The original Ant-Man struck me as having a kind of cult classic appeal. For the majority of Marvel fans, the 2015 film was too far outside the typical wheelhouse to be truly appreciated. It was a smaller scale story; one where the fate of the world was decidedly not at stake. Rather, it was the fate of a single man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his quest to find a new lease on life after prison. There were no aliens, no larger than life baddies threatening to end our way of life, and the breathtaking climax took place on a child’s Thomas the Tank Engine train set.
It’s not hard to blame those who shrug it off and put it all the way at or near the bottom of their MCU lists. I certainly don’t hold it against anyone, even though I largely disagree. It was, at the time, exactly what Marvel needed to help get them out of their narrative rut and to prove, in theory if not in practice, that the franchise is capable of allowing uniqueness to take precedence over that oft-discussed house style.
Ant-Man and the Wasp largely serves the same purpose in today’s MCU. It is a kind of pallet cleanser after the traumatizing events of Infinity War. A distraction that reminds us that the stakes don’t have to be fate-of-the-universe level in order to keep us engaged. It is, simply, a fun and exciting superhero romp that uses the Marvel elements we so love to tell a smaller-scale, more intimate kind of story.
It’s been two years since we last saw Lang at the German airport in Civil War, and it hasn’t gone great for him. The former convict is on house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords, and has been ordered to never don the mantel of Ant-Man or to contact his predecessor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), or his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) ever again. With just days to go until the end of his sentence, Pym and Hope reach out to Lang for help. Dr. Pym’s long lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), thought trapped forever in the quantum realm after a mission went awry in the 80s, can potentially be brought back to reality. To do so, however, means defeating a mysterious, reality jumping assassin, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and a cut throat gangster named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) who each want Dr. Pym’s technology for their own personal reasons.
Like its predecessor, at its heart Ant-Man and the Wasp is essentially a heist film. Director Peyton Reed plays in these tropes well. The tension is always high, even while we know that elsewhere in the MCU the rest of the Avengers are trying to thwart the greatest villain they’ve ever faced. Like any good heist film, there are zigs and zags and twists that steadily ramp up to insane levels, which further allows the film to play with its, well, size.
While there are some nagging plot issues—one gets the feeling that a simple conversation with Ghost and her handler could solve that problem, and it’s never exactly clear just who Burch is or what he wants beyond money—the film does a good job making you forget about that as it moves on. Establishing Hope as The Wasp adds an exciting new dimension to the film; her years of training delightfully contrasts Lang’s improvisational style, giving them a delightful Straight Man and Wise Guy dynamic.
Rudd and Lilly both play these roles well, with Rudd being, as ever, a particularly effective Wise Guy. In fact, if the original Ant-Man can be faulted for anything, it’s for making scant use of Rudd’s comedic, aw-shucks sensibilities. Here, Rudd is given room to play and the results are fantastic. Lilly, meanwhile, alternates between annoyed to badass to concerned daughter beautifully, giving Hope/The Wasp an incredible depth that’s deserving of a movie of her own.
The film also answers the question that’s been most on fans’ minds for the last few months: where was Ant-Man during the Infinity War? Fret not, pedants. Answers are given, and they’re effective, setting up a new addition to the team when the Infinity War follow up hits screens next year.
Though it isn’t without its problems Ant-Man and the Wasp is a delight entry into both the MCU franchise and the Ant-Man series. Even many of the naysayers of its predecessor will admit that this outing is a better time than the previous. While it may not cause too much of a stir on your MCU rankings list, it’s still an exceedingly fun time that serves as an excellent reminder of how even the smaller stories can feel huge when in the right hands.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is now playing in theaters everywhere.