Just like the first Ant-Man movie came in the wake of the Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp has once again drawn the short stick in taking the first post-Avengers: Infinity War slot. And like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp succeeds primarily because it refuses to compete with the gargantuan Infinity War and instead, in more ways than one, decides to go small.
The movie picks up with our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) stuck under house arrest following his exploits in Captain America: Civil War (perhaps the only real pre-closing credits acknowledgment of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe). His exploits have caused a rift between him and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his love interest/partner Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) as it is clear he took off with Captain America without consulting them or giving a second thought to the potential consequences. Of course their paths will eventually collide to hilarious effect and this time it involves Scott inadvertently channelling Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, who was believeed to be lost in the Quantum Realm – with Scott the only known person to have ever entered it and returned safely.
This leads to a light, breezy, and propulsive action adventure involving multiple countdown clocks, several villainous obstacles, a cliffhanger or two, and several of the most visually inventive action sequences I have recently seen. All of these elements effortlessly fly by because the real appeal of this movie is the warm and intimate humour that permeates throughout. Director Peyton Reed seems to have callibrated the humour from the jokier original Ant-Man here so that the whole movie flows at a smoother pace and feels less like a desperate attempt at making us like Ant-Man.
In many ways all the returning players here seemed to have lightened up too as recent Marvel movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok give this MCU instalment the liberty to embrace the absurd comedy of this tale. In particular giving Paul Rudd free rein to be his goofy, lovable self and not try to fit some tough-guy superhero mould turns out to be a good decision. As he is literally taken along for the ride in this movie, it falls on Hope (and Lilly) to give this movie any sort of narrative weight. As the first female (co)lead of a Marvel film, there is a lot of weight of expectation falling on her shoulders and fortunately her turn as the Wasp does not disappoint especially since she is essentially a much more competent Ant-Man. Her character arc in this movie is also primordially believable as she simply wants to get her mom back, making it easy to root for her.
Apart from Hope’s (and Hank’s) quest however, this is a throwaway action plot and there is hardly anything wrong with that. After the weighty, convuluted, and overstuffed Infinity War, this movie’s decidedly lower stakes acts as the perfect palate cleanser reminding us that superhero movies are for the most part supposed to be fun. Thanks to Ant-Man and the Wasp’s particular superpowers, the fight scenes are some of the most entertaining superhero fights I’ve seen whether they be a hilarious kitchen fight or a car chase through the streets of San Francisco. The talk of the Quantum Realm is also treated tongue-in-cheek (Scott quips at one point “Do you guys just like sticking ‘quantum’ in front of everything”) giving all the science talk the air of a sci-fi B-movie (in a good way). Fortunately the Quantum Realm itself more than lives up to its visually impressive reputation. This movie is also immensely helped by a cavalcade of secondary stars who make the most with the little roles they have from returning Michael Pena, Judy Greer, and Bobby Cannavale, to newcomers Randall Park and Walter Goggins. The only slight disappointment is that the movie’s main villain Ghost (Hannah John-Karmen) feels a little bit disposable.
It is also almost a shame that the post-credits sequence has to find some way to slot this movie into the larger MCU continuity. For while it answers the fan-question of where the heck Ant-Man was during the events of Infinity War it also serves to highlight just how unnecessary and cumbersome this continuity project is. For while Ant-Man and the Wasp may be the most inconsequential movie in the MCU, it is also one of the most entertaining and one I could easily find myself rewatching the most, released from the burden of trying to figure out where exactly this movie fits in the continuity.
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Randall Park, T.I., David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Karmen, Abby Ryder Fortson