As other writers have pointed out, 2018 has found us in an interesting Marvel Phase 3 where all the stand-alones are absolutely fantastic and the Avengers movie is the one that’s a little disappointing. Ant-Man and The Wasp may be little, but it’s certainly not disappointing; if anything, it does all sorts of things right for both itself and for the MCU, and it does them better than Infinity War or even Civil War did.
Both Marvel’s Wars were directed by the Russo Brothers, who I did think the best job they could, given what they had to work with. Both Civil and Infinity War suffer from extreme cast bloat because we have to get all these people in the movie since we paid them and put them in the marketing and everything. As a result, none of the characters we care about get any screen time to explain what happened to them since their last movie (IW examples: Iron Man, whose last solo outing was in 2013 and last onscreen appearance was as a cameo, and Cap, who just shows up out of nowhere with a beard and a jet), and all of the other characters, well… We don’t really care about them.
— Anthony Oliveira (@meakoopa) April 27, 2018
Let’s go back and look at Game of Thrones, the series that basically defined “huge cast.” If you re-watch the first season, you’ll notice that the only person that has anything even remotely exciting happen to them before episode nine is Bran. Game of Thrones paces itself out so that by the time the shit hits the fan, we care about everyone here. We care about Ned Stark, we care about Jon Snow, we care about Sansa and Arya and even their dogs, and when the plot starts to kick into gear, we’re emotionally invested as an audience. Infinity War spends a quarter of its time trying to build these stakes for Wanda and Vision (who I hate as a couple), a quarter showing off characters whose appearance here requires so many plot holes and unexplained contrivances that I question my suspension of disbelief, and the remaining half showing me bloated action set pieces that I checked my phone during because I don’t really care about the characters involved in this generic superhero CGI fight.
By contrast, Ant-Man and The Wasp gives me these nice, relaxing talking scenes in between its action scenes. These scenes are relatively low budget and give us room to get to know the characters and understand their relationships to each other. We get that Scott is a devoted dad, so devoted that he’ll turn his and his roommate’s place into a giant cardboard jungle gym just for his daughter. We get Hope and Hank’s love for Mom and understand their motivations. We get that Luis is a goofball and surprisingly perceptive of Scott’s love life. We even get the villains! Ghost shares the traits of Iron Man villains in the sense that Ant-Man, at least the original, is partially responsible for her creation, and, perhaps more importantly, this is explained and shown to us, the audience. Thanks to these little context-providing dialogues, director Peyton Reed can clearly establish the stakes of every conflict and make every action scene seem creative and cool.
Stakes are another important thing; I think Avengers loses out by defaulting its stakes to “the world.” Previous MCU films have shown us that there are quite a few awful things in the diegetic world, and we’ve seen them up close. Is it really worth saving? Maybe Cap thinks so, but he sure doesn’t tell us why. I’m a millennial through and through; the likes of Cap screwed up my economy and my job prospects and the ozone layer. I’ll never see the Great Barrier Reef in full Finding Nemo glory, and it’s humans’ fault. I could certainly care less if Thanos thinks we need fewer people; heck, if it means I’m exempt, I’ll join Grimace’s army, if he’ll have me, a shrimpy Asian kid.
Ant-Man and The Wasp shrinks the stakes down to a personal level for the characters. Note that, if the heroes lose in this movie, nothing happens to the plot of the MCU except that Ant-Man isn’t around for Infinity War Part 2. But because we care about what happens to the characters, thanks to those nice, cheap dialogue scenes, even a tiny fight scene in a kitchen can feel huge and important. At the end of the day, it means a movie whose plot fits both its characters and the greater world Kevin Feige is trying so hard to set up.
I love the Russo Brothers’ work, and I think Marvel and their executive higher-ups love them too. But they have a noticeable weakness, one that I didn’t really understand until I saw the second War. Truth be told, I don’t know if this is a problem that can be solved by one pair of brothers. I personally think it has to do with the writing and planning behind the movies and spacing out the “important” parts of these movies. And we can see this working between the lines of production, this year, as movies where the filmmakers were allowed more freedom turned out better.
In other words, when there’s less Justice League-style studio crackdown on what “needs” to happen in a movie for their heavy-handed setups and test audiences (and maybe studio bonuses), the films tend to turn out better. Maybe the guys with “grand visions” should step back and realize that they’re hiring directors for a reason, and maybe someone else who’s known for making good movies made good movies because they have the talent, creativity, and budgetary sense to make good movies without Papa Feige looking over their shoulder every second.