3.5 out of 5 stars.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the sequel to what is likely the most low-key of all the Marvel films, comes to theaters less than three months after the release of the huge and highly-anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War.” The latter film was high-stakes and emotionally draining, which is part of the reason why “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is so entertaining, and enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe at just the right moment.
Like its predecessor, this film offers up a contained story that doesn’t really effect the MCU as a whole, but is still a lot of fun. Set just before “Infinity War” but two years after “Captain America: Civil War,” we see Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), former thief and the Ant-Man, approaching the end of his house arrest, after he was caught violating the Sokovia Accords by aiding Captain America in that latter film. He did this without the knowledge or consent of original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who created the Ant-Man suit and break off all contact with Scott after the incident. But when he dreams about Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer)—who has been lost in the quantum realm for the last 30 years after shrinking small enough to disable a missile and save thousands of lives— Hope and Hank reach out to him, hoping he, along with technology they have been developing in their lab, can help find her and bring her back alive. But there are several obstacles standing in their way, including Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), the FBI agent trying to arrest Hank and Hope and who is convinced that Scott is breaking his parole; Sonny Burch (Walter Goggins), a black market dealer who wants to steal Hank’s technology and sell it; and Ava Starr, otherwise known as Ghost because of a childhood accident that made her cells unstable, causing her to constantly phase through objects.
Peyton Reed returns to direct this film, after taking over for Edgar Wright following some production troubles on the first movie. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has more of a fast-paced and fun feel; maybe some of that is due to Reed getting to work on this movie from the get-go, and maybe some of that is also due to the fact that this isn’t an origin story, and it isn’t a straight-up heist movie like the first film. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” never really starts and stops—it just goes. This movie has a lot of fun playing with scale, especially in its action scenes, and it’s something that sets “Ant-Man” apart from the other series in the MCU. It’s immensely entertaining to watch the characters shrink and grow in size, and to see how they interact with their environment as a result. There are other little clever bits that go along with that, like the case of Hot Wheels cars that Hank always has at his disposal; anytime they need a particular vehicle, they just blow it up in size. The visual effects are very impressive in these scenes, as well as in how Ghost is portrayed as always phasing in and out of sight, and in the rendering of the quantum realm. We saw Scott enter the microscopic quantum realm in the first film, but even post-Doctor Strange it appears trippier here, with the colors and creatures all coming together to create a world that truly appears like it just popped out of a comic book.
There are a lot of characters and subplots in this film, some of which are more interesting and necessary than others. But while the film gets bogged down in all this a little bit, the charismatic cast of characters keep it afloat. It doesn’t feel like we get as much character growth in this film, and Lilly’s Wasp is portrayed as a much more capable hero over the occasionally bumbling Scott (it’s important to note here that this is the first film in the MCU to give a female hero equal footing with the male hero, including her name in the movie’s title—seriously, where is our Wasp standalone movie?). But Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all have great chemistry. Rudd brings the requisite sense of humor to the part, along with a lot of nice moments with his on-screen daughter, played by the charming Abby Ryder Fortson. Lilly gets to suit up in this movie and has a ton of great scenes. Park and Michael Peña, who returns as Scott’s friend and former convict Luis, handle a lot of the more comedic moments. Laurence Fishburne joins the cast as Hank’s former partner Bill Foster, and Hannah John-Kamen is truly great as Ava/Ghost. In fact, Ghost may be one of the MCU’s more memorable villains so far, although she isn’t so much a villain as someone who gets in the way of the hero’s goals. She isn’t in this for money or power; she just wants to find a cure for her condition. Unfortunately, the way she goes about doing so isn’t really the right thing to do, but John-Kamen brings emotional gravity to the role that may be more serious in tone than the other characters in the movie, but that makes her character so much more interesting and sympathetic.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” may not be a very ambitious movie, but it’s breezy summer movie fare at its finest. And it also serves as proof of at least part of the reason why the MCU has been able to continue to be so successful: it can balance the fun, low-stakes movies with the serious, high-stakes ones, without sacrificing quality or being inconsistent with its brand. Also: giant ants.
Runtime: 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.