Following on the heels of April’s brutal Avengers: Infinity War, it’s fair to say that both Marvel Studios and its legion of fan-faithful needed to take a minute and try to find a momentary oasis of levity to soothe their frayed nerves.
Thankfully, Ant-Man and The Wasp has arrived to deliver in spades.
The sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man is an uproarious comedy, packing more laughs than the original, including a scene-stealing-at-every-turn Michael Peña; it’s a family drama, exploring the dynamic between fathers and daughters, husbands and wives and lifelong friends; and, in exploring the depths of the Quantum Realm, it becomes a candy-colored kaleidoscope of visual awesomeness.
What the Marvel Cinematic Universe understands so well is that for all its epic adventures, whether a universe-threatening demigod or another potential extinction-level-event, there needs to be an equal measure of self-contained stories that focus on the characters that we love first and foremost.
Whereas the first Ant-Man was a brisk heist thriller, Ant-Man and The Wasp is a kinetic rescue mission that unfolds along parallel tracts with a healthy dose of shrinking and super-sizing set pieces to thrill fans young and old.
The sequel takes place after Captain America: Civil War and at the same time as the events in Infinity War. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, is completing a stretch of home confinement following his trip to Germany in Civil War to assist Team Cap in taking on Team Iron Man. The trip violated his parole terms, and landed him with an ankle monitor. It also fractured his relationship with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who created the Ant-Man suit and its shrinking capabilities.
As the film opens, Lang is seen playing with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) while elsewhere in San Francisco, Hope and Hank have figured out that Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the first woman to be The Wasp, may still be alive inside the Quantum Realm, a microscopic universe capable of trapping life inside it. Janet entered the realm about 30 years earlier while on a mission with Hank, the original Ant-Man.
To save his wife, Hank has built a new piece of technology, the Quantum Tunnel, which is capable of sending a human to the farthest reaches of the realm by fixing on Janet’s brainwaves.
What Hope and Hank don’t know is that following the events of the first Ant-Man, where Lang shrunk to miniscule size and briefly entered the Quantum Realm, he and Janet formed a subconscious quantum entanglement. The first time they fire up the Quantum Tunnel, Lang has a vision of Janet and Hope as a young girl. He hesitantly contacts them to share his story, which sets in motion the bulk of Ant-Man and The Wasp’s plot.
If this all sounds super science-heavy, relax. It’s easily digestible. At one point, Lang speaks for the audience, when he jokingly asks: “Do you guys put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?”
The film is the first in Marvel’s cinematic history not to feature a central villain. Coming off its two strongest villains to date, Thanos in Infinity War and Killmonger in Black Panther, it’s a wise decision.
There are antagonists, but the stakes are much more contained. One antagonist is Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), whose real name is Ava. Her father previously worked with S.H.I.E.L.D., and she became collateral damage in a quantum experiment, which imbued her with the ability to phase through solid matter. Ava also wants to located Janet, but for different reasons.
The other antagonist is Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a low-level crime boss who trades in black-market technology, and who wants to steal Hank’s lab to sell off its parts.
The fun of Ant-Man and The Wasp is not the back and forth between good guys and bad guys, although there are several spectacular sequences where director Peyton Reed expands on Lang’s abilities to both shrink and grow substantially larger as Giant-Man.
Ant-Man and The Wasp also marks the first time in the MCU that a female hero has received top billing, and Lilly does justice in her role as The Wasp. She’s as capable as Ant-Man, but equipped with some significant suit upgrades, which get shown off during an extended fight sequence that should have fans whooping aloud from their seats.
The beauty is in the small details. Hank carries a Hot Wheels case packed with miniature toy cars, which he can shrink or grow to normal operating size, even with people inside them. Hank’s lab also can be shrunk to the size of a rolling travel bag, or grown to a multi-story building. Reed has a field day playing with the visual dynamics of scale and proportion, which makes for some fantastically entertaining moments.
Also returning are Lang’s three amigos — Luis (Peña), Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) — who have formed a new company with Lang: X-Con Security Consultants. (Get it? They’re all convicted felons.)
At one point, Burch and his gang of thugs capture Luis, Dave and Kurt, and inject Luis with a truth-telling drug, which allows Peña to return to the motor-mouthed story-telling-style that proved so infectious in the first film.
It’s not all sunshine and unicorns, however.
Like I said, this film takes place concurrently with the unfolding action in Infinity War, and there are two mid-and-post-credits scenes that tie back directly to Infinity War’s grim ending.
With just one more movie — 2019’s Captain Marvel, which is set in the 1990s — fans will have to wait until next May when the untitled fourth Avengers film, the studio’s 22nd release since 2008, arrives to learn the fate of so many beloved heroes.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.