Is this going to be Ant-Man’s lot in life, to be the minty Tic Tac chaser for Marvel’s biggest, meatiest and most extravagant releases? The first ANT-MAN blew me away, a jolt of irreverent energy coming straight after the unwieldy AGE OF ULTRON and making a far stronger, more confident impression. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP might not be able to match the stakes of INFINITY WAR or the thematic richness of BLACK PANTHER but it’s still very satisfying on its own terms.
Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) long two years of house arrest for his actions as an unregistered superhero are coming to a close, but not quite in time for him to help Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her super-scientist father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) try and bring the long-lost Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) back from the quantum realm. As their secret experiments ramp up, other power players seeking to misuse Pym’s technology enter the field…
This is perhaps Marvel’s most heartfelt franchise, being smaller-scale (thematically and actually) but with big emotions and immediate consequences for characters’ loved ones. Straight out of the gate Scott is back with his daughter Cassie (Abbie Ryder Forston on scene-stealing form again), the fate of the wider world insignificant compared to his need to be there for his daughter. In the first film, Rudd’s dramatic chops proved to be a secret weapon, the pain behind his eyes never quite outshone by his scoundrel swagger, and he really carries over his versatility into the sequel. He’s still funny, Scott employing close-up magic out of sheer boredom and messing with an agent who really wants a friend (the brilliant Randall Park) but it’s the pathos that connects.
Very deliberately, Scott’s Ant-Man suit is on the fritz. All the time. This allows for the Wasp to come forward, to take charge, to, repurposing Mantis’s wonderfully muddled turn of phrase from Infinity War, to “kick names and take ass”. Wasp’s first fight sequence where she makes very short work of a gang of armed henchmen in a lobby and then a kitchen sets the tone and makes it clear she is a deadly force to be reckoned with, and Hope is rarely not the focus this time; it’s her story. The action scenes is general are packed full of gags and laden with invention, particularly in the car chases that involve last-minute miniaturising to avoid obstacles, or popping back to normal size to cause pursuers to crash.
They have a pretty different way of dealing with their villain problem in the end, and wonder of wonders a Marvel film’s final act doesn’t involve an aerial battle or two special effects punching each other. On both accounts Ant Man and the Wasp’s final stretch is weirder and more conceptual than I ever expected, but I don’t want to talk about it in detail and ruin the surprise.
They’ll have to get the de-aging effects right in the (as far as we know) entirely 90s-set CAPTAIN MARVEL, or they’ll break the movie. They’re almost there with Douglas and Pfeiffer playing 30 year younger versions of themselves in flashback, though they still haven’t quite got rid of that doll-like look from certain angles.
Some of the cast are under-served, understandable in a large ensemble of Avengers, but given the downsizing you’d think they’d find more for people to do, with Laurence Fishburne doing a bit of running around in a cardigan and Walton Goggins doing a bit of running around in a nasty cream suit. The “Luis tells a story in his unique style” gag is a lot less funny on repeat as well, despite Michael Peña’s talent.
Ant-Man and the Wasp may be uncomplicated, but it delivers as a thrilling, funny and soulful super-romp. It also helps to set up what will likely be the most interesting phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its second decade where surely everything will change. SSP