Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) asks NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) to use satellites orbiting Mars to look at the Ares III landing site but Sanders refuses fearing images of Watney’s body on the surface would turn public sentiment against the space program. Kapoor asks an operator in Mission Control to redirect a satellite to look at the Ares III location and notices a rover has changed locations. NASA realizes Watney is alive and begin working on plans to send him supplies. Using his remaining supplies and repurposing the equipment to which he has access Watney does everything he can to stay alive and have the best chance at rescue.

“The Martian” is more than a science-fiction movie. The story wouldn’t be hugely different if the setting was in the wilderness and a lone character had to figure out how to survive with just his wits and limited supplies. While the potential wait for rescue would be significantly shorter, the basics would remain the same. That’s what makes “The Martian” a movie that appeals to those that like sci-fi and those that don’t, as shown by the large take at the box office. It is a film that focuses on one man’s struggle to survive in an environment that has several different ways it can kill him. While the locale is out of this world, the struggle is completely relatable.

Matt Damon is such an everyman he easily fits into just about any role. From a troubled mathematical genius to an amnesiac super spy to a stranded astronaut, Damon finds the humanity in all his characters no matter what insanity might swirl around them. His work in “The Martian” is no different. Damon plays Watney as a brilliant man, cool under pressure, but not someone that doesn’t have doubts about his chances from time to time. The strain of being alone takes its toll on Watney and Damon unapologetically shows us his fear and anger. It’s a brilliant performance on which the entire movie rides.

That isn’t to say the rest of the cast isn’t given a chance to shine. Large chunks of the story take place on Earth and on board the Hermes. As the characters deal with the pressures of figuring out a way to save their stranded comrade and the guilt of having left him behind, we see the kind of political, personal and public relations decisions that go on behind the scenes. There are hard choices that have to be made and difficult calculations on the worth of one man’s life. Is the risk of saving Watney worth the cost in materials, manpower and possible bad PR? It’s the kind of questions the real space program hasn’t had to answer publicly but I’m sure discussions about all the possible outcomes of missions have led to some heated debates. It’s that sort of real-world consideration along with the excitement and tension that make “The Martian” such a grounded story for a sci-fi movie.

“The Martian” is rated PG-13 for injury images, brief nudity and some strong language. We see Watney’s injury and his self-surgery to repair the damage. There are a couple of views of Watney’s bare backside. Foul language is widely scattered but the film does use its maximum allowed number of “F-Bombs.”

“The Martian” is based on a book of the same name by Andy Weir. According to an interview in the podcast “SciFi Geeks Club,” Weir says screenwriter Drew Goddard consulted him on certain aspects of the story and the movie is about 95% faithful to his book. That is almost unheard of in making books into movies. That kind of adherence to the source material may play some part in why “The Martian” is such a great movie. It doesn’t dumb down the science and it keeps the characters grounded with real emotion along with humor to keep the threat of impending death from making the movie too grim. It is well worth your time and money whether you enjoy science fiction or not.

“The Martian” gets five guitars out of five.

This week, there is only one wide release film and that’s the prequel story of Peter Pan. While I may see that visual effect extravaganza, there are some smaller films that look interesting as well. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Grandma—

Hell and Back—

Learning to Drive—

Pan—

Pawn Sacrifice—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.