After the universe-ending spectacle that was Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp serves as a great palette cleanser for audiences of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s no giant battle (the climax of the film is a car chase), the villain has no plans for world domination, and the stakes are smaller and more personal. Hope Van Dyne AKA The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), are attempting to enter the Quantum Realm to rescue their long lost mother / wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). Meanwhile, Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is on house arrest, trying to be on his best behavior for the FBI so that he can be free to spend time with his daughter.
Scott’s motivations seem like somewhat of a rehash of the first film, but an added element is the guilt he’s feeling over throwing Hope and Hank under the bus when he exposed himself and their tech in Civil War, forcing them to go on the run. The two of them are visibly angry at Scott throughout this film, feeling disappointed and betrayed, and it makes for a new dynamic between the characters. Paul Rudd is a national treasure, and his comedic timing is as natural as it’s ever been. He easily gets the biggest laughs while effortlessly blending that humor with subtle dramatic character work. Giving Hope secondary main character duties alongside Scott does wonders; The Wasp is an extremely fun and unique superhero, and Evangeline Lilly exudes a confidence that many actors can’t believably pull off. Michael Douglas is no longer stuck as an exposition machine, allowing him to stretch his legs and have some fun of his own this time around.
What director Peyton Reed excels at is the comedy of the film. Ant-Man and the Wasp is just as hilarious if not more so than its predecessor. Reed fully embraces the weirdness of the Marvel Universe and the abilities of Ant-Man, giving us the hallucinogenic imagery of the Quantum Realm, dizzying rapid shrinking and growing, and the sight of giant ants casually strolling through scenes. It’s a lot weirder than the original film, but the ridiculousness of it all only adds to the fun. The unique abilities of the two heroes make for some thrilling and original action scenes that keep you invested and on your toes. Scott’s new suit is constantly malfunctioning, giving us zany and unexpected consequences while also upping the tension of the fights he’s in.
The film has two villains, the charming black-market dealing gangster known as Sonny Burch (the always delightful Walton Goggins) and the mysterious entity simply known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). They both want their hands on the technology in Hank Pym’s laboratory, and the lab itself serves as the film’s MacGuffin, shrunk down to travel size and constantly on the move. This all culminates in a truly thrilling car chase, with objects shrinking and growing and flying through the air, Ant-Man and Wasp going in and out of cars, and the cars themselves shrinking down to miniatures and then suddenly shooting back up to normal size. There’s nothing quite like it in any other film, and the chase easily surpasses the first film’s train set climax.
Ghost is certainly sympathetic once you learn what their story is, but it feels like you never get to actually know the character herself. Ghost is constantly phasing in and out of existence (a truly remarkable special effect), and while that makes her action scenes very interesting and cool to watch, her character falls somewhat flat, never getting the time needed to flesh her out. Ant-Man and the Wasp moves at a full sprint, and the fast pace of it acts as a double-edged sword. While it’s nice to jump right in and get the plot going, the editing can be a bit jarring, moving so quickly that the movie rarely takes the time to breathe and let moments land. At almost two hours long you’d think there’d be enough screen time for everything, but oddly enough, it feels like the movie might have benefitted from an extra 15-20 minutes.
Sometimes smaller is better, and the smaller scale and stakes of Ant-Man and the Wasp is its biggest advantage. It’s a fun, hilarious film where even all the supporting characters get their due. Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie Lang steals the show; she’s a gifted young actress that easily works as the heart of the entire film. Michael Peña is just as funny as ever, and newcomer Randall Park as bumbling FBI agent Jimmy Woo just piles on even more jokes into the comedy-packed movie. Ant-Man and the Wasp never tries to be anything other than what it is, and it’s all the better for it. It’s not an amazing film, but it doesn’t exactly need to be. It’s also very tame for its PG-13 rating; I’d call this Marvel’s most family-friendly movie yet. Bring the kids and laugh together, in times like these we need movies like this.