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.
Yes, it should come as no surprise that Ant-Man and the Wasp has more in common with Thor: Ragnarok and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies than more serious fare like Black Panther. While this may not sit well with those who appreciated the darker tones of this year’s offerings from Marvel, the ability for Marvel Studios to switch gears so drastically with back-to-back sequels really is a testament to the franchise’s ability to deliver different kinds of superhero stories within the same interconnected universe. Of course, this wouldn’t have worked as well if Ant-Man and the Wasp’s jokes didn’t land and while the script co-written by Paul Rudd and Chris McKenna is a riot, it’s the film’s bevy of comedic players that make it sing.
Rudd is his ever-charming self and though it’s still a bit hard to imagine how his jokey every-man type will play in what is sure to be another downbeat Avengers film next year, his “aw shucks” persona works with the film’s lighter feel. Randall Park is also a lot of fun as the hapless S.H.I.E.L.D. agent tasked with monitoring Lang’s house arrest, but it’s returning player Michael Peña who steals every scene he’s in, which is fortunate since he gets more screen time this time out. Peña’s motor-mouthed ex-con Luis and the rest of Lang’s crew get an amusing side story involving their emerging security business and get the chance to shine in the film’s most hilarious sequence, which involves Luis and an injection of what may or may not be truth serum.
As the film’s title implies, this is just as much the Wasp’s movie as it is Ant-Man’s. One of the first film’s biggest missed opportunities was benching Lilly in a supporting role but Ant-Man and the Wasp is very much her coming out party. Unsurprisingly, Lilly kills it as the Wasp, who is a much more capable and confident combatant than Rudd’s Ant-Man, who tends to succeed in spite of himself. Much of the film’s focus is on the team dynamic between the pair and given Hope’s characterization as a strong, serious leader and Lang’s more juvenile demeanor, the whole thing could have very easily turned into Wasp taking babysitting duty with her less capable teammate. While there is a little bit of that dynamic here and there, Rudd and Lilly play their characters as if they’re rebelling against type. Both Lang and Hope have grown considerably since the first movie, so even though it still feels like the Wasp is taking charge and keeping Ant-Man in line, there’s a playfulness to their relationship that keeps things from going down the expected route. You get the sense that both characters have mutual respect for one another and most importantly, have each other’s back. I honestly wish the film had spent even more time exploring the duo’s team dynamics, as it feels like they form a cohesive unit much too quickly given the circumstances of how the come together, but perhaps this will be further explored in a sequel, assuming we get one.
In a year that’s already seen the MCU deliver some truly memorable antagonists in Black Panther’s Killmonger and Infinity War’s Thanos, Ant-Man and the Wasp takes things in a decidedly different direction when it comes to villains. It’s difficult to talk about Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost without delving into spoiler territory but suffice it to say she’s a villain driven by much more personal motivations than we’re used to seeing in movies like this. In a practical sense, her unique set of powers plays well off Ant-Man and the Wasp’s size-shifting abilities but in terms of the threat she poses, I could see Ghost being one of the most controversial villains in the MCU since Iron Man 3’s Mandarin. I for one appreciate what Ant-Man and the Wasp is trying to do with Ghost but in the wake of Killmonger and Thanos essentially upping Marvel’s villain game by a considerable margin, there will be many who will view Ghost as a step back. Fortunately, she’s not the only villain in the film, as Walton Goggins also shows up as a crook named Sonny Burch who’s also trying to get his hands on Pym’s tech. Goggins is the kind of character actor who automatically enhances anything he’s in and he’s excellent here as a low-level bad guy totally unprepared to take on the likes of Ant-Man and the Wasp.
While Ant-Man and the Wasp gets top marks for being the first MCU movie to include a female character in its title, with the exception of Lilly and John-Kamen, the film’s female cast gets very little to do. It’s always nice to see Judy Greer, who reprises her role as Lang’s ex-wife Maggie, but she gets so little screen time here that I wonder why they even bothered bringing her back. Likewise, it’s no secret that Michelle Pfeiffer plays Hank Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet Van Dyne, who was lost in the quantum realm decades ago, but her role amounts to little more than a glorified cameo. This is a shame because she has great chemistry with Douglas and possesses a strong knowledge of the quantum realm, which I have a feeling will play some sort of role in Avengers 4. As things stand, it feels like there may have been an additional flashback sequence involving Pfeiffer that was cut along the way, which makes it a little more difficult to invest in the Pym/Van Dyne family drama that the film places so much of its emotional weight on.
Even though it may not look like it on the service, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s arrival right on the heels of Avengers: Infinity War is a case of perfect timing. With the last few years of Marvel movies all building to a universe-shattering crescendo in that film, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels like a deliberate pause designed to illustrate that this franchise can still pull off satisfying standalone entries that aren’t dragged down by shared universe connections. While it’s certainly a less important film than Infinity War, in the sense that most of what happens in it will have little bearing on the rest of the MCU, there’s a case to be made that Ant-Man and the Wasp is the better film, though perhaps that isn’t fair considering they’re trying to accomplish much different things. At any rate, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s tight construction and focus on a small pool of characters rather than glorified cameos from dozens of superheroes makes it one of the most outright enjoyable films in the MCU canon and a much-needed palette cleanser after the exhausting spectacle of Infinity War.
*It should go without saying at this point but you absolutely need to stay for the post-credits scene.
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