If you’re a film fan, you probably have your mind made up on Marvel films at this point. You either like them enough or wish they would end, but they just keep coming! Personally, while I am not a fan of most of the early entries in the franchise, I’ve generally felt the latest offerings in Phase 3 have brought enough refreshing elements and a surprisingly mature amount of depth to popcorn entertainment. Ant-Man and the Wasp is the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and sequel to the 2015 origin story. While it doesn’t pull the same punches or have as much thematic depth as Black Panther, it makes up for it with a charming cast that provides heart and tonal confidence to a film that takes it beyond what its predecessor reached.
It’s pretty well known that the first Ant-Man film was plagued with production issues- including the infamous firing of Edgar Wright due to creative differences. However, this is where Ant-Man and the Wasp gets to excel. Gone are the grievances over what could have been, and here are the best ways to build on what was established in the original flick. Reed displays a lot better directional skill here. The fight sequences are better staged, there are more uses of the shrinking and growing visual hooks, and in general, the tone is a lot more focused and energetic than the original (which looked like an NBC sitcom, at times) ever was. From the tiny car chases to the psychedelic VFX work of the Quantum Realm, there’s a lot more to savor this time around.
Where this film starts to feel bland is the simplistic writing. Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must deal with being under house arrest by the FBI for being complicit in Steve Rogers’ war crimes. Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), need his help to rescue Hope’s mother Janet Van Dyne from the Quantum Realm Scott managed to escape. Meanwhile, the mysterious antagonist Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) hunts them down for their technology.
On one hand, it is a bit refreshing to have a superhero film where the stakes are low and the conflict is at a small level. Sequels always tend to go the bigger and bolder route, so that in itself is in Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s favor. However, it is a tad disappointing to see another Marvel MacGuffin scenario return, as well as a villain twist that lacks weight because we’ve seen something similar to it in about three other MCU ventures in the last two years. It worked in Vol. 2, it was fun in Ragnarok, and it was thematically important in Black Panther, but seeing this beat present in this felt excessive. There’s enough interesting character work regarding the Van Dyne family that works, but I would have preferred more emphasis on the clearly stronger part of the screenplay. I’m not saying they should be huge, but more surprises were especially needed here.
Ghost has enough potential to be interesting despite having a very similar backstory to other MCU villains. While she is portrayed nicely by John-Kamen, she never is really given much screen time to develop her character interestingly. It is particularly a waste to build a pretty decently motivated and clear villain, then to only have her explain her entire backstory and reasonings all in one scene. Having a strong villain wasn’t particularly the focus in this film, but to try to not go beyond an exposition block felt lazy. In a standout cast of fun characters, it’s not ideal to have a forgettable antagonist.
But boy, are these characters fun. Paul Rudd is as amazing as ever, bringing so much adorable dad presence with his on-screen daughter. Scott Lang and Cassie Lang are just simply heartwarming to watch. Excitingly, Evangeline Lilly really gets to shine in this one. Hope Van Dyne is given the most exciting moments in these action set-pieces and its all well earned seeing how she was robbed of it in the first film. Michael Peña is a scene stealer like he was in the original film, and I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of Luis’s anecdotal monologues. Though, it is a definite crime Michelle Pfeiffer was vastly underutilized. She did bring a significant amount of enigmatic impact in her moments, so I hope we get to see more of Janet Van Dyne in future entries.
I have to say, I’m glad to finally see nice character interactions between a team of heroes after the popularization of spiteful Whedon-Esque banter which ruled Marvel for so long. In a time where “friendship” is portrayed through mean quips, it’s so goddamn refreshing to see characters openly express care, concern, and love for one another. This sounds small, but it elevated my enjoyment of the film. It helped Ant-Man and the Wasp stand out, despite its many same-old same-old choices. The purity made me feel so comfortable to inhabit the space of this great sequel for a few hours, even if the mid-credit scene stole the security blanket away from me straight afterwards.