As Ant-Man and the Wasp proved once again, I find it a lot easier to object to the Marvel superhero movies in principle than I do in practice.
In fact, looking back at some of my previous contributions to Amazing Stories, I see myself repeatedly grumbling about the preponderance of franchise movies – only to be won over by the next one.
As I argued in this post, I worry that the astonishing success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is already crowding out other, distinctive voices in SF and fantasy cinema. If you look back just a few years, one-off genre films like Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian were doing very well at the box office, and I don’t see many equivalent movies today.
And yet, Marvel keeps getting it right. Most of the studio’s movies are inventive, witty and human, besides upping the ante when it comes to action and visual effects.
One reason Marvel has succeeded is that it judges the tone of its films so well. But the transition from April’s Avengers Infinity War to the summer’s Ant-Man and the Wasp shows the studio can execute a shift in tone between films as impressively as it does within a single story. After the overwhelming, draining climax of Infinity War, director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man sequel comes along as the light-hearted antidote.
Ant-Man’s alter ego Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after getting involved in the superhero punch-up that formed the climax to Captain America: Civil War. He’s forbidden to contact Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the scientist who shrunk him to insect size in the first film, or Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who transforms into the miniature heroine the Wasp. But if Lang doesn’t find a way out of his house arrest, who’s going to help the pair rescue Dr Pym’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the sub-atomic world?
There are a lot of laughs in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The screenplay, by five credited writers, crackles with funny dialogue, and there are some memorably ridiculous characters. There’s also a real warmth to the movie, with Rudd’s hapless ex-con as the most agreeably fallible superhero in Marvel’s universe. Even some of the characters who are set up as villains turn out to be redeemable.
All this underpins some truly exhilarating action sequences. The scenes in which cars suddenly become toy-size in the middle of a chase through San Francisco are hugely exciting. And some of the climactic action on land, sea and in the air had my stomach doing the kind of somersaults you associate with a rollercoaster ride.
Finally (and there’s sort of a spoiler coming), in a post-credits scene, the movie does acknowledge the downbeat ending of Avengers Infinity War, without detracting from the fun that has gone before.
In the new, print edition of Amazing Stories magazine, Steve Fahnestalk surveys the current state of SF cinema and considers whether there are any signs of audiences displaying what James Cameron has called “Avenger fatigue”.
In my part of the world, Avengers Infinity War was still playing on some cinema screens right up until its release to streaming services last week. I watched my teenage kids return time and time again to see it, over a four-month period, in the way young people once repeatedly watched Star Wars. And then Ant-Man and the Wasp came along to offer a lighter story from the same universe.
For better or wose, I don’t think Avenger fatigue will set in while Marvel continues to display the sure touch it does at the moment.