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When Avengers: Age of Ultron came out and dropped an entire city out of the sky and into oblivion, Marvel Studios decided that rather than end their Phase 2 of films there, they’d offer a bit of a ‘palate cleanser’ to wrap it up. Thus came Ant-Man, a film that was in development along with original Phase 1 films Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, but went through such a fascinating shift behind the scenes (which you can listen about in our Free Refills episode going over the film HERE), that it was postponed well beyond it’s original planned date.
Much like the first go around, Marvel has once again followed up a gigantic film with a Universe-shattering disruption to the status quo (that would be Avengers: Infinity War) with a smaller, more focused adventure featuring our insect-sized hero and his new sidekick. Or is he the sidekick now? Ant-Man and The Wasp takes place two years after Captain America: Civil War and deals more with the ramifications of that feud than it does with Infinity War, although it does make important reference to Thanos’ presence. Scott Lang has been under house arrest after cutting a deal with the US Government, and former colleagues Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne have been MIA.
Hank and Hope have been trying to get back to the Quantum Realm ever since Scott successfully brought himself back in the finale of the first Ant-Man. Their looking for his wife, her mother, Janet van Dyne, who they both had believed to be lost for decades. In their quest to find Janet, they bring Scott back into the fold, run afoul of relentless arms dealer Sonny Burch, have to dodge FBI Agent Jimmy Woo, and have to fight of the mysterious, phasing antagonist Ghost.
Ant-Man and The Wasp boasts a refreshingly simplified and slimmed down goal: locate and save Janet van Dyne for the Quantum Realm. What makes it so effective and fun is that it has layered micro-conflicts with nearly every other supporting character serving as an antagonist, if not an outright villain, who can complicate or ruin those plans. It’s extremely efficient not only in laying out these different story threads, but also bringing them back together in an extended, creative finale.
The cast is as strong as can be expected from these Marvel films, who absolutely crush their casting. Paul Rudd is charming and affable as they everyman with access to super powered tech, and both Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas are excellent straight-player foils for his goofy aw-shucks demeanor. Lilly in particular gets a lot more to do this time around, and her Wasp not only marks the last of the original comic book Avengers to make it to the big screen, but also is an impressive badass who serves as the emotional anchor of the films conflict. Michelle Pfeiffer joins an already insane MCU lineup as Janet van Dyne, and I’m excited to see what more they can do with her character in the future.
Returning as members of Rudd’s (former) criminal crew are Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, and Ant-Man comedy MVP Michael Peña. Peña in particular steals every scene that he’s in, and his bit about truth serum is one of the funniest things Marvel has done yet. Laurence Fishburne brings an expected amount of gravitas as Pym’s estranged colleague Bill Foster, and Hannah John-Kamen continues her strong year playing antagonists that started with her turn in Ready Player One and continues here as the phasing, formidable Ghost. Randall Park is excellent as Agent Jimmy Woo, and the immortal Walton Goggins gets much more to do here as crooked arms crook Sonny Burch than he did in Tomb Raider earlier this year. There’s still not enough Goggins, but I’ll take what I can get.
What makes Ant-Man and The Wasp so enjoyable is that director Peyton Reed knows he’s working with a scaled down story that serves more as a fleshing-out tool of the MCU rather than an Earth shaking blockbuster entry. The action, taking advantage of the amazing streets and locations of San Francisco, is more clever than bombastic. The film also deserves credit for finding extremely creative ways of dealing with the growing/shrinking technology both for laughs and for action. An extended scene where Scott is stuck at 3 1/2 feet tall is a blast, as well as when he goes full Giant-Man again to stop some retreating villains.
The special effects are just as good this time around, and they really find ways of growing and shrinking different things, from suits to people to cars and buildings. I particularly liked the way Hank carries around a Hot Wheels case full of shrunken vehicles that can be enlarged when needed. The movie runs the risk of coming off as slight, but I think it handles the smaller focus pretty well, bouncing between comedy and action without many bumps along the way.
I found the balancing of antagonists to be interesting as well and unlike anything that has really been done with Marvel before. Rather than having one big antagonist that our heroes have to stop to save a large amount of people or the world, there is a simple retrieval goal that is complicated by outside parties with their own motivations. Not everyone who gets in our heroes way could be described as a villain. Hell, some of them even line up with the goals of Scott, Hank, and Hope about 95% with the exception of one particular need. That offers something a bit more in depth than your typical “take over the world” villain.
This leads to what I consider to be a pretty great chase sequence that serves as the escalating finale of the film, featuring not only a ticking clock to race, but also several different parties converging, trying to get something different out of the same situation. Although the finale is a bit too tidy and relies a bit too much on a deus ex machina solution, it’s still satisfying.
I also find the ongoing theme of family and teamwork in the Ant-Man films to be effective. The first film had a surprisingly emotional scene where Hank revealed to Hope what actually happened to her mother, and both Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly sold it hard. The second has a couple of these moments as well, and it’s important and good to see functioning relationships and family that include ex-wives and new boyfriends as well as partners in crime or adoptive fathers and their children. Everyone, with the exception of probably Goggins’ Sonny Burch, is looking out for someone else as well.
Ant-Man and the Wasp was never built to be a world shaker in the way The Avengers films are, or even Black Panther. Ant-Man gives the MCU a chance to take a breath an explore other parts of the world beyond Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet, and it does so very well. It brings back some of our favorite characters, builds on the notion of the Quantum Realm, and offers some small but important clues as to how the MCU is going to wrap things up with Avengers 4. Not only that, but seeing The Wasp in action was finally worth the wait. She’s like Black Widow but with shrinking powers and wings. I’m excited to see how it all comes together next summer.
The Final Pop
Ant-Man and The Wasp serves as a funny, thrilling, but smaller-scale palate cleanser for the MCU after Avengers: Infinity War. Introducing new characters while bringing back fan favorites, it offers effective and smaller action focused on the characters rather than world-altering events. Though things are a bit too tidily wrapped up, it leaves enough on the plate to keep us wanting more Marvel action. We’ll have to wait til next year. Movie Theater Popcorn.