Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp
As the seasons change, so comes another Marvel film, another thread in the ongoing tapestry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our latest stitch is the 20th film overall in the MCU and the second film in the Ant-Man sub-franchise. Ant-Man and the Wasp, directed by Peyton Reed, who also directed the first film, is set after Captain America: Civil War but before the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Definitely a far cry from the epic scale and dark melancholy of Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp offers a fun diversion from the rest of the MCU, even if its simple story and characters make it feel somewhat lacking.
With the universe in full swing at this point, Marvel continues to do a good job of building a sense of continuity. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest due to his involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War, and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) are both less than pleased with Lang for using the Ant-Man tech to do so. Though the series of events might be difficult to follow for the casual fan, it is to the film’s credit that it concisely recaps the previous film and explains the Sovokia Accords that led to Lang’s arrest without being obtrusive to the flow of the film. This entry is very easy to watch as a standalone film, despite being the 20th movie in the universe, but still gives fans what they want by having the consequences of previous films affect this one.
The rest of the plot focuses on retrieving Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), from the Quantum Realm as discussed at the end of the previous film, while also dealing with a mysterious vigilante named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants to use Pym’s technology for her own purposes. The overall plot of this film feels very light and inconsequential coming in the wake of Infinity War. This would be welcome if Ant-Man and the Wasp were able to offer strong characters and fun hijinks. Instead, the characters feel flat and like they are treading water, bolstered only by a generally affable cast. Rudd continues to be charismatic as Lang, even as he takes more of a side role to Hope and Hank. While both Lily and Sheen give decent performances, as written, their characters don’t grow or change and are rather nondescript. Their general quest to save their loved one from the Quantum Realm doesn’t offer new insights into the characters, thus giving the film sense of static trudge despite all the flashy happenings.
The humor also falls flat here more often than in the first one. Michael Peña, a fan favorite for his two narration scenes, feels more goofy and less clever than in the first film. Randall Park stars as Jimmy Woo, a SHIELD agent from the comics, made into an FBI agent here due to the films still not acknowledging the return of SHIELD, and is supposed to be comedic relief. Some of his humor feels hilariously off-kilter, while other parts leave you cold. A joke about everything having the word “quantum” in front of it is amusing and clever, though, and the shrinking and growing of objects continues to be used in an interesting way. But Reed’s directing feels less original and more exasperated in this sequel, perhaps giving credence to the idea that the strong parts of Ant-Man were due to Edgar Wright‘s involvement.
Walton Goggins makes a welcome appearance as a side villain, but his performance feels lazier than usual for him. Laurence Fishburne also stars as Bill Foster, a character known as Black Goliath to comic fans. This is a fun nod to the comics, Fishburne’s character is more interesting than it initially seems. But like most of the characters in the film, the script struggles to give him much beyond a basic motivation.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is stronger than some of the earliest MCU films in which the studio was still finding its way. Its lighthearted adventure is a nice counterbalance to the other Marvel film released this year, but it lacks a strong foundation of its own and feels deflated by the end of its runtime. Some audiences may be ready to pull out their flyswatters and bug repellent. Given the great entries in the MCU and its overall consistency for the past two years, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels like a step backward even if it is at times entertaining.