Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, Ant-Man is inherently the most comical. Tony Stark may be a glib smart-ass, and Thor, a vain-glorious beef head, but a superhero who can shrink down to the size of a dime immediately trumps all comers with physics. And despite the more serious tones in the MCU’s BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR earlier this year, it’s refreshing to see that ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is content to merely bring the funny. It aims small and therefore is a sizable success.
What’s especially rewarding about ANT-MAN AND THE WASP are its small chuckles. Of course, watching Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his partner the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) give chase in Matchbox-sized cars elicits guffaws, but even funnier is the sight gag of the miniature vehicles stored in a Hot Wheels traveling carousel. Sure, Ant-Man’s inability to control his growth spurts is hilarious but losing his flying ant transports to a hungry seagull is even better. And you expect Rudd to be a hoot, but Douglas is too, even in his straight man role here.
The screenplay is credited to five writers, and that’s never a good sign, not even when one of them is Rudd, but damned if they don’t all make it work here. The script by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari and Rudd keeps the action crisp, the banter swift, and the pacing buoyant. Director Peyton Reed is back for this one too, and he knows how to get laughs out of character, dialogue, stunts, and props. (An enlarged Pez dispenser earns a belly laugh.) His comic touch is expert, whether he’s lingering on a shrunken office building for a few beats more as it rolls away as luggage or directing everyone to wait a few seconds more before reacting to the energetic gibberish of Luis (Michael Pena).
Even the plot, which touches upon themes of loss and regret never brings down the fun. That’s quite a feat considering the very first scene is a grave 1970’s flashback where Douglas’ Dr. Hank Pym loses his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the sub-atomic realm. But when the film shifts to the modern-day setting, the laughs never stop. Scott Lang (Rudd) is under house arrest for helping out the Avengers in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. It also explains his absence from INFINITY WAR. He’s going a little stir-crazy though, building elaborate forts and cardboard slides in his San Francisco three-flat to play with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson).
Soon enough, he’s called back into duty as Ant-Man because Pym invented some technology that he thinks can bring his wife back from that otherworldly limbo, that is, if she’s still alive. Thus, Scott and Pym’s daughter Hope (Lilly) suit up to shrink down and go retrieve her. However, a number of villains thwart those plans because they’re after Pym’s brainchild too. The greedy villains include black marketeer Sonny Burch (Walter Goggins, oozing sleaze), Pym’s one-time partner Dr. Bill Foster (a cool and calm Laurence Fishburne), and a cloaked villainess known as Ghost (the intensely physical Hannah John-Kamen). Ghost is actually Foster’s daughter, and her involvement with her father’s isomagnetic experiments has rendered her able to walk through walls and submit her very own lethal, electronic charges.
Yet another foil is intrepid FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). He has been assigned to ensure Scott doesn’t break his parole again like he did to help out Captain America in Europe. With that many plot threads, things could get complicated, but the film never lets its narrative threads kill the buzz. Instead, it goes out of its way to keep things funny, investing Fishburne’s jealous colleague with a wry sense of wit and giving Burch and his bad boys a “Keystone Cops” vibe. Even Woo’s nanny state machinations are a continual hoot, especially since he keeps coming that close to busting Hank outside the legal perimeter.
And the filmmakers find fresh and inventive ways to play with size, scene in and scene out. Enlarged to 25 feet, Ant-Man uses a semi-truck and its flatbed as a stand-up skateboard to motor down the city streets. Shrunk to the size of loose change, the hero plops into the ocean like a coin being tossed into a fountain. And while battling Burch and his cohorts in a hotel kitchen, our heroes run along the edge of a knife as if it’s a tightrope.
Yet with all those big laughs, the shrewdest consideration of size in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is in its scope. The story stays small and tight, never leaving the Bay area, and never becoming a struggle to save the world. The only thing too small is Lilly’s screen time as Hope. She does a lot as the Wasp but missing is the Tracy and Hepburn banter between her and Scott. The film could use more of Pfeiffer too, but hope springs eternal for the next one.
Are all the jokes and sight gags about size enough to sustain more films in the franchise? Very likely, but it would behoove the filmmakers to remember that Coke commercial starring Ant-Man and the Hulk a few Super Bowls back. Who else from the MCU could literally and figuratively be taken down a peg by the world’s smallest hero? What would Ant-Man do if he was caught in Spider-man’s web, or his ant minions built a home inside Groot? See, it doesn’t take five writers to create such storylines. But if five writers mean enormous returns like this sequel, then I say, “Go big!”