What ‘sophomore slump’? Peyton Reed finds his niche after delivering back-to-back masterpieces.
I’m amazed that I was able to watch most of the entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that leads up to 2019’s ‘Avengers: Endgame’. I struggled with ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ (but surprisingly was delighted by ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ — which really was more of a separate storyline from the live action entries from Marvel Studios) but that wasn’t the surprise. Out of all the 23 films from the ‘The Infinity Saga’ only three are slotted into comedy (the third being ‘Thor: Ragnarok’). It shouldn’t be a surprise that two of Paul Rudd’s headlining films would include comedy (and be labelled as such) as it is his strength. Yes, he can play a scene with gravitas, but the whole arc has to be balanced with comedic moments (like Ben Lewin’s ‘The Catcher Was a Spy‘).
The Setup: After the events of ‘Captain America: Civil War’, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) ends up on house arrest. Thankfully, he can spend time with daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), as his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), and her partner, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), are supportive of them spending time together. It’s not that long of a wait until his two-year sentence is over. Just three days. The upside of needing to be at home 24/7 is the time saved getting from one place to the other. So, Scott finds himself oodles of time to spend and his choice lends itself to much of the comedy setups: magic tricks, karaoke, not-so-loud drumming (which I hope gets appeal to more of those looking to bring a kit into their home, office, or cafe: there is much fun to be had using an electronic kit). There’s also Luis (Michael Peña) as another human who is around as his housemate. Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) aren’t in the picture as they were forced to go in hiding as a result of Scott’s actions.
The Inciting Incident: Hope ‘kidnaps’ Scott to get the information she needs to locate her mother (Janet Van Dyne). Scott gets a vision of Janet’s memories and rings Hank using a burner phone to tell him what he saw. Though they both get their names on this film, Scott is still the protagonist and Hope is more of a reflection character than Scott’s love interest (but still its their intensely strong chemistry that makes the film work). Because Peyton Reed mentions in the audio commentary that the story is about fathers and daughters, this means that Cassie would have to be the proper love interest (and she was as well during the first – which follows the ‘Dads just wanting to make it right for their daughters’ story thread). If Hope ends up as the protagonist of the third, I would think that the writers would dig even deeper to further flesh out her character. Scott has his circle of friends, but how about Hope? That specific detail is probably why I’m reluctant to go for ‘dual protagonists’ as the designing structure for this one.
You know when films struggle to get their tone right? Things suffer. I present Exhibit A, Anne Fletcher’s ‘Hot Pursuit’, and Exhibit B, Greg Mottola’s ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses‘. Both films couldn’t decide if they are going to be family friendly or raunchy (which usually ends up as MA fare and would likely get a miss in my viewing list – statistically speaking). The good news is that ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ keeps to its family friendly premise. It is after all about a little girl and her dad seeking to find some sort of balance and normalcy. Compared to ‘Jurassic World’ (where the grown-ups talk like how kids think they do), the dialogue here is more of the grown-ups making their conversation as ‘G’ as possible. One of the best examples would have been Hope giving Scott a rundown of their history (“We were working together, training together…and ‘other stuffing’ together.”).
The casting is also perfectly executed with Peyton following the Marvel ethos of being able to glimpse ‘possibility’. Since I had yet to stumble to an episode of ‘The Unicorn‘, it was only during a rewatch that I realised that Sonny Burch was played by Walton Goggins. Wade Felton isn’t exactly a ‘weaselly’ guy, but he does ‘work smart’ as it is what is required by a single dad. Is Sonny basically ‘ Evil Wade’? I definitely would like to watch the episodes that follow that arc! The other delight was finding out that the director has a bit of an overlap with me regarding film viewing, as he mentioned that it was catching ‘Lion’ that he came to know of Divian Ladwa. Divian played Mantosh Brierley, the second adopted child of Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) in the lavishly praised film.
Since Cassie Lang has significantly aged after the events of ‘Avengers: Endgame’, this would be a chance for exploring her transformation to Stature in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania‘. I usually think of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘ and ‘Ben Is Back‘ as notable films Kathryn Newton’s appeared in but almost forgot the other significant title that would lend to past performances that she is the one they are looking for: ‘Big Little Lies‘. Odd that I would be looking forward to the audio commentary before even watching the film, but that would be one of the questions I would have: Did Peyton watch any of those three titles to convince him to cast Kathryn? To me, if Kathryn does make it in the film (as actors schedules are subject to change) I am looking forward to the kind of comedy the writers give to her. After all, Abby Ryder Fortson crushes it in the first two.
- Scott losing consciousness before his next spoonful of cereal
- Luis reacting to the ‘wearer’ of Scott’s GPS tracker
- If you have an ant as a roommate…good luck with being able to eat your favourite sugary cereal
- The Baba Yaga gag
- Pep-Pep gives good advice
- The World’s Greatest Grandma can do anything!
- Luis just wants a suit
Another thing that seems to be different compared to the other MCU films is the score. There’s a specific music cue when Hope furiously reverses (1:18:54) upon the arrival of Sonny Burch and his posse. Aside from that, I agree how generic most of it sounds. Of course, I wonder if it’s because it would be too much of a risk if Kevin Feige tried to push the boundaries of the music as well. It would be great to have had a Jóhann Jóhannsson score before he passed away in 2018. Another pair I would have looked forward to attempt to add music to a Marvel film would be Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. They did so well in doing Pixar’s ‘Soul‘ that my ears would have been keen to find out how they would have done a high paced action sequences (particularly during the climax of ‘Avengers: Endgame’).
What Marvel has managed to cling to is its trust that each of the directors are able to get the most out of the resources available, as well as deliver what is needed. Peyton Reed’s filmography gives a hint that he would be able to pull it off when he was able to walk the line between family friendly and making the most out of screen chemistry by offering a fresh approach to screen time between a protagonist, Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst), and her love interest, Cliff Pantone (Jesse Bradford) with that iconic ‘brushing teeth‘ scene in 2000’s ‘Bring It On’. While listening to Peyton’s audio commentary on the film, it is clear that the film’s success lends it to his collaborative nature when he shares that he went with Evangeline Lilly’s instincts when she wondered about a possible kiss between Hope and Scott. There was a plan for it to happen, just not during that scene.
A word of warning: If this is indeed a film for you, it’s likely that you would struggle to resist picking up the disc version of the first one. So, if you would like to save yourself bad birthday gifts, you can drop the hint to your friends and family that you’d like to add to your film collection with both (if you caught this one on the telly by chance) and for the third (so maybe a couple of gift certificates to your local high fidelity shop when it comes out within two years, or maybe bulk cinema passes). The other alternative is to find an excuse to catch up with a buddy who owns the entire Marvel catalogue on disc (maybe she is looking for the right person to pass them on to, either the discs or the digital download codes).