ANT-MAN AND THE WASP—3 STARS
Pun not intended, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is where Marvel Films and their Marvel Cinematic Universe goes to get small, and not in the obvious sense of the heroes’ sizes. The narrative and scope gets smaller. Amid the mega-powered showdowns and high stakes elsewhere, it is encouraging to know that Marvel can still make local-level superhero stories and not make everything so overpopulated, globe-trotting, and cataclysmic in importance. Smaller is what the source comic books used to be. Smaller is still fully-formed and, most of all, smaller is welcome.
Heart and humor remain the best powers on display in this sequel and momentary palette cleanser for the post-Avengers: Infinity War MCU. What worked pleasantly well as a bit of a standalone film three years ago shines once more with those traits at the forefront. While lacking a little bit of the elevated zip and zeal that came from hired fixer Adam McKay (The Big Short) and the residual script contributions of Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) in the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp keeps matters light and loose, right where they belong.
In the two years since Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) backed Captain America and his fellow splintered Avengers as Ant-Man/Giant-Man on the German Civil War battlefield (and taking place before Avengers: Infinity War), the reformed thief has been lowjacked on house arrest and monitored closely by eager-beaver S.H.I.E.L.D agent Johnny Woo (Fresh Off the Boat’s Randall Park). Scott has abandoned his superhero suit ventures to make the most of this confined couch time reconnecting with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), soaking up online magic courses, and partnering to start a legitimate security business with his loquacious buddy Luis (Michael Peña) and their crew (the returning mugs of Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian).
LESSON #1: THE PRICE OF MISTAKES— The darker clouds of trouble have always followed Scott Lang around. He is a rare superhero film example of a character that has lost and had to face the real-life consequences on multiple occasions. Scott doesn’t have a billion-dollar bank account to make his troubles go away or a stocked and sponsored headquarters at his convenience. Embodied by all of Paul Rudd’s immeasurable charm, this is a guy who actually has to work hard to make his regular life function, let alone become a superhero on the side.
Meanwhile, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has perfected his redesigned winged-suit variation to empower his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) as the Wasp, inheriting the role of his lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Together, the two have working on the lam as wanted fugitives for being responsible for the technology worn on Scott’s back in Germany. Their under-the-radar goal has been to engineer a tunnel apparatus and transport vehicle to enter the previously unreachable Quantum Realm to search for Janet who may still be alive. Looming threats other than the federal fuzz impeding that progress include the phase-shifting Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen of Ready Player One), her handler and former Pym partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), and the weasley tech-obsessed criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins).
The tabbed antagonists are not as much the main obstacles for the do-gooders as two other barriers, one otherworldly and one flatly domestic. The mysteries of the space-bending Quantum Realm itself pose high danger for its unmeasured power and unknown physical and psychological effects. At the same time, no matter the pace of the race, fatherly responsibility emerges as the heaviest anchor of all (spreading nicely from Lesson #1). Hank fears losing a second loved one to the Quantum Realm while Scott is just trying to keep his nose clean for the final three days of his house arrest sentence and avoid the 20-year prison penalty for any dalliance with shrinking or growing while playing with any eusocial arthropods of the Formicidae family.
LESSON #2: DO NOT OVERUSE LABELING ADJECTIVES— Between the Quantum Realm, quantum energy, “quantum entanglements,” and all the as-such labeled devices, one would think a plug for the Daniel Craig-starring James Bond film Quantum of Solace would make it into the background. It’s almost like the Adam West Batcave in this movie. You’ll love it when a less-scientific character breaks into a conversation to rant about there being too much “quantum-this” and “quantum-that” mumbo-jumbo around. By the way, don’t worry. Hyundai spared no expense to keep Marvel Films in business and have all your product placement needs covered.
In many ways, the action is secondary and even a little lost in the hands of the film’s fleet of five credited screenwriters, including Rudd himself, two Spider-Man: Homecoming scribes Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and the low-budget Haunt team of Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. Their efforts centered on the jokes which flow over each other with too little reaction time because of the need to still press on with clashing commotion. The same goes for the romantic comedy vibe between Lilly and Rudd that gets lost in the momentum. Those dips take away a slight amount of the engagement even though the shrinking effects and set pieces remain inventive and well-lensed, this time by two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential). The snappy shifts of size and scope make this a worthy option for 3D.
LESSON #3: CARING IS A POWERFUL ATTACHMENT AND MOTIVATOR— Matching the first film, the strong sense of union and family brings out the humanity within the blockbuster tentpole format of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Underneath the heroic shenanigans, Director Peyton Reed’s flick is packed with endearing characters that truly connect and care about each other. While not Pixar Punch-level overpowering, the potential feels are still very real.
Those joys brightly come out in the ensemble performances beyond what Paul Rudd already accomplishes as the headliner. The fervent and sustaining wills Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly portray in pining to rescue their beloved matriarch are wholly palpable. Even Laurence Fishburne’s mild rival has a similar nurturing layer of dedication that surfaces. Finally, nobody in the whole MCU shows anywhere near an equal level of jovial dedication of solidarity than Michael Peña’s hammy Luis, not even Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon. When those bongos bubble up to interrupt Christophe Beck’s busy-body score, you know you’re in for a happy storytelling treat.