After the dramatic and awesome one-two punch of Black Panther and Infinity War, it was hard not to feel skeptical about Marvel’s decision to release the second Ant-Man movie in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. Do we still care about the little guy? Do we (okay, I) need a break from all these superhero goings-on? Maybe. But, as you might expect, it turns out Kevin Feige and the gang knows exactly what they’re doing, and I was wrong, once again, to doubt them.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfect summer popcorn flick. If it existed in a world without the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, we’d still be blown away by it. I said of the first Ant-Man (2015) that it was a “surprisingly enjoyable little action flick,” with a stellar cast and solid execution. As such, director Peyton Reed didn’t mess with his formula too much: he added a few more excellent additions to the cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, and Hannah John Kamen, amongst others), kept the winning combo of action, humor, and heart … boom. Box-office gold.
I’ve been asked a couple of times if it is necessary to be caught up on the MCU in order to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp, and by and large the answer is no. The action picks up immediately following the events of Civil War, but those events are not relevant beyond the fact that we find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) on house arrest for his involvement. Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) are on the run from the Feds as well, but are working on a quantum tunnel which will theoretically allow them to find Hope’s mom, Janet (Pfeiffer), who has been lost/presumed dead in the quantum realm for decades. Naturally, the three are forced to team up again in order to achieve their goal, and of course, a bunch of other people are trying to stop them. They include Randall Park as the FBI agent assigned to Lang, Walton Goggins as a sleazy businessman who wants to get into quantum tech, and Ghost (John-Kamen), who joins the ranks of the new type of Marvel villain who is not so much evil as misunderstood.
One of the most impressive aspects of the movie is that it manages to juggle all those people and interweave their various storylines into a cohesive unit. The pace is quick but comfortable, and there’s plenty of time for humor and heartfelt moments. The film almost feels like an homage to Ferris Bueller: Lang’s out having adventures but also has to make sure he doesn’t get caught out of the house. The jokes strike just the right balance and the running gags, mostly courtesy of Michael Pena, TI Harris, and David Dastmalchian as Scott’s trio of business associates, never get old. The characters and their relationships were so well-defined in the first movie that we can spend more time catching up with the characters, rather than learning more about who they are and where they’re at with each other.
The biggest, and most important, change is that Hope has taken on the mantle of The Wasp. She’s the first female superhero in the MCU to receive title credit! Evangeline Lilly steps into full superhero mode like she was born to it, and matches Paul Rudd beat-for-beat. In a way, The Wasp is a more stereotypical hero than Ant-Man. Part of what makes Rudd so likable in the role (aside from his endless charisma) is his Everyman persona; while he has certain skills, he’s not a genius (which is frequently played to great comedic effect). He’s not supremely noble like Cap or endowed with any superhuman qualities, whereas in addition to being a skilled fighter, Hope is a brilliant scientist in her own right and has a laser-like focus on obtaining her goals. They balance each other wonderfully and make a great team.
One of the things that makes the MCU so compelling is the mix of epic and personal storytelling. After a world-shattering event like Infinity War, scaling things back to the lives and experiences of a few individuals was definitely the right choice. When they’re done well, these small-scale pieces are no less compelling than the grand ensemble films. Other reviewers have pointed to Spiderman: Homecoming as the best example of a stand-alone episode that loses nothing in enjoyment despite its lack of global consequence. Ant-Man and the Wasp is another great instance of this. The stakes are truly confined to Scott Lang, the Pym/van Dyne family, and a few others, and that intimacy allows for more of a connection with the characters and makes their stories more personal.
That Marvel can combine that kind of storytelling with blockbuster action and effects is a testament to what they’ve built in the MCU, and it’s what keeps viewers coming back for more. If you’re caught up, the second Ant-Man installment is a palate-cleanser; you’ll have fun and feel refreshed before we return to more bombast next year (CAPTAIN MARVEL YOU GUYS!!). If you’ve been sporadic in watching the MCU, you’ll still have a blast watching this movie and my only suggestion would be to skip the mid- and post-credit sequences. Either way, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect way to spend a few hours this summer; air-conditioning will feel like a bonus.