Ant-Man and the Wasp arrives at an interesting point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. After the bombastic and shockingly tragic Avengers: Infinity War, it’s hard not to feel a bit of whiplash going from the “biggest crossover event in movie history” to a sequel focused on two of Marvel’s C-list heroes. That isn’t meant as a slight, mind you, but rather an acknowledgement that Ant-Man and the Wasp don’t quite have the name recognition of an Iron Man or Spider-Man. On the other hand, perhaps a largely self-contained franchise installment where the fate of the universe isn’t hanging in the balance is just what we need with the fallout of Infinity War still so recent.
The original Ant-Man carved out a comfortable niche in the MCU a few years ago by focusing on familiar superhero origin story tropes — guy with special talents meets a mentor figure, gets a cool suit, battles a bad guy with similar powers — but in a way that felt fresh thanks to a punchy, joke-laden script and the inherent fun of Ant-Man’s abilities. With Ant-Man and the Wasp, director Peyton Reed has managed to craft a superior sequel that may not quite stick the landing with some of its emotional beats, but makes up for it by being one of the most purely enjoyable Marvel movies to date.
Set two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War (but before the events of Avengers: Infinity War), Ant-Man and the Wasp opens with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) under house arrest for his involvement in the Avengers’ interpersonal conflict, a decision that has damaged his relationship with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). However, when Pym’s technology is stolen by a mysterious villain with the ability to phase through objects (Hannah John-Kamen), the trio have to quickly bury the hatchet and come together as a team. Saying much more would be giving too much away but the film’s overall conflict is more personal and has some of the lowest stakes of any MCU installment yet. That isn’t to say that what the film’s characters are working toward isn’t important, mind you, but there’s no world domination threats to be thwarted here. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a franchise that too often equates bigger with better, as there is more room to explore interpersonal conflicts, even if said conflicts are cleaned up a little too efficiently at times. Plus, without the fate of the world at stake, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s comedic tone feels more appropriate and is allowed to flourish.