Ant-Man and the Wasp and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Peyton Reed
The first Ant-Man is easily one of my favorite Marvel films and has always felt like an outlier in the MCU because (incoming pun VERY much intended) it knew the value of going small. The fate of the world wasn’t at stake, it didn’t involve Gods, Kings, or vast armies of convenient cannon fodder; rather it was a heist film about a guy who basically just needed a job and got wrapped up in a while bunch of sci-fi nonsense! It was fun, it was light, and it didn’t have the weight of a dozen other films dragging it down which, given my lukewarm reception to the more recent BIG TEAM UP MOVIES, is just the kind of Marvel film I could really use right about now. Seriously, I couldn’t IMAGINE a better time to make a goofy palate cleanser than in the wake of Infinity Bore which I’m STILL feeling rather grumpy about and could certainly use something like this to take my mind off of it. Does this manage to be the perfect antidote to the overly serious and bombastic Avengers film that preceded it, or does the specter of that film loom large enough over the MCU that even THIS series cannot escape from its massive shadow? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins in that period between Civil War and Infinity War where The Avengers are basically split up but no one is all that freaked out about it. Spider-Man is doing his thing on the East Coast, Black Panther is dealing with his kingly duties in Wakanda, and it turns out that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been doing… nothing. Yeah, it turns out that after helping Captain America in Civil War and taking a plea deal with the US government, he’s under house arrest and hasn’t been doing his Ant-Man thing in a while; especially since the Sokovia Accords (ugh…) have an odd stipulation that the people who MADE the tech he used are JUST as responsible as he is and need to face similar punishments. Well jeez, I kinda wish we ACTUALLY had that with gun manufacturers, but what it means here is that Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) are on the run and decidedly not talking to Scott for putting them in this situation in the first place… not that they could considering he’s under house arrest. Jeez, kind of a downer way to start the movie, BUT things get better once Scott starts having night terrors about the Quantum Realm and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is the mother of Hope and the wife of Hank, and manages to get this message to those two who swiftly kidnap him MERE DAYS BEFORE HIS HOUSE ARREST IS UP! It turns out that the two of them have been continuing their research while running from the law (pretty easy to do when you have the ability to shrink) and they’re VERY close to making a tunnel to the Quantum Realm (that place you go to if you shrink TOO SMALL and where Janet ended up after doing so on a mission) but apparently Scott has some connection to it and potentially to Janet due to him somehow escaping it in the first film. Okay, so Scott helps them with the Tunnel and with any clues he may have about Janet from his dreams, and then they just drop him off at his house before the cops realize he’s gone! Easy enough, right!? Well… not exactly. Throw in some wannabe gangsters looking to snag their research for profit (led by professional scumbag Walton Goggins), a mysterious woman who has bad ass phasing powers (Hanna John-Kamen) trying to steal their research for reasons OTHER than profit, and all of a sudden it looks like Scott might end up going to jail for twenty years because he got caught up in some giant caper yet again and could get caught out of the house at any moment by FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) who is just itching to put him away for good! Can Scott, Hope, and Hank find out what happened to Janet and maybe save her from the Quantum Realm? What exactly is the mystery phasing lady after, and just how far will she go to get her hands on their research? When they get that glove away from Thanos, can we use the Time Stone to go back and make EVERY Marvel movie about Ant-Man and The Wasp?
The only reason I don’t absolutely love this movie as much as I very obviously should is because of the MCU hanging around the neck of this series like an extremely portentous albatross. Okay, it’s not the deepest movie out there and the villains aren’t all THAT compelling which is pretty standard for the MCU, but it manages to be a well-constructed action film that takes full advantage of its size manipulation premise, and the ways it builds off of the first one (particularly in regards to Evangeline Lilly) are brilliant and exactly the direction they should be going in if they want to keep making more Ant-Man and Wasp movies, WHICH THEY SHOULD! It’s just a shame that the freaking Sokovia Accords have shackled themselves to this movie as a constantly and annoyingly banal ticking clock that keeps this from really living up to its potential. Despite that REALLY annoying plot point though, this is a worthy successor to the first film and is certainly more enjoyable for me than the half good half slog mess that was Infinity War. I hope we see more movies with Ant-Man and The Wasp (the latter of whom steals this movie whenever she’s on screen) because its films like these that are gonna keep the Super Hero fatigue from really being felt as I believe it has less to do with the NUMBER of movies released than the sheer amount of history that’s been accruing after each successive sequel; not that you’re really REQUIRED to see them all to enjoy each film (did anyone honestly remember what happened in Thor the Dark World before seeing Ragnarok?) but that feeling of gravity is still felt in almost every one of these movies. It’s actually to the point that we may have reached the pinnacle of continuity extravaganzas with Infinity War and we’re due to wind things down a bit once we finish up that story arc. Hopefully that will be the case, though we’ll certainly this movie to tide us over until then.
Now sure, I can’t blame THE MCU itself for decisions the script writers made as there’s no reason they couldn’t have written it so that the movie started AFTER his house arrest (nor is there any reason for Hope and Hank to be on the run), but in trying to remind us of previous movies we already saw and the terrible decision of those films (does anyone actually KNOW what’s in the Sokovia Accords, or is this just gonna be a MacGuffin whenever they need to throw in some EXTRA conflict?) it loses a bit of its identity and feels like much more a compromise than it should have. Thor doesn’t have to worry about the Sokovia Accords! Neither does Black Panther! Heck, they didn’t even bring it up in Spider-Man, so why is Ant-Man getting stuck with this crappy story line in the middle of a movie that was plenty interesting without it!? Now we do get some solid gags from the house arrest story line mostly involving Luis and a giant ant which would be a shame if those moments had to go, but it never feels IMPORTANT the same way that finding Hope’s mother or figuring out what the Phasing Lady is after despite being a constant presence throughout the entire movie; like a Sword of Damocles the filmmakers WANT YOU TO KNOW IS THERE, but it’s made out of foam and probably isn’t as dangerous as they say it is. And let’s not forget that this setup basically puts our characters back at square one as they all hate each other now! Those hard fought character building moments in the first film? Yeah, let’s just forget about that and have them waste time building back up to where they were before! The sooner we freaking write our way out of the Sokovia Accords the better, which may be the ONLY thing that Infinity War could get right depending on how they plan to fix everything in part two. I want Ant-Man and The Wasp to be fighting bad guys and solving mysteries completely unfettered from unimportant busy bodies like Randall Park’s FBI agent; where they can spend more time on genuine threats that are engaging instead of merely inconvenient ones.
So now that I’ve gotten my ranting out of the way, can we just talk about how AWESOME this movie is!? As much as I can grumble about the setup which drags a good chunk of this movie down, the film is STILL an absolute blast to watch; especially seeing how Evangeline Lilly slips into the hero role with aplomb! The effects are better, the fight scenes are more interesting with lots of cool ideas throughout, and the Phasing Lady manages to be a good foil for the both of them even if she still suffers a bit from Marvel Villain syndrome. Heck, even the goofy joke villains led by Walton Goggins are a riot to watch as the guy’s naturally slimy charm fits well into the exaggerated atmosphere the film sets up. Now that said, despite the comedic villains, the copious size gags, and the return of Scott’s criminal buddies, the movie doesn’t really feel trivial or disposable. It’s a hard line to walk between a movie that plays itself up for laughs and one that has genuine heart to it which I think this movie manages to walk MOSTLY well. The key for all of this working is the trio of Scott, Hope, and Hank (and Luis to a certain extent) who may be stuck in wild goose chase between the Phasing Lady and the world’s most bumbling henchmen ever, but the stakes for them are very real which gives the film just enough dramatic weight so that it doesn’t turn into an outright farce. I mean I wouldn’t have MINDED if it was an outright farce considering how much I laughed in it, but it manages to balance its tone much better than Infinity War which went all in on grim defeat while this gives us a little bit of everything.
It also helps that they never run out of VERY cool things to do with the technology and the action scenes, while not the biggest, are some of the most interesting we’ve gotten out the MCU. A rather straightforward car chase is the big climatic action scene in here which for any other MCU movie would be around the mid-point to keep the pace up, but it doesn’t feel lesser to the other films because of it because of how ingeniously they integrate their powers into the action and how intentionally down scaled the movie is up to that point. Damon Lindelof (writer for Lost before moving on to features like Prometheus, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and World War Z) once said about writing modern blockbusters that if you spend more than a hundred million on a movie that you have to save the world. I think this is a bit of simplification (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is STILL the most expensive movie ever made and doesn’t involve saving the world), but I think that pretty much describes Super Hero movies for the most part; even self-aware and irreverent diversions like Deadpool 2 or more intimate character pieces like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 manage to find a way to SAVE THE WORLD because that’s what Super Heroes do. This movie and the first Ant-Man kind of broke the mold by not even bringing up “saving people” as an ultimate goal for the characters which allows their motivations and the stakes involved to feel that much more unique in the grand scheme of things for the MCU. Scott just wants to be there for his kid and help his friends out which is even more subdued of a motive than even Spider-Man who’s still in high school. That’s not to say that shoot for the moon spectacle isn’t a bad thing, but when it’s the only thing we get for a dozen movies in a row, it’s nice to have something that unwinds a bit and doesn’t take itself as seriously.
There are elements of this movie that feel needlessly tacked onto an already fantastic premise just to connect it that much more with the larger events of the MCU and the film suffers for it (and that’s not even getting into the direct Infinity War connection that happens right at the end during the mid-credits scene which ends this thing on a particularly sour note). Still, I would absolutely recommend this for anyone who feels they might be burnt out on Superhero movies; especially after Infinity War. It may not be the best that the MCU has to offer, but it’s the most straightforward and agreeable entry we’ve gotten since… well the last one, and there’s certainly a place for that in the grand scheme of things. If the MCU is going to continue to dominate the multiplex, it’s gonna need some low key fare to shake things up between the big event movies and the ways this updates the formula from the last film are very much welcome and make this one worth remembering even if it doesn’t have the lasting power of Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Then again, if we could get all of them into one movie… wait, NO! THAT’S THE KIND OF MONKEY’S PAW WISH THAT GOT US INFINITY WAR!!