‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ review: Giant-sized fun from miniscule stakes

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’, like its predecessor, remains to be a light-hearted yet unpretentious superhero film that holds together with its heartfelt universal appeal of family and extended families.

Temper your anticipation for Avengers 4, Ant-Man and the Wasp won’t answer any of your lingering Infinity War questions. Still, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for this size-shifting ball of sunshine to come out after such a harrowing epic. The story takes place two years after the all-star skirmish of Civil War and we quickly learn that Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who began the first film in prison, has now been living under house arrest in this sequel. His term expires in a few days and when he’s not accompanied by his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) during his confinement, he keeps himself busy – that is, playing drums, mastering card tricks, reading sappy young adult novels and other activities that a grounded teenager might do. It’s funny to think that this is happening in the same timeline when the Avengers are out there trying to stop Thanos and his forces.

Scott’s former superhero team, Hope van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her father/the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) reconnects with him after he starts receiving messages from Hank’s wife/Hope’s lost mother/the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). A brief prologue recaps that thirty years ago, she gets sucked into the subatomic quantum realm during one of her missions with Hank. For the uninitiated, the quantum realm is a trippy alternate dimension only accessible through magic (as seen in Doctor Strange) or tremendous subatomic shrinking (as Scott did in the first Ant-Man film). Having entered the same sphere, Scott and Janet are now quantumly entangled with each other – whatever that means. Not much exposition is delved into this bit, and frankly a lot of unanswered questions are left hanging on a pseudo-scientific standpoint, but the bottomline is, Janet can send signals to Scott from there. (On a side note, the discoveries here might play a key role in future Marvel Cinematic Universe films.)

Hence, the top priority of Hank and Hope in this sequel is to finally locate Janet after learning that it is possible to make a round trip to that realm. They plan to achieve it via travelling through a quantum tunnel – a project that Hank has been developing for decades now. “Do you guys just stick the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything to make it sound scientific?” Scott utters at one point to reflect the viewers’ confusion at all the mumbo-jumbo thrown.

Anyway, if Hank’s and Hope’s concern seems relatively small in the grand scheme of MCU’s planetary dilemmas, Scott’s concerns are even smaller: avoid alerting the FBI that he has violated his house arrest, discuss business plans with his chatterbox friend Luis (Michael Peña) and maintain a healthy relationship with his daughter. The gravitas of Scott’s and Hope’s situation are wittingly juxtaposed in one scene where Scott insists a ‘FaceTime’ with his daughter while being held in captive. Ant-Man and the Wasp makes no attempt to outscope previous Marvel films and that is an acceptable breather at this point.

Why so? Because every now and then, MCU needs to remind its audience that these superheroes are humans too that need to deal with their personal stuff first before heading on to save the world. True enough, the film heavily leans on its light tone – one can even classify this as a straightforward comedy. For the most part, it never gets tiring because there are different types of humor present in here. Rudd has an amazing comic timing when it comes to situational humor, Peña’s motor-mouthed storytelling under the influence of truth serum comes into play, and even ancillary characters led by their former ex-convict friends, Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian, nail their few scenes just like how Drax would do. While the comedy occasionally borderlines to sitcom level, it’s easy to look past at that because everything is just fun to watch.

Director Peyton Reed and his team of writers wholeheartedly embrace the silliness of Pym’s size manipulation technology. Buildings, cars, salt shakers – you name it, are all playfully manipulated for gags. The giant man effect is used to insert fun in a scene where Scott’s suit malfunctions and he decides to roll with it by using a cargo truck as a scooter. While the shrinking aspect simply amazes with the variety of stunt direction and camerawork present during a Wasp’s combat scenes.

Speaking of the Wasp, this sequel’s greatest achievement is to secure her spot in the roster of Marvel heroes. With Rudd taking charge of the comedy, Lilly exudes badass swagger in delivering more dynamic action set pieces, thanks to her wings and blasters. The film’s title is a landmark in itself – it features the first female hero to co-headline an MCU movie (much to dismay of Black Widow fans). The film does justice in giving them equal weight and even Douglas’ Hank Pym shines in being more of a multi-layered character. It is also worth mentioning that Marvel astounds with their de-aging technology in a flashback scene featuring a younger Hank.

Coming out the heels of Black Panther and Infinity War this film, however, falls flat in delivering a well-fleshed and formidable villain. Illogical communication drove most of the film’s plot and the two other opposing sides: low-level criminal marketeer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and scary, wall-phasing Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), all want to get their hands on Pym’s miniature lab for different reasons. Ghost is an interesting take on Marvel’s villain (if she really is); while she has an intriguing backstory and Kamen brings pathos and desperation to her role, the story does little to explore the character in the present to make her feel more than just one-dimensional. Goggins, fared even less as he’s somewhat relegated as a minor roadblock, so random and inconsequential that he’s mainly there to lead the film to its high-octane car chase. Also bogging Scott is FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) who’s been keeping track of his every move. Individually, the conflicts here seem disjointed and miniscule in stakes but the film does pile them one on top of another to be entertaining and momentous enough at the moment. In hindsight, it never really gets at that point.

Ant-Man and the Wasp, like its predecessor, remains to be a light-hearted, inconsequential yet unpretentious movie among Marvel’s bunch. Despite having a bigger and bolder action this time around, the film still holds it together with its heartfelt universal appeal of father-daughter relationships between Scott and Cassie as well as Hank and Hope, or just themes of family and extended families in general. This film should not be given merit merely because it’s a palette cleanser, but because it solidifies Ant-Man films’ spot as one of the comedic pillars in MCU – a reminder that the franchise is malleable enough to tackle diverse superhero tones but still coherent enough to link them together in the bigger picture. If you’re craving for a cosmic romp, go see Guardians of the Galaxy; if royal politics intrigues you, there’s Black Panther or Thor; but if you want a laugh-out-loud, easy-going yet grounded superhero film, Ant-Man films are there to entertain you.

4 out of 5 stars

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ is now showing in PH cinemas starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Randall Park, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian and Abby Ryder Fortson. Directed by Peyton Reed from a screenplay written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. Based on the characters by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby and Ernie Hart. Runtime: 118 minutes.

‘Hunger Games’ child star Amandla Stenberg leads latest YA action thriller ‘The Darkest Minds’

The latest YA thrilling road trip movie “The Darkest Minds” trails surviving children who have been locked up in rehabilitation camps and are regarded as enemies of the state. Starring in this bestselling book adaptation from author Alexandra Bracken are Hollywood’s up and coming exciting young actors – Amandla Stenberg (Hunger Games, Everything, Everything), Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats), , Miya Cech (American Horror Story), Skylan Brooks (Southpaw), along with Mandy Moore (This Is Us), Patrick Gibson (The OA), Lidya Jewett (Hidden Figures) and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones).

Set in a dystopian America, Ruby (Stenberg) woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control. When the truth comes out upon turning sixteen, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She soon joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam (Dickinson), their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close.

“This story is about a world that is not very different from ours,” observes Amandla Stenberg, who stars as Ruby Daly. “But some really drastic things have happened. The majority of the population of children has died. And the kids who are left have developed these mental abilities that are inexplicable. And so, because of these abilities, the adults are afraid of them and they put them into camps. And so, this particular story focuses on this girl who escapes from one of these camps and what happens when she finds a family of her own on the outside,”.

“Casting Ruby was kind of the make-or-break decision on this film. She’s in almost every frame and I confess, I’ve known Amandla for several years because she happened to have gone to the same school as my older daughters. And so I would see Amandla in school plays. And even when she was fourteen, it was very evident that this young woman was special. She’s not only very commanding on a stage and on a screen, as Rue in ‘Hunger Games’, I saw her as a Teen Idol singing “Beauty School Dropout” in “Grease” and she was awesome as that, too!” says producer Shawn Levy.

“The character of Ruby is pretty tough,” says Stenberg. “And she’s also kind of introverted, the way that she’s written in the book. And so in bringing her to life on the screen, we thought about things that we can do to show all facets of her, because we’re unable to read into her mind like you can when you read the book. I think she is really passionate. She stands her ground. She knows what she wants. That’s what I like a lot about her. But she’s also really thoughtful and kind of keeps to herself. I think she’s a lot like me.”

In discussing what drew her to the project, Stenberg says, “The storyline and the meaning of the storyline was something that immediately excited me about this project. I think there are some parallels between this story and the world we’re living in today.”

From 20th Century Fox, road trip with the squad starts August 1 when “The Darkest Mind” opens in PH cinemas nationwide.