In a way, I feel a bit sorry for Ant-Man and the Wasp: it’s a film of less substance in the MCU, being a fun caper movie in the same vein as Ant-Man; it’s coming after the huge events of Avengers: Infinity War; and it’s arriving after a tremendous run of MCU films in the past eight months (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War). That’s a lot to live up to and it influences a viewer’s perception of the film; it will be interesting to see it assessed in its own right some years down the line.
Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place two years after the events of Ant-Man. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for his participation in the airport fight in Captain America: Civil War, and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are fugitives because of the Sokovia Accords and have cut ties with Scott. They are trying to find a way to get into the quantum realm to rescue Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) after Scott’s successful return in the first film; after an attempt to open a gateway to the quantum realm, Scott has a dream about Janet and decides to let Hank and Hope know. However, this leads to Hope kidnapping him in order to help them find Janet. This leads to being hunted by Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black-market tech dealer who wants Hank’s laboratory, and dealings with Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a figure who can phase in and out of this dimension, who wants Hank’s tech for her own reasons, meeting up with Hank’s old lab partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), plus being chased by the FBI, led by Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park).
There is definitely a lighter feel to this film: although there is emotional depth in the quest to find Janet and the reasons for Ghost’s intentions, it is mostly an action comedy with little in the way of stakes. I don’t know if this is because the MCU needed it after Avengers: Infinity War or because it was in keeping with Ant-Man, but it means that there are no real effects on the MCU, the villains are not a huge threat (Burch’s gaggle of anonymous bad guys seem like something out of an ‘80s film, although Goggins gives good villain), and even Agent Woo is played as comic relief, thus neutering the FBI as a threat. This lack of substance makes for a frothier, lightweight piece of popcorn entertainment that doesn’t feel quite as good as the first film, but that could be due to the reasons mentioned in my first paragraph.
There is a lot to enjoy in the movie. Lilly is really good as Hope, and the Wasp is shown to be incredibly capable in the suit, more so than Scott, and easily worthy of equal billing in the title. In the comics, the Wasp was always portrayed as an insubstantial character, despite being a founder member of the Avengers, and it’s really good to see her getting great action scenes where she gets to show what can be done with the character. The action scenes also make good use of the shrinking/growing powers and the perspective of scale, which should be one of the main selling points of the franchise. There is a lot of fun: plenty of jokes and characters interacting in an amusing fashion even in the chases. It’s also great having Michelle Pfeiffer in the MCU as the original Wasp – be prepared to be freaked out by the CGI magic of Marvel when a flashback scene has de-aged Pfeiffer and Douglas in a scene with a young Hope (although, thankfully, they didn’t de-age Lilly). The film has some nice references to the comics, such as Bill ‘Goliath’ Foster, the identity of Ghost’s father, and it’s great having Agent Woo because it means we can now have Agents of Atlas in the MCU and that would be fantastic.
However, the film suffers from some of the problems common to sequels, mainly the need to have the bits that people enjoyed from the first film repeated (five screenwriters, one of whom is Rudd, might have added to slight weaknesses). Michael Peña is great as Luis, and his monologues synced to the people he’s describing was a great part of Ant-Man, so it’s done again but larger. Thomas the Tank Engine was enlarged in the first film, so another piece of childhood is enlarged in this film (a Pez dispenser). There is an enlarged ant used as a stand-in for Scott in his house, and there are more names for flying ants for Scott after Anthony in the first film. And, while I’ve never been a great fan of Stan Lee cameos, I think the one in this film is perhaps the weakest because it needs his delivery to sell the joke and he’s a 90-year-old man with no acting experience; I know that’s harsh of me but I felt I needed to include it as part of my commitment to honesty in my reviewing films.
For all of these weaknesses, the film wins you round through the action scenes and the characters – Rudd and Lilly are very charming and are people you want to see and be around and root for, and they have a good supporting cast. As I said earlier, it will need some distance to be a more objective judge of this film, which I don’t think quite matches the first film, but it’s still an entertaining, exciting well-made film that will leaving you wanting more Wasp, and perhaps a little bit of Ant-Man to act as her sidekick.