‘Wasp Network’ Movie Review: Ana de Armas and Penelope Cruz Show the Cost of Revolution

Wasp Network is not a movie about the recent murder hornet epidemic. It’s timely, but it’s not that timely. Wasp Network is timely by looking back at history, to a time of revolution. Really, the present is always a time of revolution for someone so looking back at the history of Cuban revolutionaries can illuminate the sacrifices such revolutionaries make. The ensemble cast of Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas and Gael Garcia Bernal show different aspects of that sacrifice. 

Ana de Armas in Wasp Network
Ana de Armas | Netflix

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The history of ‘Wasp Network’

Since the communist regime of Cuba from 1959 on, many Cubans fled to Miami where militants fought for a free cuba. Rene Gonzalez (Ramirez) steals plane and defects to Miami. He was a U.S. citizen born in Chicago so he can stay, but he leaves behind his wife Olga (Cruz) and their daughter. 

Wasp Network: Edgar Ramirez
Edgar Ramirez | Netflix

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The Brothers to the Rescue recruits Rene to fly for them. He drops supplies to refugees in rafts and drops resistance flyers over Cuba, but eventually learns Brothers is smuggling drugs for its funding. Juan Pablo Roque (Moura) defects at Guantanamo Bay. In America, he marries Ana (de Armas) and becomes rich and secretive. Gerardo Hernandez (Bernal) is sort of a mastermind of the Wasp Network introduced later.

‘Wasp Network’ is a ’90s caper

Much of Wasp Network takes place from 1992 to 1995. It’s a little caper-y, breezing through the layout of the operation, introducing new agents over time. Writer/director Olivier Assayas balances parallel stories in differnet countries smoothly. You never lose your sense of place and time. 

Wasp Network: Wagner Moura
Wagner Moura | Netflix

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It doesn’t feel like the ’90s were that long ago, but it makes you realize how much has changed in 30 years. In that era, just having a cell phone was suspicious. Most people who needed to be on call, whether doctors or emergency pilots, would use pagers. So it raised eyebrows that Juan Pablo was carrying a cell phone. If you know the real history of the Wasp Network, you’ll also know where this revolution is actually going.

Ana de Armas and Penelope Cruz as the ones they left behind

Both Ana and Olga represent the human cost of the Wasp Network. The film unfortunately does not have much time to develop Ana beyond her suspicions. She distrusts Juan Pablo and suspects he’s dealing drugs. She’s right to question him, but one wishes you saw why she loved him.

The film suggests that Ana wanted protection, which may be traditional at best, and submissive in execution. We hear that her last marriage was abusive, which could all be true in the real history, but it leaves Ana behind in the film while Juan Pablo goes off on all his adventures.

Penelope Cruz in Wasp Network
Penelope Cruz | Netflix

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Olga automatically engenders deeper sympathy because Rene abandoned their daughter. He also did it all without discussing it with them. A revolutionary can say that the cause is bigger than their personal needs, but when you’re a parent, you do have obligations to your family. So the Rene/Olga aspect of Wasp Network is a bit stronger than the Juan Pablo/Ana aspect.

Still, Wasp Network is an accomplished portrayal of fraught recent history. It comes across as a crackling adventure rather than a history lesson, with poignant consequences thanks to the sympathetic performances of all involved.