Walton Goggins has been a favorite actor of mine since he first broke onto the scene as Timothy Olyphant’s charismatic and calculated foil Boyd Crowder on FX’s Justified. Goggins brought rich depth and nuance to a character that wasn’t meant to last past the first episode, and he didn’t let any second of screen time go to waste, especially when he shared it with Olyphant, each able to bring out a brother-like camaraderie that intensified the other’s performance. Ever since then, whether it be in TV or movies, Goggins has yet to recapture that presence in the same way. Goggins is a thinking man’s actor, and so far this year, he’s taken roles (or been given them) in films that don’t need any brain cells to enjoy, such as Maze Runner: The Death Cure and Tomb Raider, and that trend doesn’t stop with Marvel’s newest film, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Goggins plays one of two villains that come out to play in this sequel to the 2015 surprise hit. When Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) realizes his wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), may still be alive in the quantum realm, he spends several years developing a gateway to safely track her down. In order to build this tech, he needs several hard-to-find pieces of technology that can only be acquired through a black-market trader named Sonny Burch, played by Goggins. When Sonny finds out who he’s actually been selling to, he demands to become a partner in their venture or else they’ll never see their project come to fruition. Goggins plays the character with as much zeal as he can muster and a panache that resonates greed and self-importance, but the character is nothing but a typical thief that can’t find a way to utilize his tremendous talent.
This throw-away character is juxtaposed with Hannah John-Kamen’s Ava, a.k.a. Ghost, a woman who as a child was caught on the wrong end of one of Hank’s quantum experiments, causing her to become caught somewhere between reality and the quantum realm. Her ability to phase in and out of physical matter is painful on the body, but it does allow her to walk through solid matter whenever she likes. Her goal is to use Hank’s machine to suck the life force from Janet in order to return her body to normal. John-Kamen is given more nuance than Goggins, adding in a legitimate reason for doing what she’s doing that doesn’t succumb to simple tropes.
Even though one is given more sustenance than the other, both villains are necessary in order to keep the plot of the film moving in the right direction. Director Peyton Reed may have been able to get away with one or the other, but having both act as foils for our heroes allows him to add more fun into the mix when dealing with what amounts to an old Micro Machines playset. Because Hank’s suit was used during the final battle in Captain America: Civil War, the FBI is out to arrest him, so he has to stay hidden in plain site. In order to do so, Hank has equipped his building with enough tech to shrink it down to a suitcase when he needs to move locations. (Not to mention he also has a case of several cars, shrunk down to carry with him whenever he needs them.)
The utilization of this tech leads to a fantastic chase sequence near the end of the film in which all three parties (Ghost, Sonny and our heroes) jockey for possession of the building, making the typical chase scene through the streets of San Francisco a wild, unique ride.
Now about those title characters: due to being caught at the end of Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is completing a two-year house-arrest stint. Part of the terms of his probation is that he’s not to make contact with Hank or his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), but when he has an odd dream about Janet, he can’t help but get in touch with them. Though neither Hank nor Hope are happy with him about stealing their tech to go off and play with the Avengers, Scott teams up with Hope to stop Sonny and Ava from completing their goals, replaced at home with a giant ant programmed to match his daily routine so the FBI won’t notice he’s gone.
Rudd, Lilly and Douglas don’t skip a beat in their chemistry and joyful glee from the first film, and Reed is able to once again capture the fun spirit behind such a lesser-known character in the Marvel universe. Keeping Michael Peña around as Rudd’s friend and now business partner is also a good idea, as his banter with all of the characters (not to mention the return of his outlandish stories) is always welcome. The group of actors clearly have fun with one another, and that passion makes it much more fun to watch.
Like the original Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp powers itself with a rich flavor of humor and desire that differentiates itself from the rest of the Marvel Universe, a welcome change from the massive stakes we’ve been seeing in a lot of other films. This isn’t a large-scale superhero movie on the level of Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War; No one is trying to save the city… or the world… or the universe. It’s a small, personal film where the heroes want nothing but to recover a loved one and the villains just want something for personal or financial gain. And even though these intimate stakes aren’t that high, in comparison, it feels like they are because we care for these characters so much. We want them to succeed because they feel like they’re our best friends, which in turn makes the film feel much bigger than it really is. Now if Goggins could just find a role that matches his charisma as much as Ant-Man and the Wasp settles into its enjoyable pocket, we’ll all have something to celebrate.
My Grade: A
After its release last week, I heard a lot of good things about Uncle Drew, and though the film felt very stitched together and the gimmick more often than not overwhelmed the characterization, the film does pull together a winning set of players to give this basketball comedy some good laughs and respectful heart. B+
Perception is often times just as important as plot or characterization in a movie, so because both of these elements are all but missing and the lines between good and evil are literally black and white, the perception behind The First Purge devolves from an entertaining film with something important to say into nothing more than a piece of sickening, biased propaganda. D
Next week, new movies include Skyscraper and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.