Marvel Studios has had a HUGE 2018 so far with two of the biggest movies of the decade in “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War”. The third and final offering of the year from the studio is “Ant-Man and The Wasp”, a highly anticipated followup to the 2015 heist film that explores what happened to the titular miniature hero in the wake of “Captain America: Civil War” and provides some much-needed lighthearted comic relief in the wake of the revelations of “Infinity War”. But how well does this sequel live up to its predecessor and continue to move the MCU forward? Let’s take a look at the 20th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is my review of “Ant-Man and The Wasp”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
Two years after being arrested as part of Team Captain America in “Civil War” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has chosen to settle down as a family man under house arrest, giving up his crime fighting life to be a better father to his daughter Cassie. After receiving an apparent message from the original WaspJanet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who was lost in the quantum realm as revealed in the first movie, Lang reconnects with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and discovers that the two scientists, now on the run after being associated with Lang’s breaking the Sokovia Accords, have found a way into the quantum realm with the goal of bringing Janet back home. When a new villain called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who has the ability to phase through objects arrives on the scene bent on using Pym’s technology to help level out her increasingly dangerous powers Scott and Hope must work together as Ant-Man and The Wasp to stop her while also dodging a small time criminal group seeking the Pym tech and helping put a plan into motion to rescue Janet and explore the depths of the quantum realm.
“Ant-Man and The Wasp” is a much needed bit of levity when compared to the other two MCU movies we’ve had in 2018. “Black Panther” leaned heavily on social politics and appropriate racial commentary and “Infinity War” was a decidedly darker Marvel movie with an ending that literally shattered the status quo of the MCU. “Ant-Man and The Wasp” does have its emotional moments but in the end it’s much more fun and amusing than its predecessors in that this sequel is able to juggle humor and action quite well. It never takes itself too seriously but also remembers that it’s rooted in a cinematic universe with its own reality. “Ant-Man and The Wasp” feels like a natural progression from the first movie and borrows plenty of comedic tools from “Ant-Man” while also adding its own layer of unique humor. We get more of Luis’ (Michael Peña) epic flair for storytelling and Scott Lang’s goofy relationship with his daughter is even more defined but we also see other characters like Hope van Dyne show off their own sense of humor and we get a particularly funny scene where Scott Lang’s new suit doesn’t quite work making him the size of a child hiding from teachers in a school. The film explores new ways to play off of Ant-Man’s powers to further solidify him as the ultimate comic relief in this expanded movie universe, even more entertaining that Peter Quill or Thor. After the emotional roller coasters that were “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” it truly feels like a welcome change of pace to see Marvel embrace the lighter side of its properties again especially with a cast that owns every chance to bring a laugh from the crowd.
It’s all driven by the amazingly believable partnership between Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly who play the titular heroes of the film and seem to have bonded quite a bit more on and off the big screen than in the first movie. While I didn’t mind their back and forth in the original “Ant-Man”, this time around the two actors, and thus their characters, seem to be even more in tune with each other which makes the playful banter and fun chemistry between the heroes all the more enjoyable. Paul Rudd continues to show he is one of the greatest things about comedy of the last 20 years showing off even more of his already awesome range especially when he gets a chance to embrace a more, let’s say feminine side in one of the more hilarious segments of the movie. Evangeline Lilly, who I’ve always loved since her appearance on “LOST”, makes Hope van Dyne the exact opposite of the more childish Lang by giving The Wasp attitude and spunk to balance out this relationship that on paper shouldn’t work, but the two actors at the wheel make it work tremendously. They help drive the action and the film’s weight is put squarely on their shoulders. Whether it’s a funny joke or an emotional reunion both actors pull it off nicely and make Ant-Man and the Wasp as a cinematic team probably the best and most charming superhero duos in all of the MCU. Neither of them overshadows the other. They’re true partners and not just “the hero and the sidekick” and it’s refreshing to see a duo like this get equal billing and have equal significance instead of one being the backup to the other like many other MCU sidekicks including Falcon and War Machine.
Of course with great heroes must come a great villain and while the character of Ghost is not the best villain in the MCU she’s a sympathetic and human character we kind of needed at this point in the franchise. Ghost is played by rising English star Hannah John-Kamen who does a fine job giving us a sympathetic villainess whose backstory is fleshed out, rather quickly I might add, and who ends up not actually being much of a full-on villain by the end of it all. She’s a desperate warrior whose powers were born by an accident involving a similar experiment to Hank Pym’s own attempts to get his wife back and she wants to use Pym’s tech to help cure her of her deteriorating condition. John-Kamen has impressed in her first few major big-screen film roles in 2018, one as an assassin in “Ready Player One” and here as Ghost, and shows her capability of portraying a charming antagonist. Ghost might not be the most badass movie villain of all time, but she continues Marvel’s recent trend of offering up evildoers who we can honestly look at and wonder “are they really wrong”. We had the same reaction to Killmonger and Thanos earlier this year and 2017 gave us similar sympathetic characters with The Vulture and Ego. Ghost is further proof that Marvel might be finally finding its footing in the villain department by adding more depth to the antagonists that drive the conflict. Ghost is pleasantly human and serves as a fitting foe for a movie that takes a step back from the extremism of past baddies and gives us a baddy whose motives are still self-serving but who approaches her villainy on a much smaller scale.
To build on that concept of a “smaller scale” I found that “Ant-Man and The Wasp” benefitted from an approach that appreciated the original’s stealthier action while combining it with the CGI infused chaos Marvel has taken in past movies. Yes, we get a big ending where Ant-Man gets to use his Giant Man abilities, cars get flipped over, The Wasp shoot lasers and enlarges a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser and all kinds of mayhem ensues, but it all feels much more contained than past films which gives “Ant-Man and The Wasp” its own unique feel especially considering in this movie Hope, Hank and Scott are all playing a dangerous game where getting caught means prison time. This approach also helps justify Ant-Man’s absence in the bigger picture and why he didn’t help out in “Infinity War” as well as why he chooses to take on this particular mission alone with Hank and Hope rather than call in help from any other Avengers. “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is a rare offering from Marvel where the plot holes of it’s connection, or lack thereof, to other projects in the MCU timeline are easily solved by considering the underlying factors in the story. Director Peyton Reed and the team of writers that includes Chris McKenna and Paul Rudd himself do a fine job of making “Ant-Man and The Wasp” seem like a much larger piece to an ever-growing puzzle. It might not hit ALL the right notes, but this sequel feels warranted and offers an extremely fun and hilarious ride that keeps you hooked from start to finish.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Although It’s a very good film and a great sequel “Ant-Man and The Wasp” has a couple of issues I feel bog it down. Not enough to make it unwatchable or prevent it from getting a good grade from me, but enough to safely say it’s the weakest of the three movies offered by Marvel this year. The first major problem is an overabundance of subplots. Throughout the movie we see several different conflicts come into play that create quite a mess for our heroes over the course of two hours. Scott Lang has to Ferris Bueller himself back home once in a while to avoid the FBI investigating his whereabouts, Hope and Hank are working on bringing Janet back home, Ghost is working on stealing that technology for her own gain, a past rivalry between Hank Pym and his former partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) is explored, Scott is trying to create a security firm with his friends including Luis with a big deal hanging in the balance, and a smaller group of criminals led by Walton Goggins’ Sonny Burch is also trying to hunt down Pym and van Dyne to get the technology themselves. See, that’s a lot for one film to handle and while “Ant-Man and The Wasp” doesn’t always succeed in seeing each of these plot lines through smoothly the narrative manages to overcome the overcrowded screenplay to tie everything up by the end and give us a decent product. At times though some of these plot threads feel inserted into the movie to stretch the run time while others feel underdeveloped with shoehorned in conclusions. Even the resolution to Ghost’s predicament feels rushed. In fact, I’d say the conclusion to Ghost’s conflict was the most disappointing of any MCU villain to date as an ex machina straight from the depths of the quantum realm is used to offer an easy solution to an issue the film spent most of its run time dwelling on.
The writing for this film is also a bit clumsy and leans heavily on science fiction mumbo jumbo to get by. Yes, the inter-character banter and normal human conversation is fine, and in many cases quite entertaining, but when Hank Pym and Hope start going off about how the quantum realm and the movie’s science works I personally was lost. There’s a lot of big words and complicated terminology thrown in to the point where the writers didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were making the character’s sound smart while also telling the viewers “don’t worry you don’t need to understand this just roll with it”. Me being the odd moviegoer I am tried to make sense of it and it hurt my brain. It’s perfectly fine for science fiction to incorporate unique terms and concepts into the narrative. In fact, that’s the point. But it’s also important for the viewer to have an understanding and firm grasp on what it all means, a “layman’s term” kind of thing you know. We never really get that in “Ant-Man and The Wasp”. We’ve seen complicated science in the MCU in the past but there’s always an opportunity for the viewer to gain an understanding of what exactly all this means. This film doesn’t really offer that chance. Even Paul Rudd’s not-so-subtle jabs at the terminology used in the film isn’t enough to overpower the ridiculousness of some of the writing. Even the Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity Stones eventually made more sense than the quantum realm science we see in this movie and if I’m being brutally honest this one aspect of the movie frustrated me even if only slightly.
I would say the only other issue I really had with “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is that while I appreciate its lighter tone I also didn’t feel there was a straight up human point to the project. It felt like this was a movie made purely to entertain and for the most part ignores any deeper message about humanity that usually adds nice context to Marvel’s films. While Ghost’s personal conflict is a nice touch there’s still no relatable undertones to it that add any depth to this sequel. Again, I turn to past MCU films that all had something to say. “Black Panther” provided commentary on racism, “Infinity War” asked us to judge whether a sacrifice for the greater good was worth it, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” taught us that parentage is not always based on blood, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” taught us that doing the right thing sometimes means testing authority and “Thor: Ragnarok” taught us that our own potential is only limited by our the limitations we set on ourselves. Even the original “Ant-Man” showed us that big things can come in small packages and that everyone deserves a chance at redemption.
“Ant-Man and The Wasp” really has no social message to share. Yes, we get some insight into the bonds of family and Ghost’s quandary asks us once again to think about what’s wrong or right but none of this is truly “owned” as the moral center of the film. The closest we get to learning something from this movie is when Scott has to come to grips with being a screw up after he inadvertently makes things worse for his friends but even that is swept under the rug when his follow-up actions seem to clear him of any wrongdoing. Superhero movies ARE meant to be great popcorn entertainment, and “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is one of the more amusing and fun entries in the MCU canon, but as an individual film on its own there’s no real moral core. It’s nice to get a lighthearted MCU entry but it still need’s purpose beyind simply progressing the larger story. However that doesn’t make this movie unneeded because it does progress the MCU further towards “Avengers 4” and helps provide some closure to story threads left unchecked from the first movie back in 2015. So on that front at least “Ant-Man and The Wasp” has some purpose even if there’s nothing thought provoking in the mix.
“Ant-Man and The Wasp” continues Marvel Studios’ epic tenth anniversary year in style with one of its funniest and most entertaining sequels to date. I give it credit as being one of the best second movies in an MCU standalone series second to only “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. The great chemistry between Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly help truly sell the heroes and we get a decent villain with redeemable qualities from Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost. If you’re looking for action, plenty of jokes that land and charisma galore this Marvel entry has that in spades and appropriately connects smoothly to the rest of the MCU while smoothing over conflicts left unresolved from its predecessor. Its main errors lie in the crowded screenplay that offers up a few too many plot lines as well as it’s lack of any true message to the audience other than “not everything is dark in the MCU right now”, but this sequel rises above these issues to give Marvel fans something they truly needed after the last few films presented a darker atmosphere. All in all, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is very entertaining an a whole lot of fun. It presents us with our first truly balanced superhero duo in the franchise. It’s a fine step forward and serves as yet another home run from a studio that frankly can’t really a lot wrong these days and that’s just fine by me.