Last week I had the chance to watch “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which is the 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sequel to the 2015 “Ant-Man,” which grossed about $519.3 million worldwide, it again stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym as the characters go in search of Pym’s wife.
I found the film overall a hilarious and family-friendly performance that is much more in-line with some of the early Marvel films, which had a less serious element to them. The plot had some interesting twists and turns, as well as some complexity which all however remained relatively contained within the movie.
There were some mentions of the events of “Captain America: Civil War” which set the catalyst for Scott Lang’s house arrest that is the original premise from which the movie starts. The ending also had some unresolved plot points which provide fuel for future sequels, yet it was, as mentioned, the kind of movie where you felt as sense of closure as you left the theater.
That comedic setting and somewhat sense of wrapping up stands in stark contrast to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had just preceded “Ant-Man and the Wasp” by about two and a half months and is still the subject of immense public speculation and cultural attention.
With still about 9-months till the as-of-yet unnamed “Avengers 4” is released, the events of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” do little in particular to tie into all the theories about how that movie may proceed, particularly amidst persistent rumors of Ant-Man taking an important role in the film.
Though Ant-Man remains a relatively surface-level franchise compared to the bulk drivers of the Marvel film franchise, such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers, it still provides a new branch that the other films do not necessarily provide.
Indeed, given the dynamics of the film production industry, that the Ant-Man “series” appeals to an audience and interest the other Marvel movies may not is likely precisely why it was created and continued.
This is the kind of movie and series where one would not hesitate to bring one’s children to watch, as well as providing a light-hearted entertaining skit that requires little deep reflection afterwards.
For some fans that kind of movie may not be appealing due to its seeming lack of introspection. As one personally who has great appreciation for how the Marvel movies all generally connect together to form a larger co-mingled “universe,” I’ll admit the Ant-Man series’ seeming isolation does not put it on the top of the list for my personal favorite Marvel films, which remains the “Thor” series.
Yet “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does an excellent job at clearly what is intended to do, which is to provide a large serving of Marvel comedy spiced with a little drama and action. Peyton Reed, Kevin Feige, and Stephen Broussard did an excellent job with this spin-off and Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all made excellent performances that showed you how comfortable they have become with their characters.
There are some plot twists and turns, as well as intellectual fascinations as will naturally happen when the movie revolves around the “quantum realm.” Supporting character roles played by Michael Peña, Randall Park, and, a favorite music artist of mine, T.I., were natural and incredible comedy both each individually and as a collective chorus. The anti-hero role played by Hannah John-Kamen was clever, strong, and impactful.
While not one of the crown jewels of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a sidebar “Ant-Man and the Wasp” nonetheless remains worth the ticket price and watch as a de-stressor as we lead up, with “Captain Marvel” still coming up in-between, to the undoubtedly world-hitting drama of “Avengers 4.”
The Marvel movies have captured much of the public mind in recent years, scoring tens of billions of dollars at the box office and entertaining a wide array of audiences. However except for the occasional break such as “Deadpool,” as well as their recent cliffhanger and dark turns, they’ve largely followed a “happily-ever-after…till the next movie” model that plays to a positive optimism.
I recently had the chance to watch one of Marvel’s many derivative television series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” produced by ABC and Marvel Television, which takes a completely different turn from the primary movies. It is much more gritty and “real,” as in incorporating more of the realities of the nature of military action even amid the science fiction premises.
At now over 110 episodes and 5 seasons, since its pilot in September 2013 its seasons have earned Nielsen ratings of between 3.5 to 8.5 million. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, it stars the Marvel-favorite Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Luke Mitchell, Brett Dalton, Henry Simmons, Ming-Na Wen, and many more.
One reason why the list of starring characters is difficult to fully list is because of the boldness of the series in doing something that the Marvel movies have often refrained from, namely “killing off” its heroes or other main characters.
Though the series’ premises are obviously science fiction, the series itself does not hesitate in engaging in far more realistic action sequences and storyline developments.
“Good” and “evil” characters do not engage as much in standard movie monologues, rather with the action and deaths happening quickly. Casualties happen, on both sides, with them sometimes as sudden and without prior sentiment as they would be on a battlefield.
There are few Star Wars “Luke vs. Stormtroopers” style “one hero against a battalion” scenes, rather with a far more sensible interplay of the factors involved in the tactical and strategic situations. Action series and choreographed fights are particularly impressive, especially because they embrace a greater element of realism than their standard movie counterparts.
The very nature of “good” and “evil” becomes completely confused as well, as a constant series of frequent betrayals, gray areas, tough decisions, and other complexities make it unclear who is outright “good” and “bad,” even with the series’ heroes.
While there are many action and science-fiction series out there, that Marvel has chosen to begun embracing this variant is a stunning switch in typical cinema and entertainment storylines for such a popular franchise of general interest.
When you take “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and contrast it to the movies, other fascinating and worthwhile deviations become apparent as well. The “realism” of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stands in stark contrast to the nature of movies such as “Thor” whose very scenario describes the story of a large and accessible universe (literally) and “Gods” who act in it. The characters of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feel small in comparison, just people trying to do their part amid enormous events and persons moving above their head.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” remains intertwined with the Marvel movies themselves, such as greatly expanding upon the “Hydra” war storyline that begun in movies such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” When events happen in the movies, they often have impacts on the television series too.
Yet beyond the extraordinarily writing and production, the series also has sociocultural and political impact within itself. The series has been noted for the bold moves it has made in its truly diverse and empowered cast, yet also not pointing that out but rather accepting it as a seamless normal.
In a Hollywood that has often faced criticism over its unwillingness to explore diverse and empowered casts due to worries over audience reaction and market performance, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shown that you can do it effectively, and profitably, without making it seem awkward or forced.
I greatly enjoyed watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and am excited to see where the series continues to develop, amid Marvel’s large current expanded universe of other successful television series such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and more. I am also excited however for the impact of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has on the broader entertainment production community and the push towards embracing all the talent our country has to offer.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.