REVIEW - ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: A Hysterical Small-Scale Adventure With Colossal Plot Baggage

After the shocking and grim ending of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp is a thrilling Marvel adventure that's full of laughs, peculiar quantum science, and not much else. Minor spoilers ahead!

For the second time in three years, Marvel Studios has opted for a (subatomically) smaller scale superhero film after delivering their biggest one to date. 2015 saw the release of Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man shortly after Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Reed has returned to the helm for the sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp, in the looming despair following Avengers: Infinity War. The result is an extremely funny, action-packed film that gets weighed down with far too much plot science.

After a quick flashback prologue, the film opens with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in his final three days of house arrest following his violation of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, a rather dismissive and irresponsible decision ("Ah well, what else is new?") that flew in the face of the first film's portrait of a man eager to escape a life of crime. The film does attempt to rectify this in a way, painting Lang’s decision as a patriotic one and having the character on the cusp of starting a private security firm with his ex-con pals Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). As it turns out, Lang neglected to tell Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) about his plan to use their tech to help Cap, leading to the pair being hunted by the FBI for their indirect role in assisting the star-spangled fugitive.

As a result, the two scientists have angrily cut personal and professional ties with Lang, but all that changes when Lang has a vivid dream involving the memories of Hank's wife and Hope's mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Soon after, he finds himself whisked away by the father and daughter duo, who believe that the dream is the key to rescuing Janet from the Quantum Realm, the subatomic space that Lang found himself trapped in during the last film. Along the way, the team is impeded by Sonny Burch (a smarmy Walton Goggins) and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who seek to use Pym’s Quantum tech for their own personal objectives.

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Overall, Ant-Man and The Wasp is a fairly standard action comedy, which you can hardly fault Marvel Studios for after delivering their heaviest movie with Infinity War. It’s unfortunate that the film’s story gets so bogged down in scientific subplots, backstory, and mumbo jumbo; the word “quantum” is used so often that even the film makes fun of itself for it. The size-changing antics are as preposterous, hilarious and unorthodox as ever (and the ants get a lot more to do this time).

Rudd is far more funny and believable as a father-turned-bumbling superhero this time around (no doubt due to his hand in the film’s script), and Douglas maintains his grumpy, sarcastic charm as Pym. Evangeline Lilly shines as the Wasp, finally joining the super powered action after the first film left her on the sidelines for…reasons. As compensation, it seems, Lilly gets some of the most thrilling moments in the film all to herself. As for the titular team-up, Rudd and Lilly possess a great chemistry while they continue to trade sarcastic barbs with each other. Unfortunately, the shoehorned romance introduced at the end of the previous film also makes a return, which really dulls part of the dynamic between the pair, who are a lot more interesting when they are at odds with one another.

The supporting cast is far less lucky. For all the excitement of having Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet (the original Wasp), her inclusion is little more than a plot-driven cameo, and Laurence Fishburne’s role as Hank’s old S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague Bill Foster doesn’t amount to very much beyond standing around and being worried. In the villain department, Walton Goggins is a greasy, ineffective obstacle as weapons dealer Sonny Burch, and while John-Kamen’s Ghost provides for some very visually appealing fight sequences, the character ends up as an angry one-dimensional by-product of the film’s kooky quantum science. Unsurprisingly, ex-cons Luis, Dave and Kurt remain as hysterical as they were the first installment, generating some of the biggest laughs in the film.  

Ant-Man and The Wasp is a compact, lighthearted affair, which is not a bad thing as a reasonably self-contained film; recent Marvel efforts such as Black Panther and Infinity War both maintained fairly heavy tones throughout, and the Ant-Man brand has never really taken itself too seriously. The main issue here is that the film doesn’t have very much to say for itself or its characters. There are definitely brief moments where themes of parenting (good, bad, and ugly) come into play, but the film never really capitalizes on any of that, choosing instead to continue its uneven foray through several quantum hoops. There are no lessons here, and no real development; Hank is still an angry curmudgeon, Hope is still sardonic but capable, and Scott kind of learns that constantly screwing up his duties as a father is bad, but Rudd is so gosh-darn likeable that it doesn't seem to matter.  This doesn't make the film unenjoyable by any stretch, but you might find yourself wishing for more of a memorable "sting" by the time the credits roll.
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