“&” is for Cooperation, or, Ant-Man and the Wasp

ant-manandthewasp

What’s he looking at over there? Wait. What’s she looking at up there? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!!!

More surprising to me than its lackluster box office haul was the feeling Solo: A Star Wars Story seemed to elicit in many reviewers that the film was “inessential.”

Huh?

Bro, they’re movies. They’re all inessential.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Solo didn’t have star war and lightsabers and Skywalkers. Still, the idea that Solo is inherently lesser because of that is perplexing to me and I’ve yet to see it conveyed in any meaningful or convincing way.

With that in mind, I left Marvel Studios’ latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the nagging feeling that the film had been… inessential. Like a regular pot.

But Ant-Man in the Wasp isn’t so much inessential as it is the direct follow up to Avengers: Infinity War, which is to say the galaxy spanning struggle of, like, twenty superheroes to stop a space warlord from committing universal genocide is followed up here less than three months later by a film that at one point involves seagulls. There’s a distinct sense of whiplash between the two films, one that is more jarring and less refreshing than the welcomed disparity between the cumbersome Avengers: Age of Ultron and the lean, original Ant-Man.

But scope aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a thematic follow up to Infinity War that proves itself, while still jarring, anything but inessential.

Infinity War finds its cast of heroes split across the universe, willingly or otherwise. It’s a film that sees a distinct lack of communication between its heavy hitters, even when they share the same geographic location. There are conflicting ideologies and strategies and motivations that muddy the waters of the Avengers’ common goal, and so while the heroes are not in open conflict as they are in Captain America: Civil War, they are lesser in their division, big or small, by choice or by circumstance.

So much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, down to its very title, is concerned with cooperation, with crossing aisles and uniting fronts. Here, crooks and physicists work together for a greater good, as do fallen-out old peers, the rich and poor, the brilliant and goofy. Human beings and ants.

Well, the ants seem like they might be straight-up slaves, but you know.

Ant-Man himself works alongside his ex-wife and her new husband to raise their daughter. The Wasp works aside her estranged father to search for her mother. This is a film about cooperation, about people helping and being helped. It paints a picture of an MCU in which hands, though sometimes more eagerly than others, are still extended in comradery. It’s not an Ant-Man movie. It’s not a Wasp movie. It’s all about that “and” baby.

Despite its great sense of humor and utterly badass antagonist, Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), I’d be lying if I said Ant-Man and the Wasp made it any easier to wait for Avengers 4 next summer, but it’s thematic follow-up to that film has me chomping at the bit to concoct hot takes on the quadruple feature of what is shaping up to be a fascinating run of Marvel films; Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and Avengers 4.

When the dust settles on phase three of the MCU after whatever fallout awaits us in Avengers 4 it’ll be very interesting to see just how essential this brief interlude becomes.

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Perfect Timing, or, Ant-Man

Avengers: Age of Ultron was a massive movie. There was something like a million robots, upwards of five antagonists and one lavish, sprawling set piece after another, each in its own corner of the globe. What better way to follow up what is quite possibly the biggest superhero movie of all time than with what is most definitely the smallest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet.

Get it? Cause small? Cause ants? Cause I’m talking about Ant-Man?

SMALL ATTACK

SMALL ATTACK

Ant-Man applies Marvel Studios’ trademark, money-printing charm to the heist movie, a genre that traditionally entails far smaller conflicts than world-ending androids. The marriage of Marvel style and the heist genre winds up delivering what in many ways is the polar opposite of Age of Ultron.

Where Age of Ultron pits a genocidal robot hive mind devising an extinction-level event up against a flying aircraft carrier of speedsters, witches and more benevolent other robots in a city turned into an asteroid, Ant-Man sees a bald guy trying his hand at corporate espionage only to come up against a convict and a van full of his friends in a final battle that plays out on a toy train set. It’s exactly what the doctor order after a movie as dense, and some would argue bloated, as Age of Ultron.

Ant-Man is also great in its own right, largely because it’s hilarious. Whether you’ve heard a thousand times already or not, enough can’t be said about how fantastic Michael Peña is as Luis, one of the aforementioned friends in a van. He manages to steal the show from any and all set pieces, action sequences and Michaels Douglas.

The movie isn’t without its shortcomings, however. It aggravatingly finds its narrative almost completely reliant on the increasingly asinine “don’t tell the entirely capable, grown woman anything because she needs to be protected” trope. But the best special effects any Marvel movie has boasted so far, coupled with Michael Peña’s out-of-the-park comedic performance make Ant-Man the perfect breath of fresh air between the much bleaker Age of Ultron and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, which is sure to be a dire tale indeed.

 

Rhyme Attack!, or, Rage of Ultron: Like Age of Ultron But With an “R”

Rage of Ultron (you read right), Marvel Comics’ newest original graphic novel, is at once an excellent springboard for any excitement you might harbor for the upcoming Avengers movie sequel and something of a red herring for any uninitiated movie-goers looking to bone up on whatever the hell Ultron is.

ROBOT ATTACK

ROBOT ATTACK

As a standalone graphic novel Rage of Ultron is excellent. Though those unfamiliar with the current status quo of the Marvel Comics Universe might be thrown off by a character or two the story writer Rick Remender tells here is top notch. Forget putting a new spin on superhero yarns, with Rage of Ultron Remender ably offers an exciting new perspective on the rogue artificial intelligence, a story staple many of us are all too familiar with. Rage of Ultron uses macro observations about artificial intelligence and what constitutes life to drive home intimate, poignant character moments. It’s super hero literature at its best: big action paired with compelling characterization.

As an in-continuity (yeah, yeah, insert eye roll here) story featuring Marvel’s post-Axis All-New Avengers, Rage of Ultron is probably the first complete story to showcase Sam Wilson’s Captain America and the yet to be identified female Thor alongside other current focal points like The Vision, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver. But at the end of the day Rage of Ultron is a story about Hank Pym and his titular maniacal robot son. Which brings about Rage of Ultron’s only potential pitfall.

The book is called Rage of Ultron for crying out loud. Its release less than a month before The Avengers: Age of Ultron paints a pretty vivid picture of an attempt at corporate synergy. But unless the promotional materials for Avengers 2 have not only been keeping a lot of cards very close to the chest but also straight up lying, Rage of Ultron isn’t exactly a perfect primer for Marvel’s next film, as the aforementioned relationship at the core of Rage of Ultron doesn’t appear to exist in its rhyming movie counterpart.

If you’re looking for a primer ahead of Age of Ultron, Rage of Ultron probably won’t be able to serve the same function as, say, Year One to Batman Begins, or Ed Brubaker’s collected Winter Soldier story to its film adaptation (though Rage of Ultron probably does a better job than Age of Ultron’s namesake 2013 event comic). But Rage of Ultron is excellent in its own right and has me chomping at the bit both for Marvel’s next standalone graphic novel and James Spader.

Addendum: Rage of Ultron’s art is also top notch. Jerome Opena, Pepe Larraz and Mark Morales turn in excellent work.