After the tectonic cultural shift that was Black Panther and the world-breaking climax of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel’s final film of 2018 will probably be something of a relief to many fans of its superhero movies, if for no other reason than it’s a fairly straightforward action-comedy that hits far more often than it doesn’t. Which is not to say that Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t have a few weightier and more emotional moments within its tiny frame, first and foremost with the fact that it marks the first time a female Marvel character gets her name in the title.
The film picks up about two years after Ant-Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War, after which former thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, who also shares a screenwriting credit) cut a deal with the government to stay under house arrest for two years and have no contact with the folks that gave him the Ant-Man suit in the first place, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Lang is allowed to meet with his former burglary associates (Michael Peña’s Luis, David Dastmalchian’s Kurt, and T.I.’s Dave) who have turned a new leaf and started a security business that is struggling. He is also allowed visits from his beloved daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), his ex-wife (Judy Greer), and her not-so-new husband (Bobby Cannavale), all of whom seem to get along much better now than they did when Scott was fresh out of prison in the first film.
A lot of the decisions Scott has made in the past two years, as well as the ones he makes in his final couple of days under house arrest that we see in Ant-Man and the Wasp, are done in the name of being the best father he can be for his daughter. So when given the choice of saving a lot of people but possibly being caught by the government for leaving his house or stay home, he’s more inclined to play it safe. Being a superhero is cool, but being a good dad is his top priority.
Still, after having an unnerving vision of his time in the quantum realm that might possibly be a message from Hank’s long-lost wife Janet (seen mostly in flashbacks, played by Michelle Pfeiffer), he calls Hank and Hope, who are in hiding from the feds for using the Ant-Man suit at all and are still very angry with Scott for stealing it to go fight with Captain America in Berlin. Hope seems particularly hurt because Scott didn’t ask her to go fight alongside him, a decision that apparently broke up a promising shot at a relationship between the two.
There’s also a new bad guy in their midst, called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through anything and then suddenly become whole again just in time to knock someone on their ass. Ghost seems to have her heart set on stealing Pym’s technology for her own purposes, which means interrupting a deal between Janet and shady tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), during which we get our first real taste of just how formidable Wasp is as a solo act. In order to get all the tech they need to re-enter the quantum realm and potentially rescue Janet, Wasp and Ant-Man must team-up and find Ghost, who has her own need for the tech.
As he did with the first film, director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love, Yes Man) keeps things moving and fairly light, concentrating on the banter Scott has with Hank and Hope, Luis, and newcomer (to the series) Randall Park, who plays the agent in charge of checking in to make sure Scott is still in his home. Some of the film’s most thrilling moments come from Scott simply trying to make it home at various points to make sure Park sees him there.
Another new face in the Ant-Man world is Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster, who, in his younger days, worked with Pym on a project called Goliath, which resulted in growing taller rather than shrinking. Pym seeks out his help in tracking down Ghost, and it turns out Foster may have more skin in this game than he’s letting on.
I was particularly impressed with the way Ghost’s storyline plays out, because it’s quite different than just about any other “villain” arc we’ve seen in this universe. The film acknowledges that sometimes a bad guy does bad things for reasons that are not easily defined. And by the end of the film, Ghost’s backstory and condition are the most important thing to everyone involved. The shift is gradual, impressive and fairly unique.
As I mentioned, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a comedy at its core, despite some heavier moments involving Ghost’s instability (mental and physical) and the ongoing search for Janet. The jokes are stronger, the special effects are even more seamless, and it’s actually great that the version of the Ant-Man suit that Scott is using for most of the film isn’t glitch-proof, so it’s constantly malfunctioning, leaving him at various, in-between sizes that do no one any good but are very funny as visual gags. The use of the shrink and grow functions by both Ant-Man and the Wasp are far more impressive and more rapid fire, and the fact that she has wings and blasters makes her all the more formidable.
By design, I suspect, the entire film feels homemade, slightly rickety but still capable of getting to the finish line faster than its slicker, better-built peers. Much like the original Ant-Man, this second chapter feels very much like a shorter (about two-hour) standalone creature than most other Marvel films. Set in San Francisco once again, the action itself takes place over about a day and a half, so even the timeframe is reduced (if you’re curious, the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp seem to run parallel to Infinity War, although what’s going on in New York or Wakanda is never specifically mentioned).
The name of the tiny game in Ant-Man and the Wasp is simply to have fun and be wildly entertaining. It’s not trying to redefine the superhero movie, although that aspect alone makes it quite different from a great deal of what’s been hitting theaters of late. Rudd feels so much more comfortable as Lang this time around, which may just be a reflection of Lang feeling more at ease as a hero this time around while Lilly just stomps everyone’s ass like she was born to do it.
Consider this the palate cleanser before all hell breaks loose next year with Captain Marvel and the next Avengers movie (which I’m told will feature Ant-Man and the Wasp quite prominently). Stockpile the good feelings you get from this one to fortify yourself for 2019.
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