Director: Peyton Reed
As if shrewdly timed to calm our nerves after the big bang that was Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel’s latest offering Ant-Man and The Wasp is a breezy, lighthearted, and relatively low-stakes adventure. It’s not as if the characters in this film don’t flirt with danger, or that there aren’t any bad guys trying to do them in – there are. But nobody’s trying to end the world, nobody’s wiping out entire cities…and boy is that a relief!
Taking a tone that’s mostly playful, and following beats that are more personal than other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Ant-Man movies represent a welcome change of pace and are rooted in an unmistakable sense of fun.
The always likeable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, former thief, who accidentally chanced upon a ‘super suit’ that allowed him to shrink to the size of a little critter. Taking place not long after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the new film opens with Scott under house arrest for his role in the massive destruction caused during that Cap vs Iron Man showdown in Germany.
The Wasp to his Ant-Man is Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), daughter of atomic scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who invented the technology that allows Lang to downsize so drastically. Once estranged from her father, Hope is now working with him, and much of the film’s plot involves their efforts to rescue Jane, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been trapped for 30 years in the Quantum Realm.
Family, in fact, is one of the overarching themes in Ant-Man and the Wasp, with significant screen time devoted to Scott and his daughter Cassie. The little girl, who lives with her mother and stepfather, is frequently left in Scott’s care while he’s housebound, and their relationship is sweet without being cloying.
A big highlight of 2015’s Ant-Man was the terrific climatic sequence in which a train set in Cassie’s bedroom became the battleground for a confrontation between our minuscule hero and the film’s villain. Returning director Peyton Reed further exploits the film’s chief conceit to stage imaginative set pieces once again, this time involving speeding cars that shrink and return to size mid-chase, the pursuit of Hank’s laboratory that’s shrunk down to resemble a piece of carry-on luggage, and a scene at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco featuring the protagonist in ‘expanded mode’ in what may well be a nod to the 1958 cult hit Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Unlike most superhero films, the focus here is on fun over spectacle, and much humor is mined from scenes involving Scott’s ex-con buddies (led by a scene-stealing Michael Peña) who’re trying to get their security business off the ground. Less fun, however, is all the dense, impenetrable techno-babble between Hank and Hope that goes way over your head…and also Scott’s. “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” he asks, as if reading your mind.
New characters include Laurence Fishburne as a former SHIELD agent and Hank’s old colleague, and Ghost, an angsty female villain (Hannah John-Kamen) who can ‘phase’ through solid surfaces. They exist purely to further the plot, but the heavy lifting is left to the trio of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Douglas who anchor the film’s drama, and provide clues to any niggling questions you might have about the next Avengers film due next year.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ant-Man and the Wasp. It’s a consistently enjoyable film that’s more surefooted than its predecessor, and while it’s never groundbreaking, you will break into plenty laughs.
Rating: 3.5 / 5