For its third feature of the year, Marvel Studios wisely chose to pull away from the far-reaching grimness that the ending of Avengers: Infinity War left in everyone’s brains. Checking in instead with the blue collar super-everyman who had to sit out Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshing tonic to the heavier stakes currently at play in the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. This breather adds to Marvel’s most enjoyable ensemble (Sorry, Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy) and maintains a nimble tone and pace in keeping with being the MCU’s most straightforward comedy. With love stories, Fantastic Voyage-esque submarine trips, car chases, and sight gags aplenty, it’s also a fleet-footed genre multi-hyphenate that’s even funnier and more self-assured than its 2015 predecessor.
Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), journeyman superhero with a suit granting the ability to shrink or grow in size while increasing one’s strength, is nearing the end of two years under house arrest. Always being surveilled by government agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), Lang passes his time taking baths and learning close-up magic with the support of daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), and her new beau, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). With just days until his freedom, a mysterious message forces Lang to reconnect with estranged mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), with whom Lang shares a romantic past. They surmise that Lang’s mind, still reeling from a third act trip to the subatomic Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, may hold the key to finding and rescuing Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who was lost in the realm decades prior.
Pym enlists the help of old colleague Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), and reluctantly accepts an assist from returning Lang pals—and “wombats”—Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris), Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and Luis (Michael Peña); opposing the mission are black market technology purveyor/dandy Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a wild-eyed, super-suited saboteur whose painful powers of intangibility are driving her mad—à la Cyborg Ninja in Metal Gear Solid. Both are after the bleeding-edge technology in Pym’s shrinking laboratory-turned-luggage (the MacGuffin this time around) for their own selfish reasons. Fortunately, Hope has by now taken on the Wasp mantle—and the accompanying shrinking, flying, blasting suit her mother once wore—and has handily become a more capable superhero than would-be boyfriend Lang. Naturally, it then comes down to Ant-Man and the Wasp’s titular team to once again keep Pym’s work from falling into the wrong hands, while also ensuring the quest to save Janet can be completed.
Rudd and Lilly make a fine team in their first official two-hander, he being the clownish charmer who’s sometimes downright incompetent (thanks to a spotty prototype suit) and she being the take-charge point person in their series of heists and skirmishes. They’re the charismatic (sometimes not very convincingly-) romantic leads of a cast so well serviced by director Peyton Reed that every role, no matter how (ugh) small, is gifted at least some bit of memorable business. Take Paxton, the antagonist policeman and rival father figure from the first film who doesn’t need to be here at all, yet in the film’s best running gag, has inexplicably become Lang’s most outwardly-affectionate apologist and champion. Peña and Goggins are as reliably great as ever (see also: the works of Jody Hill), with the latter’s flamboyance underused while the former shines with a retread of his rapid-fire, rambling anecdote montages from his last outing. (Even their crews are thrown a bone, with Goggins’ henchmen constantly bickering with Harris and Dastmalchian over the definition of “truth serum.”) The lost romance between Pfeiffer and Douglas’s craggy scientist is approached with genuine sweetness, and John-Kamen makes for a lovely Spider-Man 2-style sympathetic villain-by-way-of-mad-science-accident. And, because no Ant-Man film is complete without some sort of On Cinema presence, the original’s Gregg Turkington cameo is traded out for Tim Heidecker’s here.
It hardly bears mentioning that Peyton Reed’s visual aesthetic is one of the most unremarkable in Marvel’s forcibly unremarkable stable, but nothing has changed in that regard between Ant-Man pictures. (His claim of visual inspiration from After Hours is dubious.) At least his seamless, rat-a-tat size-manipulation visual effects remain some of the best Marvel can offer up, with Ant-Man and the Wasp scoring repeated laughs from the image of a stuck-at-half-height Rudd helplessly running around, or a rotating fleet of vehicles buzzing around San Francisco at the size of Matchbox cars. Christophe Beck’s updated Ant-Man score, meanwhile, remains one of the few distinct musical themes Marvel can boast outside of Thor: Ragnarok. (Another very funny Marvel film Ant-Man and the Wasp is bound to be compared to, though it lacks the bright, imaginative weirdness of that one.)
There’s something very reassuring about Marvel being able to, within their own narrow, studio-mandated breadth of quality and innovation, keep giving attention to Scott Lang’s scrappy little corner of its cinematic universe. Ant-Man and the Wasp’s world is a charmingly modest one, made up almost entirely of normal, relatable humans; it’s a small-scale (ugh, again), ground-level respite from cosmic blue laserbeams, CGI hordes, demigods, and Josh Brolin motion-capture. This film in particular rollicks along so well that it’s easy to forgive its few missteps (Ant-Man may have been too dumbed down in service of The Wasp, and three daddy-daughter storylines is a couple too many), giving hope for the next adventure of the Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne. Until then, take comfort in knowing that every time you see a muscular dude punching another, body-painted muscular dude in a Marvel movie, there’s also a tiny flying woman and a little man on a bug, somewhere off in San Francisco, stealing shit.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Director: Peyton Reed
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Runtime: 118 minutes
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas